After living among us for the past half dozens years, Adrianne Finelli will be leaving shortly for Pennsylvania. I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions.
MARK: Where will you be moving to and what will you be doing there?
ADRIANNE: I’m moving back to Pennsylvania, not back to Philly, but the other side of the state, in Erie, to teach Cinema in the Art Department at Edinboro University. I’m really sad to leave Michigan, and not super psyched to be going where I’m going, but I really need the full-time experience and my appointment at the University of Michigan hasn’t been very secure.
MARK: What were you doing at U-M?
ADRIANNE: I was lecturing in the School of Art & Design, and doing some work with the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP).
MARK: Other than the fact that the job wasn’t terribly secure, what did you think of the work that you were doing at U-M? Was it fulfilling?
ADRIANNE: I love teaching and I love talking with creative people. Politics and policies aside, I really enjoyed what I was doing at U-M and gained so much from my experiences there. I’ve mainly been teaching time-based media courses, but was also given the opportunity to teach an advanced studio course that I created called Home, that explored the psychological, political and cultural meanings of home. It was while designing and teaching that class that I realized just how much I loved curating readings and screenings, and helping people make new connections and make new work. I fully enjoyed my work with PCAP, as well. It’s an irreplaceable program that benefits so many people, and the staff and volunteers are some of my favorite people around. I will never forget the selection visits that I went on, going into the prisons and talking with the artists about their artwork. It’s very moving work, it’s vital, and I hope to stay connected with them — I already promised to come back in March to help layout and install the PCAP 18th Annual Art Exhibition by Michigan Prisoners, if I’m not buried under 5 feet of snow.
MARK: I haven’t heard the phrase “time-based media” before. Is that what we’re calling film and video now? Is it broader than that? Does it encompass audio, interactive web design, etc? It doesn’t have anything to do with your exit interview, but I’m curious…
ADRIANNE: Essentially, yes. I’ve noticed that more art schools are using this terminology to allow room for sound, performance, installation, and other mediums that have duration. Film and video is still the language of many film and cinema programs, though, and I really don’t think those words will dissolve into “time-based media” at any point. It’s why I was hired at Edinboro, though, so I guess it’s totally relevant. I was brought in exactly for this reason, to teach film and video production to art students — teaching specific technical skills and tying them to broader concepts of composition, line, color, rhythm, etc.
MARK: You say “moving back” to PA. I didn’t know you were from there. Is that where you were born, grew up, etc?
ADRIANNE: I was born and raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a really historic place and an old steel town in the Lehigh Valley, its become rather depressed since Bethlehem Steel closed in 1990, but it was and still is a great place to grow up. I loved being so close to NYC, Philadelphia, and the ocean. After I left Bethlehem, I moved to Philly and lived there for six years before moving to Ann Arbor to pursue my MFA in 2006.
MARK: Was your family in the steel industry? Is that what brought them to Bethlehem?
ADRIANNE: Neither side located there for the steel, but two of my uncles worked for Bethlehem Steel at one point. My Dad’s father was born in Roseto, Italy and moved to Roseto, Pennsylvania with his family when he was young. My great grandfather worked in the slate quarries in Pennsylvania until he was nearly killed on the job. After his recovery, he opened a successful Italian Grocery and ran an urban farm before there were “urban farms.” My Mom’s father came from farmers that lived for many generations in the area. Eventually the family ended up selling nearly all of their land. Unfortunately that land has since been developed into horrible places.
MARK: So, you did your undergraduate work in Philly?
ADRIANNE: Yep, I went to film school at Temple University in North Philly, and focused on documentary studies and production. Temple was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, the program itself was great, but the irreplaceable benefits of the environment is what really shaped me there. It was so exciting for me to leave Bethlehem, I was ready to get to a bigger city and explore, and this urban inner city public school was the perfect place. I met such a diverse group of people while I was there, and whenever I’m back on the east coast I make a point to drop by campus and say hello to the Library and the Urban Archives and the people I still know there.
MARK: Actually, it just occurred to me that I don’t know where you live. Would I be right to assume you live in Ann Arbor?
ADRIANNE: That makes me happy to hear. I’ve always tried to attend events and support places in Ypsi and Detroit a lot, but have lived in Ann Arbor for six years. Mainly, because I like walking to work, I thought about moving to Ypsi and Detroit many times, and if I was staying in the area and wanting to buy a home, I would definitely be leaving Ann Arbor for Ypsi/Detroit.
MARK: When did you start making films? Can you tell us about your first film project?
