~ Big Bridges ~

Bicycle Love Poem: Midtown to Canal by Jessica Jacobs

This delightful film by Tom Jacobsen (Pixel Farm) was one of the winners of MotionpoemsBig Bridges Film Festival in Minneapolis last year. Sophie Jacobsen is the actress and Jesse Marks provided the sound mix. The many nods to selfie culture recall some of the best video work of Alt Lit poet Steve Roggenbuck.

For more on the poet, Jessica Jacobs, see her website.

Big Bridges: The smoke, the cars and clouds, the quiet, the river

“I think of the smoke, the cars and clouds, the quiet, the river, often…”
—Leonard Gontarek, “Thirty-Seven Photos from the Bridge”

Big Bridges contest logoI don’t often enter contests or film festivals. I’m happy to plug away working on short documentaries and experimenting with new ways to create filmpoems. But I was alerted to the Big Bridges exhibition by my weekly Sunday afternoon Moving Poems digital digest, and at the time I was in Florida. According to the submission guidelines, there was about a month to submit an entirely new piece, never seen online before, to address the nature of our deficient bridges and infrastructure. I had a personal connection to the subject matter, and the Motionpoems and Weisman Art Museum (WAM) collaboration with artists, poets, architects, engineers and filmmakers piqued my interest. There was also a healthy cash prize associated. I thought, why not?

With little time to spare, I started looking for bridges in Naples, Florida, where most were new, though I found some good shadows and water movement to shoot during my time there. However, the main reason I wanted to work on the project was because a bridge within walking distance from my home is noticeably crumbling. In fact, living at the New Jersey shore, I’ve seen quite a few old bridges in dire need of replacement, damaged by years of rampaging weather and salt water.

As citizens we often take our bridge and infrastructure needs for granted. In the tri-state New York metro area there are many structurally deficient bridges, as we are in a major hub where consumer products are transported through the Interstate 95 corridor, on rail and by ship. The daily traffic on our roads and bridges is mind-boggling. My local bridge, built in 1939, is over 75 years old. It connects several small communities, and according to Transport for America, 13,618 cars travel over it every day. Surely when it was designed, engineers didn’t anticipate that type of usage and impact. The bridge makes a beautiful arc through the widest part of the river and gracefully curves between several historical homes. It has a movable deck (span) controlled by US Coast Guard employees which allows sailboats and larger yachts to pass.

I worry every time I drive over the bridge. It has been closed off and on over the past five years and is clearly structurally deficient, as the New Jersey Department of Transportation records and news articles document. What I observed and captured under the bridge is consistent with data and reports. According to a bridge repair log from 2008 to 2010, the repair costs were $1.3 million, and every year they’ve been steadily repairing the bridge, which has probably added up to between five and ten million dollars. A local newspaper recently reported a rough cost estimate of replacement at over $100 million. The county’s entire budget is $488 million. Additionally, there are citizens who are arguing for the same exact type of bridge and don’t want a taller one, and New Jersey has a Transportation Trust Fund that is basically bankrupt. This means that money needs to come from the federal government with approval from Congress. I’m afraid either these bridges will be closed altogether causing traffic havoc, or they will fail and lives will be lost. Solutions seem to be in short supply.

The Weisman Art Museum doors

The Weisman Art Museum (all photos by Lori H. Ersolmaz)

The good news is that the Big Bridges exhibition takes on an ambitious and difficult conversation that should be in the forefront of our local and national concerns. The Weisman Art Museum and Motionpoems collaboration began with a poetry contest judged by Poetry Society of America Executive Director, Alice Quinn. There were five overall winners with three chosen for filmmaker adaptation, including Ann Hudson’s “Elegy with a Train in It,” Jessica Jacobs’ “Bicycle Love Poem” and Leonard Gontarek’s “Thirty-Seven Photos from the Bridge.” Instead of reading the winning poems first, I decided the project should begin with my journey to the bridges and then match a winning poem with what I observed and documented. I shot the bridges as if they were people: intimately and from every vantage point except using aerial footage. (Patrick Siegrist, one of the filmpoetry judges, shot incredible drone footage for the Weisman/Target Studio Collaboration Exhibit, Big Bridges: An Aerial Tour.)

