Fearless director Josephine Decker to create experimental film in front of IU Cinema audience

“Bloomington, here I come!”

Such exuberance can be expected from Josephine Decker. One might say it is typical, but there is nothing typical about this filmmaker or her boundless creativity.


Director Josephine Decker and her films will appear at IU Cinema Oct. 2-3.

She has been here before, as an actress in Brigitta Wagner’s film “Rosehill.” Wagner, a former Indiana University professor of Germanic studies, filmed part of her project around town in May 2013.

But this week Decker returns to IU Cinema as the internationally acclaimed director of “Butter on the Latch” and “Thou Wast Mild and Lovely,” which both were shown at Germany’s Berlinale Forum in February.

This Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture will be unlike any other Jorgensen event to date, said Jon Vickers, director of IU Cinema.

Rather than a talk, think of it as an improvisational filmmaking event. Decker said she is “very interested in immersive experience, what it means for the audience to experience something instead of observe it.”

Beginning at 3 p.m. Friday, Decker and her friend IU doctoral student Russell Sheaffer will begin what they are calling “The Unburied Experience: Visceral Filmmaking.” About six weeks ago, Vickers gave Sheaffer a personal 16mm print of the Odessa Steps sequence from the 1925 film “Battleship Potemkin.” Sheaffer said the film was cut into 100-foot segments and buried in his garden each week in a process that “allows the film stock to begin decomposing.”

Live, in front of the audience, the filmmakers will unveil the deteriorated footage and re-edit it into a new project. At the end of the program, the freshly made film will be projected for all to see.

Sophie Traub

Sophie Traub stars in ‘Thou Wast Mild and Lovely.’

“Josephine Decker is fearless,” Vickers said. “She has never made a found-footage experimental film, yet is unafraid to try to do so – live, in front of an audience, as she will walk us through her discovery and creative process. It should be a unique and interesting program.”

“It feels weirdly like a homecoming to wander back,” she said. “Jon and his magical palace of film have already blown me away many times, so I am honored to be returning to the campus.”

Schedule of events

Decker is scheduled to be present at all of these free IU Cinema events:

  • 6:30 p.m. Oct. 2, “Thou Wast Mild and Lovely” – Decker’s sensual thriller, which was inspired by “East of Eden,” stars Joe Swanberg, Sophie Traub, love, death, guns, goats and a farm in Kentucky (Not rated, 94 minutes).
  • 9:30 p.m. Oct. 2, “Butter on the Latch” – Her debut film from 2013 is about “nerves, woods, ladies and Balkan music” and was inspired by a Bulgarian folk song. It’s part horror film, part fairytale and IndieWire has described the film as “a sexy, wild romp you have to see to believe.” (Not rated, 63 minutes).
  • 3 p.m. Oct. 3, “The Unburied Experience: Visceral Filmmaking– Decker’s appearance is part of the Jorgensen lecture series, made possible through the generous support of the Ove W. Jorgensen Foundation. Decker and Sheaffer will piece together an experimental film and show their results after just 70 minutes. Tickets are not required for this one-of-a-kind event; however, seating is limited.

Free tickets for “Thou Wast Mild and Lovely” and “Butter on the Latch”are now available, with a limit of two per person for each show. Question-and-answer sessions are planned after each of the film screenings. Tickets for IU Cinema films can be obtained 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.

Decker’s new vision

In the wake of the Berlin Festival, The New Yorker commanded readers to “Pay Attention to Josephine Decker” and Filmmaker Magazine named her one of its 25 New Faces of Independent Film.

Raised in Texas and educated at Princeton, Decker has made waves as an environmentalist, performance artist, actress and wildly original film director.

“For me, a lot of a film is about tone and mood,” she said. “I love eerie and creepy spaces and I love preserving and collecting the sounds and images that will enhance a feeling (like) one experiences in ‘Butter on the Latch.’ ”

Wide open field with house

‘Butter on the Latch’ is set in the wilds of a camp.

Decker and her cinematographer Ashley Connor prefer to construct scenes through the lens of one person’s experience. “You, as the audience, are very close to the characters, and you’re also in their head space sonically – close to them through the sounds of their bodies, rustle of their clothes, etc. I love shooting this way.”

In Decker’s films, individual experience often is determined through internal events as much as external actions. Stories are advanced by thoughts, dreams, emotions and fantasies. “I believe that often our fantasies are more real than our realities,” she said.

“Yesterday, I made out with the man in the deli, leapt over a car with my bicycle and flew like an eagle in the sky. I mean, that’s how it felt. And isn’t that ‘realer’ than whatever ‘reality’ happened?

“I think of filmmaking and acting – and most art, actually – as a spiritual experience,” Decker said. “We are putting ourselves into other people’s lives to illuminate something about the universal for ourselves and hopefully others.”

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