Projections Filmmaker Jean-Paul Kelly on ‘The Innocents’ and his Kazuko Award

The Film Society recently announced that NYFF Projections filmmaker Jean-Paul Kelly will be this year's recipient of the Kazuko Trust Award. Presented by the Kazuko Trust and the Film Society, the prize recognizes "artistic excellence and innovation in his moving image work." Kelly's latest short film, The Innocents, will have its debut in this year's Projections section taking place October 3-5.

The Kazuko Trust was established upon the death of Kazuko Oshima, a Patron of the Film Society who was an enthusiastic supporter of film, especially of the experimental kind. The trust supplied the Film Society with a $50,000 grant to establish a scholarship fund for "worthy experimental filmmakers featured in NYFF's Projections." A seat in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center has been named in her honor.

The first two recipients in 2012, Laida Lertxundi and Michael Robinson, each received $5,000 grants during its inaugural year, and last year, the committee awarded Dani Leventhal with a $10,000 grant.

This year's honoree, Jean-Paul Kelly is a Toronto-based artist. His work has exhibited at the Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus), The Power Plant (Toronto), Mercer Union (Toronto), Vox Populi (Philadelphia), Scrap Metal Gallery (Toronto), Gallery TPW (Toronto), and Tokyo Wonder Site. He was a guest artist at the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar in 2013 and will be a resident at the Delfina Foundation (London) in 2015.

"With a recent flurry of singular videos, Jean-Paul Kelly has quickly established an unsettling and seductive set of concerns, examining issues of documentary representation and its reception," said Kazuko Trust Award committee member Christopher Stults, Associate Curator, Film/Video, Wexner Center for the Arts. "He starts with found materials (such as films by Frederick Wiseman or Albert and David Maysles, Bridget Riley’s paintings, or Google Image search results) that he removes from its original context by refiltering or re-creating it through a peculiar, ruthless, and oblique logic." The 2014 selection committee also included Projections curators Dennis Lim (Director of Programming, Film Society of Lincoln Center), Aily Nash (independent curator), Gavin Smith (Senior Programmer, FSLC and Editor-in-Chief, Film Comment), and Rachael Rakes (Programmer at Large, Film Society of Lincoln Center).

Kelly's work explores the relationship between "materiality and perception" via video, images, and objects that pose questions about the limits of representation. FilmLinc Daily recently spoke with Kelly about his latest work and being this year's Kazuko Trust Award recepient. The Innocents will premiere Sunday, October 5 in NYFF Projections.

Jean-Paul Kelly on what has influenced his approach to his work:

Like all of my work, it percolates out of an interest or a kind of indigestion with images that surround me. Many of the works that I’ve made over the past 2-3 years start out with properties based on documentary film or photographs primarily by photojournalists or citizen photos that people post online. I’m attracted by why someone is drawn to an image. Does my desire reflect theirs or does my unease with a photojournalistic image reflect on the makers or to the other users? Those are the questions I usually have.

Jean-Paul Kelly on the genesis of The Innocents:

The video starts off with 42 images of things I’ve posted in my studio. I knew that there were connections happening with many of the photos but wasn’t sure what to do with them. I began a process that becomes like a Tumblr stream or something where the images relate through structural properties and then through more obtuse literary interests. One of the things I was looking at during the same time period was when I stumbled across Richard Avedon photos of Perry Edward Smith and Richard Eugene Hickock from Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. I was interested in their greaser-like desire. Then I looked more into the Capote texts as it’s the most well-known nonfiction novel and I’m very interested in the connection between the fictional voice in documentary and having those reflections twinned in Truman’s voice.

Jean-Paul Kelly on finding a rare Maysles Brothers gem:

Post that, I stumbled across a lesser known Maysles Brothers doc called With Love from Truman. The precursor to the PBS channel had been commissioning filmmakers and documentarians in the late ’60s to make short essay-like films on American authors around the time of the publishing of In Cold Blood. In the interview, he’s performing to the camera, descending into an alcoholic blur as he makes drinks for a Newsweek reporter. He was answers questions but along the way talks very profoundly about the construction of fictional narratives shaping reality and shaping truth, so I was very compelled by these responses, reflecting on my own desire and repulsion with the photos and all the pieces locked into this form.

Jean-Paul Kelly on contemplating his finds and making The Innocents:

After a year of digestion I made the film in a matter of two weeks. The film then goes from an image stream shot very prophetically on a wood background with images that are taken from online sources of both commercial Hollywood making and of documentary filmmaking as well as the more esoteric [material] that I’m just attracted to. And all of them have holes cut out of them—either one hole or multiple holes—and they have color around the edges. That section leads into a restaging of the Truman Capote interview where I cast a muscular young stud who shows the body of Dick Hickock and is wearing a white tank top too but also has a plastic bag on his head. We use the same camera angles and cut away as the documentary footage itself. There is also Truman Capote’s speaking delivered in subtitles from the original text from the Maysles documentary. And the third part is a series of dots. They’re shot on Super-8 and they mimic an early avant-garde animation.

I’ve been very interested in the work of Oskar Fischinger, Mary Ellen Bute, and Norman McLaren. I went to the Center for Visual Music [in Los Angeles] this past year and saw a bunch of their works, I was interested in Fischinger's circles and squares. My circles were made in the same process except I used photographs as the circle template… Those are all accompanied by a very cut version of the Quincy Jones theme song to the film version of In Cold Blood. I mapped out these links of the dots on screen as much as they appear in the initial image and the music is cut to those. It’s an inversion of multiple texts in each other.

Jean-Paul Kelly on receiving this year's Kazuko Trust Award:

It’s really fantastic. I knew about the award as I knew Michael Robinson had received it and Dani Leventhal, who I met in Toronto. I know she was honored with it last year. Upon receiving it, I was curious about who the benefactor is. Kazuko Oshima is a really interesting character who was also an artist. It’s really interesting to receive an award from the estate of an artist. And especially from a panel that’s such a force as well.