Shooting over several weeks, I went into stealth mode to document every detail of four bridges, and it wasn’t until I went out to film that I fully appreciated the beauty and wide span of the bridge near my home. In the final edit I tossed out all pedestrians and used additional footage shot in Paris and Belgium a few years ago. Nearly all my bridges were filmed from below where I found them to be dark and eerie with the sounds of cars above whizzing and droning by on their way to myriad destinations.

I had an unusual moment when shooting a newer bridge. While staring through the viewfinder, I was surprised to serendipitously film two small packages tossed off the side of the bridge, where one made its way to me at the bank below. As it came closer I noticed it was a plastic-wrapped WAWA hamburger carton. At the time I thought the carefully wrapped carton seemed odd because if someone is going to toss garbage, it would seem to have been already eaten and messy. But, I didn’t take it out of the water to inspect it. That very scene still stays fresh in my mind. The experience resonated with Leonard Gontarek’s poem: “…There is a lot of isolation and silence in our world. Birds land nowhere. Say that. Code it in. Let it play…” I specifically placed a plop-sound effect to punctuate what I felt Gontarek was alluding to.

“A little darkness and violet sticks to the river…” I still wonder what was inside that package, but metaphorically the scene represents the seedy and mysterious side of life—the underbelly—which may serve as a safe haven from harsh societal conditions. Possibly a dry place in the rain for homeless, or youth looking for a secret hiding space for drinking or drugs and to get away from everyday life. While bridges are connectors between two shores, often we have blinders on by not considering what else goes on underneath those dark, dank and lonely places. Confronting these ideas brings a deeper level of meaning, not just as structural failings, but overall societal deficiencies which go denied and disregarded. I chose a repetitious clip of a vibrant highlighted arc to depict a flash of this idea—the spirit of the ‘other’ we often don’t let ourselves see.

Inside the WAM

Inside the WAM

The submission guidelines stated that filmmakers had the option to rename the poem with the number of stanzas used, and my film is entitled Fourteen Photos from the Bridge. The film used nearly all non-sync sound with a music mix, and for narration, the voice of poet (and Motionpoems director) Todd Boss, whose intonation, weight and measure became important to emote the overall audio/visual integration.

I was surprised and elated in early September when I heard from Patrick Siegrist, WAM Artist in Residence, with the news about my winning submission. I was flown to Minneapolis, all expenses paid by the museum, for a September 30th exhibition screening date. Myself and another winning filmmaker, Sam Hoiland, and two runners-up were hosted in a WAM gallery with public networking after the screening. Craig Amundsen, Target Studio Director and Public Art Curator at WAM stated they received hundreds of submissions, and introduced Todd Boss of Motionpoems and Patrick Siegrist of City Visions, who each spoke briefly to explain the idea behind the Big Bridges poetry and film contest and exhibition.

It was an honor and a privilege to have my filmpoetry hosted at the magnificent Weisman Art Museum, designed by the renowned architect Frank Gehry on the banks of the Mississippi River alongside such 20th-century artists as Marsden Hartley, Charles Biederman, Georgia O’Keefe and Louise Nevelson. I’m grateful to the judges, WAM staff, Motionpoems, the artists, poets and guests who I met during the evening and will forever hold the memory of my time in Minneapolis for the Big Bridges exhibition close to my heart. While I started out saying I tend not to enter contests or film festivals, I have to admit, it’s a great opportunity to collaborate and learn about those who share the same ideals and values about society, culture and the making of art and poetry, all in an effort to find new ways for collective dialogue and ultimately solutions to our nation’s most important problems.

