Double Exposure festival brings student filmmakers and composers together

What kind of magic happens when Indiana University film students are paired with composers attending the Jacobs School of Music?

The Double Exposure film festival wants to show you.

And listen up: The original music created for the films will be performed live.

The free event, now in its fourth year, starts at 6:30 p.m. March 8 at IU Cinema. The festival features 11 film shorts, 11 musical scores and one big idea: College is the perfect time for creative experimentation.

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Double Exposure is an 80-minute program of films and live music March 8 at IU Cinema.

“What makes Double Exposure special is that the music score and the filmed image are on an equal level, the music is not in the background or subservient. And, of course, it is performed live as the film is screened,” said Susanne Schwibs, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and lecturer in The Media School. “While we create a DVD and Blu-ray of the films with their scores, the performance is one-of-a-kind and can only be experienced in the cinema at that moment in time.”

For filmmakers, the challenge is to communicate visually, with little or no dialogue, she said. The composers, in turn, must create a stand-alone piece of music that works “in dialogue” with the film.

“Double Exposure is a chance to collaborate closely with a filmmaker on a level that is often unseen in the film industry. Composers are not brought in for post-production alone, but are there to witness most of the process as the films are being made,” said Louis Goldford, president of the IU Student Composer Association. The Doctor of Music candidate in composition also serves as student liaison for the festival.

An annual event

“We are proud that Double Exposure has continued each year since it premiered in 2012,” said IU Cinema director Jon Vickers. “The idea of having composers and filmmakers conceptualize and create projects together on a group level remains very progressive.”

For the students, it’s also quite enlightening. They not only explore avant-garde aspects of their craft, but they also experience the real-world process of collaboration.

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Senior Colleen O’Keefe is represented in the festival by her Super-8 film “Super Market,” shown here.

Senior Colleen O’Keefe participated in Double Exposure for the first time this year with her film “Super Market.”

The telecommunications and communication and culture major said, “I wanted a lot of ambiguity in the film so everyone could have a different experience. I shot it as simply as I possibly could. I really wanted a gritty look, so I choose Super-8 and decided to hand-hold the camera.”

For music, she imagined something repetitive and dark, something with a “synth-pop” sound. “But I had to remember that we were using more classical instruments. I learned how hard it was to communicate to the composer because I couldn’t speak in musical terms. It sometimes felt like I was speaking another language. But ultimately, I felt like we got on the same page and it came out pretty great.”

Taking on a challenge

“Double Exposure facilitates the development of a skillset that is not normally developed when working with just music,” said Alex Blank, a first year master’s student in composition.

He said the long-term nature of the project is part of the challenge. Also, musicians are working with “a field that speaks an entirely different language.” This forces each composer to clearly articulate goals from the start.

As a Jacobs School undergraduate, he participated in the festival twice. This year Blank wrote music for Javier Ramirez’s film “Printed Memories (Recuerdos Impresos).” In the film, images of Ramirez’s daughter come in and out of focus and frame, alluding to his fears of losing these memories to dementia later in life.

Blank said he used the child’s voice to determine a range of pitch for the music he wrote. “I used recordings of piano, both played traditionally and bowed, to create an ethereal ‘sound-world’ from which the live instruments emerge, all matching the childlike innocence found in the film’s visual material.”

Collaboration, evolution

The Double Exposure collaboration and festival continues to evolve.

Many of the films have come from Schwibs’ class Experiments With the Film Camera, but projects also have been recruited from other media courses.

This year marks the first time a film by high school students will be included. Last fall, Schwibs’ IU students worked with a group from Bloomington’s Academy of Science and Entrepreneurship. And next fall, Double Exposure will be taught by Schwibs as an advanced-level workshop class in The Media School.

Double Exposure is made possible by the Jacobs School of Music; the Department of Communication and Culture in The Media School; the Student Composers Association; IU Cinema; filmmaker Schwibs and composition professor John Gibson.

A full list of the 2015 films, filmmakers and composers is available on The Media School website.

Tickets are required for the event and can be obtained free of charge at the IU Auditorium box office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; at the cinema one hour before any screening; or by phone at 812-855-1103 for a $10 service fee per order.

New film scoring competition

In related news, an annual film scoring competition has been endowed by philanthropist and former IU trustee P.A. Mack Jr.

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P.A. Mack Jr. has endowed an annual film scoring competition for Jacobs School composition students.

Each year, the Jon Vickers Film Scoring Award will be presented to one student in the composition department at the Jacobs School of Music. The winner will receive a $5,000 commission to fully score a silent film, which will premiere before an IU Cinema audience in February 2016. Submissions are now being accepted, and the entry deadline for the 2015-16 award is April 15.

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