Fellows Friday: Q&A with Filmmaker Mark Kendall

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Mark Kendall, 2016 Pew Fellow. Photo by Ryan Collerd.

Our “Fellows Friday” series focuses on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges.

This week, we speak to filmmaker Mark Kendall (2016), whose experimental documentary films reflect on, as he says, “the everyday conditions of our everyday lives” in ways that bring together the physical, sensuous and perceptual with the intellectual. His feature directorial debut La Camioneta premiered at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, and was selected as a New York Times Critic’s Pick. Kendall’s work has been screened at venues such as the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. A Guggenheim Fellow (2014) and Sundance Institute Fellow (2011), Kendall has been in residence at the Bogliasco Study Center in Italy (2017) and The MacDowell Colony (2015), and was a Fulbright Fellowship Program finalist in film/video (2008).

Mark Kendall FF Q&A: Content Block 1

How did you become an artist? Is there a particular experience that drove you to this choice?

I've long been interested in how people define and seek to transcend the boundaries of their own individual and cultural worlds. In college, I worked at Vanderbilt's Object Perception Lab, learning about the plasticity of the senses and the haptic potential of visual perception. As an anthropology major, I was interested in exploring the intersections between phenomenology, liminal states and spaces, and questions of cultural value. I slowly began gravitating towards filmmaking over the course of several years because it was a vehicle that provided an affordance for synthesizing my curiosity about the human condition with my background in music and emerging interest in photography. Accordingly, I approach the art of filmmaking as a kind of experiment, employing a strategy of carefully attending to, and possibly altering, habits of perception.

What are some of the early art experiences that have influenced your approach to your work?

In Knee Plays #5, David Byrne says, “Being in the theatre is more important than knowing what is going on in the movie.” Although I had some formal musical training as a child, it wasn’t until I took up the bass years later and began to improvise that things really opened up for me. With improvisation, there’s no such thing as a wrong note because it’s really not about any one note—it’s about the relations between them, and about getting inside those relations. I think that early freedom to experiment musically, to let myself be guided as things unfold, really influenced the way I approach my films. [Writer and theater critic] Hilton Als has this great line about Sly & the Family Stone’s subversive appeal where he says that their genius was to have a soulful groove in the bassline while layering in lyrics that were counter-cultural. I also find myself drawn to works that traffic in social commitment conveyed through an unexpected set of conditions.

Mark Kendall FF Q&A: Content Block 2

Mark Kendall FF Q&A: Content Block 3

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