Starting today and running through Sunday, Manbites Dog Theater will host the Strange Beauty Film Festival. The festival will screen an array of diverse short films that vary from the Haiku-inspired Come, See the Real Flowers of this Painful World by Duke MFA student Shanshan Wong to the Sundance Film Festival-selected animation Belly by London-based Julia Potts. Strange Beauty is an event that continually aims to combine and exhibit local talent, experimental visuals, practiced cinematography and creative variation.
Jim Haverkamp, an adjunct instructor in the Program in the Arts of the Moving Image (AMI), and his wife, the filmmaker Joyce Ventimiglia, first conceived of Strange Beauty as a D.I.Y “art project” they could complete with relative ease after the arrival of their first child. The pair were used to collaborating on such creative endeavors and had been looking for a project they could work on from home. A short-film festival became appealing. At the time, Haverkamp observed that “with the rise of Vimeo and Youtube, everyone [was] making movies,” and he saw a unique opportunity to showcase a truncated form that is common among both amateur and professional filmmakers.
Haverkamp and Ventimiglia’s efforts have led to the impressive success of a festival that, according to cinematographer and AMI lecturing fellow Josh Gibson, “is becoming a vital stop in the short film festival circuit.”
As a professor, Haverkamp has found his understanding of film as a medium change and evolve: “I get really energized by seeing students’ [work]. It helps you to remember what it was like to be new to film, when there was limitless possibility… I have had to unlearn all the rules.”
The growth of the arts in Durham and Chapel Hill owes much to local citizens whose “D.I.Y approach” to creative collaboration—similar to the efforts of Haverkamp and Ventimiglia—has cultivated openness to artistic innovation. It is this attitude of embracing the new that draws filmmakers and artists from around the country. Haverkamp himself remembers how Flicker—a collaborative, community-based film showcase that began in Chapel Hill in the early nineties—fueled his desire to move to North Carolina. “There were a lot of people [making films] here. I don’t know if there is something in the water,” he said.
The artistic identity of the Triangle region has also been shaped by renowned arts festivals such as the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and the American Dance Festival. In the future, Haverkamp envisions this trend growing—especially in the context of Duke’s new MFA program.
“I only see the film community in the Triangle getting stronger,” he said. “The new MFA program in Experimental Documentary Arts is attracting top-caliber students from around the world to Durham.”
Gibson’s work will be featured alongside that of two other faculty members at this weekend’s celebrated Rotterdam Festival in the Netherlands, demonstrating how the reach of Durham’s creative community extends beyond North Carolina. “The Triangle is well-known throughout the Southeast as a great film community, but [it] is also becoming a fixture of the international film scene,” Haverkamp said.
It was through the work of two of the artistic directors at Manbites Dog Theater, Jeff Storer and Edward Hunt, that Strange Beauty found its venue. Through a prior collaboration with the pair, Jim Haverkamp became interested in using the theater’s space to stage the festival. According to Storer, a professor of the practice in Duke’s Theater Studies program, the festival fit the theater’s mission by “allow[ing] film to experiment in terms of form and in terms of content.” From its inception, Manbites Dog has been interested in artists whose work transcends the limitations of the mainstream. As Storer said, “What Manbites Dog tries to do is provide a home for artists and companies that might have more difficulty finding a home…We look for creative artists and projects that can challenge audiences and surprise audiences.”
Haverkamp believes that any time you bring people together to experience creativity in a communal setting, they realize that art is something that anybody can make. It is this axiom that drives him to continue to organize artistic collaborations such as Strange Beauty. This attitude will also continue to encourage the arts to take root and to flourish in the Triangle. As Haverkamp says, “Really, what you need is interesting people.”
The Strange Beauty Film Festival runs Jan. 24-26 at Manbites Dog Theater. Find a full schedule of events at strangebeauty.org.