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  • Writer's pictureRua Fay

Interview with Filmmaker, Cecelia Condit

This week I had the opportunity to speak to one of the most unique filmmakers currently working on the scene, Cecelia Condit. Best known for her surrealist 1983 short, Possibly In Michigan, Condit has been working in the film industry for over 40 years, and it was such a special gift to be able to sit down and talk with her about her work, her time as a professor, and what's to come in her career.

Rua: "Good morning, Ms. Condit, first I would like to talk about your career as an educator. You are currently a Professor Emerita at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee correct?


Condit: "No, I was about five years ago, and I was for thirty years. I decided to stop working, to retire."


Rua: "I was wondering, do you think your career as a professional filmmaker had an effect on how you were as an educator?"


Condit: "I think it did, I don't know exactly how. I really loved teaching, and I loved teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee I thought it was a wonderful school and it still is. I thought the students were very smart and some of them I just loved. When students want you to notice them, it's hard not to notice them. I thought that for the first major part of my years teaching I dealt with students like they were students first, and then as I got older and taught for longer I started seeing them first as people and that was a change that really impacted my teaching. I don't know if it made me a better teacher it just made me a different teacher. I think when you see so many students' work it impacts you, y'know, it's young and fresh, some people are just simply remarkable so that's inspiring. I think it is hard to have to wear the "I know so much" hat all the time, I found that difficult. Not that I don't think I know a lot, I think I know a lot, but I think it's hard to teach a lot of what I know. So for me its a matter of trusting my instincts and trying to figure out how to teach that in a way that people can approach with intuition. I mean you can't do Possibly In Michigan on anything but instinct, it just grew. And I think I'm a better teacher and artist if I think organically. Sorry I don't know if that answers your question-"


Rua: "No, that was beautiful, thank you so much for that insight. Did you find any difficulty in the 80's and 90's being a female filmmaker in a male-dominated field?"


Condit: "I think in the 80's...well, it was a transitional time, I remember in the 70's people asking me 'do you think women can be as good of artists as men?' and when the first person asked me that I was kind of shocked I had never given that any thought to that and I didn't know what to say especially since it was a 'he' that asked me that so I didn't know if he was going to be antagonistic. I think that women have always been filmmakers and every kind of artist, it was just a matter of if they had a platform or were stunted by the establishment. In the 80's women were given a serious voice and the art world focused on us. There were two traveling shows I was in and both focused on women's work and they traveled to like 200 colleges across the country. So as a woman, you didn't have to worry about who showed your work and who didn't because these traveling shows brought them to all these young people and that was amazing to me. Nowadays it's not the same, I think women still have a much harder time, especially financially."

Rua: "Now, a few of your films, especially Possibly In Michigan have gained a lot of attention since you uploaded them to Youtube. Were you surprised by the sudden influx of views it was getting?"


Condit: "Yeah! Y'know back when I made it there was really no internet so it was a surprise. I knew that young people really liked it, friends of mine who teach high school would show it to their classes and the students would just go ballistic. So I knew that high schoolers loved it I just didn't know how to reach high schools, like do you send them a message telling them to show this film about cannibalism? No! So it was really nice when people on Reddit would say that it was the craziest or scariest film they've ever seen. Then of course, Tiktok came along a few years later..."


Rua: "Yeah, I previously interviewed this filmmaker, Kurt Kuenne, who made a documentary called, Dear Zachary, have you seen it?"


Condit: "No, I haven't."


Rua: "Well, it's a fantastic documentary and he was surprised to find out that it was gaining quite a bit of attention of Tiktok where people were sort of daring their followers to go watch it because of how crazy it is. Y'know the internet has the capability to take these things and spread them like wildfire in such a short span of time and I was wondering if you find that to be a good or bad aspect of the internet?"


Condit: "Well how can I complain about the internet? I've found people very polite, every once in a while I'll get a comment like 'this woman must be crazy' but people are buy-in-large extremely polite. I get emails from people that can be very touching and when I speak places I often feel very touched by people who know my work and seem to know a lot about me.


Rua: "Can that be almost scary at times? The fact that so many people know you but you know nothing about them?"


Condit: "I actually have never felt the slightest bit scared. I had a dream once though where I was in a crowd, but once I woke up I realized that it was preposterous so I just went back to sleep. But in real life, people are so very kind to me when I meet them. Buy-in-large people are very nice, if I got scared maybe I would change my way of life but I'm not exactly Taylor Swift, more of a strange cult figure."

Rua: "Do you have any particular artists or art pieces that have inspired you as a filmmaker?"


Condit: "Well, writers, a lot of writers, I mean I'm a storyteller so it makes sense. Isak Denisen... singers...I liked the idea of putting music with some things and I discovered that I like to work on things that have to do with music and that was a big turning point for me."


Rua: "Speaking of music, if I'm not mistaken, Jill Sands composed the score for Possibly In Michigan, correct?"


Condit: "Um, no that was Karen Skladany. Jill was somebody who helped with editing and ideas, she was amazing."


Rua: "Are you still in touch with the cast and crew of Possibly In Michigan?"


