Professor garners grant for lyrical filmmaking

by Beacon Staff • October 27, 2011

strongEric Twardzik, Beacon Correspondent/strong

“You see that? These are my movies. There will be more of this,” says Robert Todd, filmmaker and Emerson associate visual and media arts professor, in a dry voice as he points toward a shelf overflowing with film canisters in his tiny ninth floor Ansin Building office.

On Oct. 11, the Boston Foundation — a community prosperity and development organization — announced that Todd will receive one of six $15,000 Brother Thomas Fellowships, allowing him to immediately start work on his next full-length project that he said would have otherwise taken years to be financially viable.

Todd’s debut feature film, emMaster Plan/em, will screen at the Brattle Theatre on Nov. 1. It examines housing in America, ranging from government subsidized housing to family homes to prisons. The film explores how these spaces work as “social architecture,” influencing the relationships of their inhabitants.

“Not just buildings but the building of social networks and cultural platforms and how we are interconnected,” he says. “The physical states and the active states.”

As for the fellowship funds — spent at the artist’s discretion — Todd says he plans to invest the award in a hitherto unnamed project about how culture is perceived at the local level. Though still in the works, the project already parallels the themes of Todd’s longer films — a focus on the relationship between human beings and culture in living space.

By examining these seemingly every day interactions, Todd challenges himself and audiences to reconsider their perception.

[caption id=attachment_3813850 align=aligncenter width=400 caption=Above and below, images of his feature film Master Plan. Stills Courtesy of Robert Todd]a href=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Cascade12_white.jpgimg class=size-full wp-image-3813850 title=Cascade12_white src=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Cascade12_white.jpg alt= width=400 height=225 //a[/caption]

p style=text-align: center;a href=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/MasterKidBench300.jpgimg class=aligncenter size-full wp-image-3813852 title=MasterKidBench300 src=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/MasterKidBench300.jpg alt= width=405 height=303 //a/p

“I try to get myself comfortable with a certain way of looking at things, then change them,” Todd said. “Change is the point. The shift – you’re always going to remember it.”

Todd’s repertoire is far from exclusively long-form. While working on projects like emMaster Plan/em, Todd said he turns to making shorter films as an outlet for creative urges. These short films emphasize emotional impact over subject or story, functioning as a kind of cinematic poetry whose strength lies in the feelings they create.

Take the 2011 short film emUndergrowth/em, described by Todd on his Vimeo page as “A hunter dreams through its prey’s eyes.”

Over 12 minutes Todd mashes extreme close-ups of an owl with footage of a dense forest. As the viewer’s eye penetrates deeper and deeper into the forest, a distant industrial hum increases in volume, creating a powerful sense of dread. It’s the shift that is the hallmark of Todd’s films — a sudden, unexpected change of emotional concentration that affects the viewer. “They are intensely focused but free-form,” Todd says. “I generate them in the moment, but these moments are very focused.”

The same can be said about the filmmaker, seated and surrounded on all sides by film developing equipment threatening avalanche. The experimental Todd is a free-form man, and his passion for the art is proven by those stacked canisters on the wall. Armed with the newly acquired fellowship money, Todd will be on his way to stacking his film towers even higher.

emTwardzik can be reached at eric_twardzik@emerson.edu. /em

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