Houston filmmaker Kelly Sears’ new work, Jupiter Elicius, is a five-minute film about a weatherman whose dreams are haunted by a malevolent storm system. As the protagonist describes his haunting and the weather around him becomes more threatening, the storm itself emerges as the most powerful character in the film.
Friday night in Mandell Park, Jupiter Elicius will join eight other films as part of the world premiere of the Orbit(film) project. Orbit(film) is a feature-length collection of shorts by nine different filmmakers, each representing one of the planets in our solar system, the sun, the moon and comets. The project is meant to be educational as well as artistic; producers Mike Plante and Mark Elijah Rosenberg envision it showing in schools and museums in addition to starlight screenings like the one this weekend.
Since arriving in 2009 as a Core Fellow at the Glassell School of Art, Sears has jumped into the Houston arts scene with both feet: exhibiting, curating, collaborating and representing Houston at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, where she showed Jupiter, her third film to be presented at the festival. Two more new pieces by Sears are on view as part of the Core Fellows group show at the Glassell School, which runs through April 22nd.
Sears is constantly trolling thrift stores and used bookshops for inspiration and material for her digital films. The storm at the center of Jupiter Elicius comprises a collage of found media — including a meteorology book Sears found at the Half Price Books store at Westheimer and Montrose — over which she digitally imposed stop-motion images of the actor and narrator who plays the weatherman. The result is simultaneously futuristic yet retro; menacing yet G-rated, all of which combine to create an unsettling effect.
“All the work I do is based on collected media artifacts,” she said. “My films always jump off of some visual image that will anchor a larger story that I build up around it.” It’s no surprise then that Houston, a city of unearthed treasures both visual and otherwise, has proved such fertile ground for Sears’ work.
“I can’t believe how valuable it’s been working in Houston,” she said. “The Core program has been such a gift. It’s a very supportive environment to make your work, and a lot of really good critical conversations take place. In a way it’s kind an extension of Houston, which has a small-town feel, where everyone really wants you to do well, but there’s a bigger city (arts) infrastructure, too.”
Sears came to the Core straight off her residency at the Yaddo Artists Colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where, she said, she “lived in a mansion, ate in high-backed chairs and had a studio in the woods. It was kind of surreal,” she added.
Sears enjoyed her time at Yaddo, but also appreciated the contrast her move to Houston provided. “The Core Program is great because you make your life here. Houston is my community, and I get to have this amazing reason to move to Texas and integrate into the art scene, which is really vibrant.”
Raised in Massachusetts, Sears was trained on the West Coast using 16 millimeter film as her medium, but ultimately hit upon digital composition as a constantly renewable — and affordable — means of filmmaking. “Working with found images is a way that I can make a sustainable film practice,” she said. “I ask myself, what can I pull off by myself with a computer, and a scanner, and a pile of dusty books?”
The “dusty books” aspect of her work seems to delight Sears. “You go to a thrift store and spend five dollars, and come back with the makings for a new film,” she said.
--By Jenny Staff Johnson, a freelance writer
The Sun, Brent Hoff
Mercury Ben, Coonley
Venus, Jessica Oreck
The Moon, Brian Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky
Mars, Mark Elijah Rosenberg
Comets, Deborah Stratman
Jupiter, Kelly Sears
Saturn, Michael Gitlin and Jacqueline Goss
Neptune, Todd Rohal
Uranus, Bill Brown
Pluto and Re-entry, Travis Wilkerson
A note on Earth, Mike Plante