Zach and Friends: an Anti-Curation with Zachary Hutchinson
Tonight Comfort Film presents - Zach and Friends a series of shorts put together by curator Zachary Hutchinson.
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Zachary about Video Video Zine, the Chicago film community and her upcoming program: Zach and Friends.
E: Does your program have a name?
Z: No... Not yet. Maybe through this conversation I’ll think of something. There isn’t really a theme - I just wanted to show a bunch of my friend’s work and also give an opportunity for some of them to make work.
E: Is this all new work?
Z: The oldest thing is from 2017 - everything else is from last year or this year.
E: I’m familiar with your work through, Video Video Zine - is this a similar curation?
Z: The only time I ever curated anything was for the two film festivals we had. When I do - and I don’t often curate - it’s all 10 minute videos. For the most part for Video Video Zine most of the things that came to us were short videos. I’ve always really liked short video programs. I have a short attention span.
Z: Video Video Zine was intense - and unsustainable. There was so much labor involved with doing a monthly juried show. When we had our juries, I was at almost every jury, so I’ve seen every video that was submitted to Video Video Zine. I would always have all four of (the other jurors) in person with me watching the videos, eating pizza for like four hours, sometimes even longer. Every time we did it we had 4 different jurors, and 74 throughout the entire time at Video Video. And only two were cis white straight men, which I’m very happy about.
E: What has your focus been since Video Video Zine?
Z: In Grad school I wanted to make more physical work, because physical work is often part of my videos. Every if I’m making weird physical work it’ll turn into a video.
E: Where has that led you most recently?
Z: I hadn’t really made anything since then until Emily Eddy asked me to do the trailer for the Onion City Film Festival. Which is great, it’s really helpful for me to have someone to ask me to do something, because then I will make something and I’ll be really happy and it’ll be awesome. Having deadlines that other people give me is always the best way for me to make something. I’m showing a version of this video - a different version - in this program.
It’s called I like Chicago. I’m walking under this bridge in this costume that I made which is a weird babydoll dress made out of this material, it’s a blanket you can buy - that you’d see at hotels or motels it’s like a plush - they’re called Veluxe The Original blanket. It’s a weird material and it’s awful to sew with. I made this really horrible, well not horrible, I think I did a good job but I made this intricate dress out of it. The reason I like that material so much is because it catches the light in an interesting way.
E: Is there a through line with all of these shorts?
Z: Other than them all being my friends?
E: I guess, did you have a strategy for putting them together?
Z: Not neccessarily... think it’s kind of an anti-curation in the sense that I wanted to show the work that my friends are making that I don’t necessarily see and also giving an opportunity for my friends to make something, giving them a deadline.
Z: What was interesting with Video Video Zine is that there was never any connections and often what we would do is curate them so that they felt better together. We would take the top 40 submissions and use 10 each for the next four months and put them together and try to come up with a name for them. The reason it is - and I think why I’m reluctant to name this is, is because I have such trauma from sitting in front of notecards and looking at them like “this video has to do with the economy, and this video has to do with this guy’s dead mom, what do we call these”!? That’s why I don’t want to name this. Maybe I’ll just call it “Zach and Friends”.
Z: I think it’s important that the Nepotism is very clear- I did this to showcase my friends, instead of having to slap on some vague understanding of how important this work is. Even though I do think the work is important.. I was curating people rather than the work itself.
E: What do you think of the Chicago film scene?
Z: I think that it’s kind of a marauding as some cool interesting scene because of aesthetics but can be very much a cis hetero straight man place even though there is so much interesting aesthetic or weird experimental things, which I think have their own merit. But I’m only interested, and have the ability to only look at the work that I want to look at. I think that it’s just now with Emily Eddy, who’s a good friend of mine curating Onion City really responsibly, that’s something we carried on from Video Video Zine is that we spotlight any kind of person that isn’t well viewed in filmmaking or video art. Not that I gave her those ideas, but it was definitely conversations we had where we agreed that this was really important. For the overall world and Chicago, which is a very small and transient scene - lots of people are coming and going. It’s important for us to hold on to this space and make sure it’s shifting in a good way not just a visual aesthetic way, but having representation that is important.
E: I’ve always found that there’s not a lot of middle ground in the Chicago film community between the top of the top and the independent filmmakers working with their own money. Experimental work tends to be totally separate, and with bigger festivals not taking weirder or more challenging work.
