Guest List

Experiencing the Experimental with Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites

Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell - Credit Larry Busacca/Getty Images

For their new film about the Occupy movement, filmmakers Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites decided to use the same decentralized, DIY tactics as their subject.  They invited anyone with a camera to collaborate on documenting the nationwide protests, and eventually organized footage from hundreds of indivduals into “99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film.”

The result is an experimental take on a documentary (a departure even from their postmodern look at Norwegian Black Metal, “Until the Light Takes Us“), so we asked them to collaborate one more time… on a list of their favorite experimental films.


 Aaron Aites: Hi, I’m Aaron Aites.

Audrey Ewell: And I’m Audrey Ewell, and we are the founders and directors/producers behind “99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film.”

Essentially, when we decided to make this film, we thought it would be interesting to try and mirror the Occupy movement’s own processes, to sort of test them at the same time.  We weren’t part of the movement, but we saw them, you know: everybody was welcome, and they had this consensus process.  And so we put out word to just anybody around the country who wanted to be a part of this film, could be a part of it.

Aaron Aites: And they were sort of built into a little army in different regions, to go out and film this large, sweeping movement.

It’s a pretty experimental way to create a film — I’m not sure it’s been done before.  So we thought we would give you a list of three experimental films.  Ones that you don’t have to be scared of, they’re not going to warp your mind, but they will give you a new way of looking at —

Audrey Ewell: They might warp your mind a little bit, but in a good way.


1. “Superstar” by Todd Haynes

Aaron Aites: Number one would be “Superstar” by Todd Haynes, a film that tells of the life and death of Karen Carpenter, the great 70’s pop singer who was one half of The Carpenters.  And it’s done so using Barbie dolls and shoebox sets built to scale.


Aaron Aites: It’s almost narrative, but the use of Barbie dolls gives it a very different feeling.

Audrey Ewell: I mean, he was actually, like, whittling away the Barbie’s face as she was suffering from the effects of anorexia.  So it’s a pretty starkly fascinating telling of a story using Barbie dolls.  It’s kind of a tough subject. You know, it’s not, this is not a comedy by any means.

Aaron Aites: But in some ways I feel like a doll treatment might be less harrowing and more friendly to someone watching it who really wants to know the story, than actually seeing that acted out on the screen.

Audrey Ewell: It’s kind of amazing.  And actually, something that I love about it is that you actually cannot access this film without looking for it. It was pulled — the Carpenter family sued and had it pulled because of licensing issues.

Aaron Aites: It’s always a thrill when you have to seek out something, and then you eventually get it, and it’s fantastic.


2. “La Jetée” by Chris Marker

Audrey Ewell: Another filmmaker that I love who works in experimental is Chris Marker. I’m gonna choose, from him, “La Jetée,” which was later made into Terry Gilliam’s film “12 Monkeys.”

It’s a short film; it was made almost entirely using still photographs. It’s a really fascinating story that involves time travel… and I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s about the way that a person’s death can mark their life. I’ve probably said too much already.

Aaron Aites: It’s a very… it’s an exceedingly lyrical film where one moment of motion footage of a woman opening her eyes has the impact of a nuclear bomb.

Audrey Ewell: Oh, that’s good!


3. “Sherman’s March”

Aaron Aites: Our third film is Ross McElwee’s “Sherman’s March.”  Which is ostensibly about Sherman’s Civil War march through the South, but McElwee suffered a traumatic breakup with his girlfriend before filming and had a hard time leaving that behind.

Audrey Ewell: So as he’s going on this journey through the South, following Sherman’s actual march, he’s also running into all of his ex-girlfriends and trying to figure out from them just what went wrong.  And it’s hilarious.

Aaron Aites: And occasionally he’ll say, “And by the way, Sherman came through here.” It’s only tangentially about Sherman’s March. It’s more about love.

Audrey Ewell: I think I actually saw it for the first time when I was… I had been seeing somebody and we were breaking up. But it wasn’t long after that that Aaron and I actually met, and we are a couple.  So “Sherman’s March” might have been a cautionary tale for what could go wrong if I didn’t do this one right.

Aaron Aites: Yeah, what could go wrong if you allow yourself to be on camera when you’re making films.