Watch Lori’s winning film on Moving Poems, and then find out about bridges in your state. —Ed.

Weisman Art Museum architecture

Frank Gehry’s magnificent design of the WAM

Thirty-Seven Photos from the Bridge by Leonard Gontarek

UPDATE: Read Lori Ersolmaz’ essay on the making of the film at Moving Poems Magazine.

This is Fourteen Photos from the Bridge, the winning film from last month’s Big Bridges poetry film contest, sponsored by Motionpoems and the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, and I’m pleased to say that the filmmaker is someone we’ve regularly featured here: the New York-based, grassroots multimedia content producer and visual storyteller Lori H. Ersolmaz. Here’s some of what she says about it on her website:

My submission was based on the winning poem by Leonard Gontarek, Thirty-Seven Photos from the Bridge. Expressing fourteen of the thirty-seven stanzas, I used original footage shot in Paris and Belgium and filmed locally during summer 2015. I’m especially excited about this award as it provides me with an alternative visual storytelling approach to social issues. I submitted the film in an effort to open dialogue about the current need to address structurally deficient bridges and infrastructure.

There’s a good bio of Leonard Gontarek at the Poetry Foundation.

Upcoming videopoetry and poetry film festivals

Book your tickets! The annual autumn parade of poetry film festivals is about to begin. Some calls are still open: for the Vienna, Ó Bhéal and CYCLOP festivals (see below), and for the as-yet-unscheduled 5th Sadho Poetry Film Fest (deadline: October 30) and International Film Poetry Festival in Athens (deadline: November 20). And don’t forget that submissions to Zata Banks’ PoetryFilm screenings series never close.

September 15-19, Vilnius, Lithuania

TARP Audiovisual Poetry Festival 10: INTER-states

This year‘s special touch – audiozine, which will see poets Dainius Gintalas, Laima Kreivytė, Marius Burokas, Benediktas Januševičius, Agnė Žagrakalytė and others being recorded reading poetry in their favourite settings.

The last day of the festival TARP 10 will be dedicated to TARP academy, together with video poetry researchers Sarah Lucas and Lucy English from Great Britain, andan open discussion with the festival guests. The closing of the festival will be crowned as usual by an open mic readings and the opening of the „INTER-states“ exhibition – because it is just the festival that will end, while poetic states will flutter in the air for long afterwards.

September 30, Minneapolis, MN, USA

Big Bridges Film Festival

Mark your calendar for September 30, 2015 when we will reveal the winners of the Big Bridges Film Contest! The event, hosted by MotionPoems and the Target Studio at the Weisman Art Museum, will include a special screening of selected films from the contest. All are welcome!

More details coming soon at www.BigBridgesWAM.com!

October 4-11, Cork, Ireland

Ó Bhéal @ IndieCork Film Festival
Submissions open until September 15

This is Ó Bhéal’s sixth year of screening poetry-films (or video-poems) and the third year featuring an International competition.

Up to thirty films will be shortlisted and screened during the festival, from 4th-11th October 2015.

October 10-11, Worcester, MA, USA

Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival

Rabbit Heart 2015 will once again be at the delightful Nick’s Bar in Worcester, MA! This year there will be two shows–

Showcase Matinee – Saturday, October 10th 12-3pm
Join us for lunch, and check out some of the fantastic material that we wish we had time to share at the awards ceremony (we got SO many good entries this year!) We will screen the best of the best that didn’t fall into prize categories, as well as curated showcases from renowned UK archivist Zata Banks of PoetryFilm. Watch this space for more information on the individual showcases.

Awards Ceremony and Viewing Party – Sunday, October 11th 8pm (doors at 7:30)
The show you’ve been waiting all year for – the best of the best, the handing out of trophies, popcorn and fancy dresses, and your lovely emcees Tony Brown and Melissa Mitchell! Come meet your judges and cheer for your finalists – and see who takes home the sparkle-hearted bunny for Best Overall Production.