Z: I’ve talked major shit about CUFF, in the past, and this is on the record! Not major shit, but I’ve been very critical of it. Not only the way they are sponsored but the name itself being the “Underground Film Festival” but having so much sponsorship and very well produced work. Like Jennifer Reeder, and I think she’d be fine to hear this, was my advisor in Grad School shows work at CUFF and is an established filmmaker, maybe it’s like a romantic, traditional thing for her to be in CUFF. But she’s still kind of taking up space. My friend Jessie Darnell has a 10 minute found footage short called 2000 Women named Stacy and that just got into CUFF, and I think that’s a good step forward for them.
E: How long have you been familiar with Comfort Station? Video Video Zine has shown here multiple times.
Z: At least 3 times, we were always scrounging to find places and it was great to show (at Comfort) because it’s a great location. To get people to come to a screening and come on time, it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
Z: Around 2013... I definitely had gone to some weird screenings there and really appreciated them. I think the first time I really started coming to Comfort was for Her Environment, a curation by Chelsea Welch and Ally Shyer and they curated me in a screening - it was a program with a focus on moving image work. The whole mission of Her Environment was making an art space for femmes. That was when I really started to go in 2015ish.
Z: There’s so many hidden gems, from doing Video Video I’ve found so many interesting weird works, that I wouldn’t never seen if no one had given them to me. Because no one will show them! I’ve never gotten into festivals unless I’ve been asked - I don’t know if it’s my work, it’s totally strange.
E: Has watching the content you’ve watched affected your work at all?
Z: I definitely have a lot of a lower tolerance for some kinds of work, like a brooding landscape for a minute and a half - I’ve seen enough. A lot of radical slow cinema I just can’t handle anymore. I’ve never really been into psychedelic, trippy visual stuff unless it has some semblance of a figure or something I can recognize. Being subjected to that through my own will has solidified those tastes for me. I don’t think you have to make something slow to make it experimental or interesting. I feel like that’s an art move or an experimental film move to be shown something for a long - a longer amount of time than you would see in anything commercial. It shouldn’t be an art move, where the language of experimental cinema is to make every shot really long. It’s everywhere! I come from a visual arts background and see a lot of people making their first videos, often it’s just is setting a camera up and having you watch something for an entire screening. At a sit down screening I don’t want to be subjected to that unless there’s a good reason for us to be staring at that image.
Z: I think people are afraid to make fast cuts, because it’ll come off too comercial, or mainstream. I think we can make funny, fast, interesting, cool things and it can still not berate your viewer.
Zach and I talked a bit about her current Intro to Filmmaking class that she teaches at UIC.
Z: I think I’m very trite and maybe shallow in the work that I watch but I work at UIC and have a lot of students that are accountants and doctors that are taking my class as a fun class - and I show them weird shit that I think is funny, interesting, entertaining or shallow and they’re like what the fuck is this, why are we watching this. So yeah, I think there’s a weird jaded visual language that is in people that are subjecting themselves constantly to these experimental art films. But I show them to my kids who think they are going to come learn about Spielberg, it’s very… humbling sounds kind of shitty - but yeah. I want to be a space for them to not just talk about Avengers, but still appreciate those things because it’s not like they shouldn’t. It’s shitty of me to tell them to not enjoy things that are entertaining but I want them to find things that are more critical or more exciting and that will hopefully translate into the videos they make. And they do end up making really interesting work.
E: Do you like personal filmmaking?
Z: I just like some kind of connection that’s not generic.
E: Have your tastes changed?
Z: In high school I was the biggest John Waters fan, like ever. I had all the books, I’d seen every film. I’d also seen Mondo Trasho before it was released on DVD. I’ve always been in that realm. He’s also his own thing - the content is weird but the way that he writes, directs and cues the films is not experimental! I thought that was an interesting way to go about it, to have this accessibility of it being a normal film - but having the content be so fucking weird. That’s definitely some of my base. If anything, I’ve gotten a little less mainstream than John Waters.
Z: That’s something I always tell my students, you have the ability to make something that has never be seen before, why don’t you do that? There’s no need for us to make something that already exists - but then again maybe there is. I will say I really like the Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho, I guess that’s an unpopular opinion but I’m into it.
E: What was the first piece of art you remember?
Z: My mom had a tiny copy of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the one in the museum in Ferris Beuller’s Day off. I never liked it. I also remember going to the art institute and telling my parents, “I don’t like any of these paintings unless they look like photographs”. I guess my tastes have changed since I was 6.
Zach and Friends is presented as part of our Guest Curator series which continues through May. On May 22 we will be presenting Patch Work curated by Eli Rudavsky.
Come see Zach and Friends tonight at 8 pm for free at The Comfort Station.