ADRIANNE: Wow, that’s tricky. I’ve been watching old home movies of my family recently for an upcoming project that I’m working on, and my Dad was the main cameraman, but there are several moments that I’m captured saying, “Daddy, Daddy, let me take pictures!” and I take over. I guess I was probably five or six, and it was a Sony Hi8 Handycam with a battery bigger than my head. I would call those my
very first films, but they were more like the Lumière brothers’ short studies, fleeting moments of everyday life. I guess my work hasn’t changed too much, I’m still interested in ordinary people and places, I collect and study home movies, and I make films about family and memory. The first film I made that wasn’t edited in-camera, was a documentary called Arts Jam, I made it my sophomore year of high school, and it was showcased at a local arts & music festival. I don’t really remember that one, I’m sure it had heart, but I’m sure it was pretty horrible. I think there’s a copy in my parent’s basement.
MARK: When not working at your day jobs, have you been working on projects while you’ve been in Michigan? Was this a productive place for you?
ADRIANNE: Hugely. I think everyone that has the desire to make stuff, but can’t afford to only be creating whatever their invention is—people like me that need a day job or two — we’re constantly beating ourselves up over not creating enough. If I’m honest with what I had to deal with in my life while I was here, I think I’ve found the time and space to make a lot of really meaningful creative work, and I’ve curated a few shows in the meantime too. Although, I think my true creative mojo is just resurfacing right now, I had the hardest years of my life here in Michigan, and at times that affected my creative energy. So, I’m heading off for this place where I don’t know a soul and I could rent a giant space for the cost of my studio apartment in Ann Arbor. That’s how I’m going to get myself through this transition, treating it like an artists residency and ravenously be making new work.
MARK: You mention having curated shows. Can you tell us about one that you’re particularly proud of?
ADRIANNE: This December, Dan F. Friedlaender and I co-curated a show called “Perspective on Pain” in Detroit at the U-M Work•Detroit gallery on Woodward. The show asked three extremely challenging questions: “How do we begin to talk about pain, to share and explore it? How does one describe and depict their own pain or the pains of others? Can we find useful ways of expressing it?” It ran for a month, and we had a performance/screening event, as an extension of the show and its themes, as part of the opening night reception. It was a really important show for me on many levels and we had a wonderful, engaging turn out. I asked my dance teachers Shirley Axon and Nancy Heers to start off the performance with a dance that I loosely choreographed, called “The Dance of My Grandmothers,” which is about the suicides of both my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandmother. That was definitely the most moving part of the evening for me personally. Dan and I got an overwhelming response to our call for work, with over 160 submissions, and only room for 30 artists. We were shocked, and wanted to include so much more work than we had space for. Overall, we got a great response to the show. Curating is a ton of work, but I totally love bringing art and people together — I think I’ll try to curate a show every other year.
MARK: What are the five things you will miss the most about Michigan?
ADRIANNE: More than anything else, I will miss the people. I’ve met so many smart, creative, and caring people in the Ann Arbor/Ypsi/Detroit area, it’s a hard place to move from. I recently told a friend that this time and place in my life might be the pinnacle of finding a sense of community with so many kindred spirits.
I will miss the Shadow Art Fair and the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and so many of the awesome annual events that would map out my years here.
I will miss so many of my favorite places to eat, drink, and be merry.
I will miss the seasons – especially the fall – here. Apple cider and donuts? Who knew!?
And I will miss walking through the Arb everyday.
But, I’m not going too far, so I don’t have to miss things too much. Plus, I’m coming back to MI at the end of September to throw myself a “Hello, again. I’m 30.” party. I couldn’t stand the idea of having a farewell party.
MARK: What will you be doing in your new position? Will you have the ability/budget to curate screenings, hold film competitions, and do anything in addition to just teaching classes?
ADRIANNE: I will be teaching 4D design and time-based media classes to art students in all media. It’s much like the “Time” course that I’ve been teaching at U-M. I’m excited to see what these working and middle-class young adults have to say. (Most of the Edinboro students will definitely be coming from more humble backgrounds.) I’m hoping to get some screenings together in the spring, and I’m taking a break from curating this academic year to focus on making and writing, but I’ll definitely be scheming ideas for 2013-2014.
MARK: Any parting thoughts on the local film scene, and what, if anything, could make it better?
ADRIANNE: More screenings in more spaces with more people. I think supporting the events/shows is so important to a healthy, functioning scene; so, get out there and check things out. I’ve been on the Ann Arbor Film Festival Selection Committee for a couple years, and I know that some of our events/screenings get really sad turnouts. It always surprises me not to see more people out at screenings/events. I know that there are so many curious people here. I also think people should cooperate and collaborate on more projects. it’s the only way to get things started and done and out there. Forming an equipment co-op would benefit a lot of emerging and diverse voices in this rich community. Time-share is also a wonderful thing for larger productions. Exchanging time on each other’s projects is rewarding, and it also creates a really strong network. More sharing and more caring — two things that would improve most everything!