Condit: "The only one I'm really still in contact with is Jill Sands, Karen, no one who ever knew her back then can find where she is, not just me. I wrote the lyrics like 'no no no no no' and the line about the poodle and she put it to music. When we were about 80% done, I met a woman who had dated a cannibal and I thought, this piece needs a big heading and it should be a cannibal. So I asked Karen, who was an infinitely better songwriter than me if she could write the Animal Cannibal song so we sat down at a table and she wrote all these words in about an hour. It really changed everything but it didn't change the visuals."


Rua: "Did you ever think about the risks about releasing a film about a cannibal, something so taboo especially in the 80's?


Condit: "I was pretty naïve, but I didn't know it would cause such a stir, and I thought I was going to lose my job. At the Cleveland Institute of Art where I was teaching, they had a board meeting to discuss what to do with this crazy person. The senate... used it as a focus for why the national endowment for the arts shouldn't be funded, I'm sure I was one of many, Robert Mapplethorpe was another one who got a major show cancelled. For me, it was a shock when John Glenn, the first astronaut to orbit the moon called the head of the school I was teaching at and said 'who is this crazy woman? Is she really a psychopath?' And they said 'oh no she's a perfectly regular human.'"


Rua: "That's so insane to me because before any of this you had people like David Lynch releasing Eraserhead which is also crazy but his work became so revered and praised-"


Condit: "-It's because I was a woman."


Rua: "I was gonna say, yeah, do you think it's because you were a woman?"


Condit: "Totally. Mapplethorpe was gay, they just didn't want to fund anyone that were not white men."


Rua: "Yeah, and do you feel like that's gotten better in the film industry in recent years I?"

Condit: "Sure, yeah, I mean now if you're a person of color or if you're gay. The world is hard to catch up and the world is still terrible but in the film world and the art world the establishment is allowing new voices to be heard when it's so easy to just shut down a voice. You can be shut down very easily and that can have a big impact on you."


Rua: "There's been a debate in recent years about the importance of film school, you studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, correct?"


Condit: "I did."


Rua: "But you didn't major in film you studied sculpture and photography, right?"


Condit: "I majored in Sculpture at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and I got into photography at the Philadelphia College of Art which is now University of the Arts."


Rua: "Do you believe that a formal education in film is necessary to be a good filmmaker?"


Condit: "I don't think it's necessary, but it helps. I think it's hard to be a filmmaker, it's hard to be an artist, and I think it's especially hard for a woman to be an artist. It has nothing to do with talent it has something to do with networking, boys might not be as good at friendships but they sure are great at networking, and they tend to have their pals around when it comes to jobs. That's one of the reasons why I always worked with women if I could. I did a piece called Suburbs of Eden in 1996 but after that I just stopped having men in my films altogether. I didn't want to give them a voice because they already have such a voice.


Rua: "Are there any films of yours that you wish got as much attention as Possibly In Michigan?"


Condit: "Well, I like most of my work, I mean I don't like all my work, everybody has pieces that aren't so good. I would like to have everything be as popular as Possibly because how could I complain about that? I like my other work as much as I like Possibly, I like Pulling Up Roots, I've Been Afraid, AI and I, Within a Stone's Throw, All About a Girl, so there's a lot of work I really like as much as possible. I mean, it's very weird to have one piece be the centerpiece that people know you by, but I don't know if that matters to me as much, being an artist. There was a while where I resented it, but I don't resent it anymore."


Rua: "I'm just curious, what are some of your favorite movies?"


Condit: "Let's see...I like The Pianist, I like Maya Deren, I like a lot of movies, a whole range of movies, I'm a storyteller. This new piece I'm working on is not a story, it's actually intentionally not a story. But buy-in-large, there's so much interesting work out there. Yeah, I have special artist friends I have that influence me like Mary Lucier, she's been a big influence as a friend and support system of many years."

Rua: "Did you say you're currently working on a new film?"


Condit: "I am, I'm working on an installation, it'll be like three vertical screens, and a lot of it is underwater. A lot of it is me trying to figure out and find things I don't have words for, that I don't know what they are. There isn't really a story, it's as though my mind has decided not to think linearly for now. I think that I've been trusting myself to not have a story, it's quite the opposite of my earlier work it's become more abstract and visually it's beautiful.


Rua: "Okay, and lastly, what is your favorite swear word?"


Condit: "Well, when things aren't going so well I always say the word 'fuck,' I always have this thing I say to myself: 'I'm fucking amazing.' So I guess that's what I say when I feel like swearing, it's a lot better than just 'I'm amazing.'"


Rua: "Okay, well thank you so much Ms. Condit for sitting down and speaking with me, I know you are very busy but this was such an incredible opportunity so thank you."


Condit: "Thank you."


Cecelia Condit is one of my favorite people I have interviewed so far and I just want to agknowledge her again for the incredible talk I had with her. If you'd like to view her work you can visit Ceceliacondit.com or her Youtube channel. Like always, thanks for stopping by Cinemasters.net and remember to never stop watching!

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