October 17, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Visible Verse 2015 Festival

Presented by The Cinematheque since 2000, Visible Verse is one of the longest-running video poetry festivals in the world. Video poetry is a hybrid creative form bringing together verse and moving images. Visible Verse selects its annual program from hundreds of submissions received from local, national, and international artists.

On the occasion of the 2015 festival, The Cinematheque says a fond farewell and expresses its great gratitude to Heather Haley, founder of Visible Verse and its curator and host from 2000 to 2014. We welcome Vancouver poet Ray Hsu into his new role as Visible Verse’s artistic director.

November 20 and 22, Kyiv, Ukraine

5th CYCLOP International Videopoetry Festival
Submissions open until September 30

The festival programme features video poetry-related lectures, workshops, round tables, discussions, presentations of international contests and festivals, as well as a demonstration of the best examples of Ukrainian and world videopoetry, a competitive program, an awards ceremony and other related projects.

December 5-6, Vienna, Austria

Poetry Filmfestival Vienna (AKA Art Visuals & Poetry Festival)
Submissions from German-speaking countries open until September 15

After an inspiring Poetry Film Festival in 2014 we are happy to go on in 2015. What´s new in 2015? We found a new festival location in middle of city center. Metro Kinokulturhaus. It’s one the most beautiful cinemas in Vienna and the result of a new cooperation with Filmarchiv Austria.

Call for submissions: Motionpoems’ Big Bridges Film Festival

Five finalist poems have been selected for Motionpoems’ Big Bridges project, and now a second competition has been announced, this time to select films made from three of those poems. The deadline is August 10, so you don’t have very much time. Links to the poems and full details are on the Motionpoems website. I’ll quote the description from their email newsletter, which was more succinct:

CALL FOR FILMS: $2500 in Prizes

Motionpoems invites filmmakers to create short films designed to inspire engineers, architects, and designers with ideas for the future of big bridges. America’s bridges are failing, and Target Studio at the Weisman Art Museum of the University of Minnesota is stirring public conversation by mounting a multidisciplinary exhibit that dreams big about big bridges. A national poetry contest has resulted in five finalist poems on this theme; we’re making three of those poems available to develop into your own short film; you could come away with a share of $2500 in awards. The deadline is August 10, 2015. Click here to read finalist poems, read the guidelines and enter the contest.

The Big Bridges Film Festival will be held on September 30, 2015 at the University of Minnesota.

Call for poems to be turned into films about “Big Bridges”

Big Bridges logoThe Minneapolis-based poetry-film organization Motionpoems, in cooperation with the Weisman Art Museum of the University of Minnesota, is seeking submissions to a poetry-film installation called Big Bridges.

See your poem turned into a film! Calling all artists, designers, engineers, poets, and the entire community…Join us in a creative dialogue to establish the expectations, possibilities, and aspirations for the future of our Big Bridges over the Mississippi River. America’s bridges are failing. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 25% of America’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

To inspire future engineers, Motionpoems and Target Studio at the Weisman Art Museum of the University of Minnesota invite poets to dream big about bridges. We want poems to inspire our nation’s designers, engineers, and architects to reimagine the future of America’s big bridges. You might send us a poem that imagines a physical bridge of the future or one that conceptualizes the idea of bridging in a big way or you might send us a poem that reinterprets bridge-crossing for a new age. Broad interpretations of the theme encouraged. Executive director of the Poetry Society of America and former New Yorker poetry editor Alice Quinn will judge this poetry contest.

Five winners will:

  • receive $1,000
  • see their poems turned into short films
  • see those films at the Weisman Art Museum
  • receive airfare/accommodations to attend the premiere in Minneapolis (date to be announced).

The deadline for submissions is April 30, and only poets resident in the U.S. may enter. Click through and scroll down past the images to read the terms of entry. There will be a second call for entries, this time to U.S. filmmakers, at a yet-to-be-determined date after the five poems have been chosen.