Vimeo "Staff Picks" earn awards in animation, music video categories at Austin festival
A curator used to be a rather arcane title, limited to museum types and the occasional Ph.D. But in the age of social media we're all curators, tending to our feeds, disseminating content -- images, articles, videos -- we deem worthy of attention. We are the sum of what we curate; our curatorial choices constitute "who we are" online, reflecting our tastes, interests and politics.
It must be satisfying then for the curators at Vimeo to see some of their recent Staff Picks validated with awards at SXSW, another institution that -- viewed in a certain way -- serves a curatorial purpose.
Miles Jay's video for the Leon Bridges song "River" won the festival's award for best music video. It has been viewed more than 86,000 times on the Vimeo web site, where curators chose it as a staff pick well before the SXSW music video jury got a look at it.
When you get something as beautiful as that song it's so stressful because you're like, 'I just can't fuck this up.'
In the animated shorts category at SXSW, the jury awarded its top prize to Wednesday with Goddard by Nicolas Ménard (with pencil drawings by Manshen Lo, Ménard's wife). The four-and-a-half-minute gem previously earned staff pick recognition at Vimeo.
Some of Vimeo's top curators came to SXSW earlier this month, in part to shed light on how staff picks are chosen, and to screen a select number of their choices.
"We have a team of five people and we treat each day as if it was a miniature film festival," explained senior curator Ian Durkin regarding the staff pick process. "We all go out and watch films, bring the films to one another that we enjoyed and then we vote on them. And then the films that we all kind of reach a consensus on are the staff picks that day."
"And we travel out to festivals and find the best content," added fellow curator Meghan Oretsky. "So we bring things from festivals for our 'daily festivals' on Vimeo."
Oretsky offered some advice for filmmakers hoping to score that coveted "staff pick" emblem for their work.
"I would suggest getting your audience to rally around your film in the form of likes and comments," she said. "The more exposure that it gets on the website and the more activity there is around it the more likely it is to end up on our feed and the more likely it is to end up on our radar."
One essential way to earn a staff pick endorsement, of course, is to make an outstanding film. During SXSW, Vimeo showcased a half-dozen of its staff picks at the Austin Convention Center, a screening that included live commentary from the directors, including the aforementioned Miles Jay and Nicolas Ménard. (To be clear, the Vimeo Staff Picks Live Screening -- now in its fourth year -- takes place separately from SXSW itself. It just so happened that three of the staff picks chosen for the live screening were in competition at SXSW -- Wednesday with Goddard, the music video for Leon Bridges' "River" and the music video for Yeasayer's "I Am Chemistry).
At the Vimeo live screening, Australian director Darcy Prendergast provided commentary on his film Gary & Gabe, a nine-minute short about a young woman (Gabe) and the monster who lives under her bed (Gary). The director revealed he spent around $20,000 -- amounting to most of his budget -- on the prosthetics for Gary, a sweet-natured shaggy beast. He played the monstrous role himself, in brutal temperatures in Australia.
"It was sweltering hot and I was in this frickin' suit," he recalled.
Seeing the film again, a modest Prendergast pronounced himself unimpressed, despite the staff pick honor.
I don't think it's a great film, personally. Watching it back it's really embarrassing. For what it is it's kinda cute and it's kinda fun.
You can judge for yourself by clicking below:
The three filmmakers of New Media Ltd. discussed their film that earned a Vimeo staff pick, a futuristic music video for the song "I Am Chemistry" by Yeasayer.
They [Yeasayer] gave us kind of carte blanche, 'Just do whatever kind of comes to you.' We tried to present the craziest thing we could... They loved the idea of this kind of transformation and what happens to this woman's body on this foreign planet and the chemistry of that planet affecting her and this metamorphosis that occurs throughout this entire film.
The video, which has recorded more than 100,000 views on Vimeo, contains a notice of "mature" content. Click below to see what that's all about.
Swedish director Maceo Frost provided commentary on the Vimeo staff pickIshtar X Tussilago, his nearly five-minute-long film in which daredevil skateboarders hurl themselves down a Norwegian mountain at breakneck speed.
The short film, featuring music by the Swedish band Tussilago, has been viewed over half a million times on Vimeo.
Sweden is flat and as soon as you go six hours that way [west] then it's mountains. And it's like profound, crazy beautiful. It's Norway. You should go.
Frost said video of the speeding long boarders was shot at 100 frames per second to allow for eye-grabbing slo-mo sequences.
Kirsten Lepore's contribution to the Staff Pick Live Screening came through her magical short Bottle. a film she posted on Vimeo seven years ago. Over that time it has racked up 1.6 million views.
In the film a sand man and a snow woman communicate and fall in love over a vast distance via messages in a bottle sent back and forth across the ocean. The stop motion look of it may appear charmingly low-tech, but Lepore assured the audience that it called for a great deal of post-production work on computer. For instance, she said she used "998 clone layers to clean up one shot."
It took me forever to find the right bottle for this. Fun fact: it's actually an Arizona Iced Tea bottle. I actually lost a lot of props to the ocean when I was shooting it... Seagulls, no joke, would run away with props. And then the sea would swallow things.
Lepore said she shot the beach scenes in Southern California and the snowy footage mostly in upstate New York. Of the film's ending she said, "It's open to any interpretation you'd like to bring to it."
Miles Jay's staff pick, as noted above, was the SXSW-winning music video for Leon Bridges' song "River." The Canadian director shot the film in Baltimore, weaving multiple stories together.
Leon said his only thing about the video that had to happen was his best friend Brittini had to be in it. Which I'm like, thank God he said that, because she's so cool and just kinda brings it.
The film also earned "best of the month" honors on Vimeo.
Nicolas Ménard, winner of the SXSW animation award, told the audience at the Vimeo live screening that he collaborated on the film with his wife via long distance while she was in China working out some visa issues. Unlike Lepore's film Bottle, which contains no dialogue, Wednesday with Goddard features a poetic and comedic narration.
I had this idea of a little character meeting god and then running back home, terrified. I just started playing with it... and wrote the beginning a little bit like a children's book so there would be a contrast between the beginning and the end.
You'll notice that the characters don't always have hands. It was made on a pretty tight schedule and in animation hands [take] really long to draw so I thought it would be quite useful if we could just pop out the hands like a swiss army knife -- just when we needed them.
This piece has been updated to correct the spelling of curator Meghan Oretsky's last name, and to further clarify that films showcased in Vimeo's Staff Picks Live Screening were not necessarily in competition at SXSW.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.