Making Magic/Realism Panel True/False 2014


Madi Mertz

Panel members from left to right: Jarred Alterman, Akiko Stehrenberger, Taylor Ross, Leland Drexler-Russell and moderator Anne Thompson. Photo by Madi Mertz
Panel members from left to right: Jarred Alterman, Akiko Stehrenberger, Taylor Ross, Leland Drexler-Russell and moderator Anne Thompson. Photo by Madi Mertz
The Odd Fellows Lodge is an unassuming venue, not flashy or intricate. More like a door in the middle of a block of shops, the only thing to draw attention to it is the large True/False logo above the door. An modest location, but an ideal one for a gathering of artists, who are a bit low-key themselves.
At Odd Fellows Lodge on February 28, 2014, four principle artists of the True/False film festival gathered to discuss their creative processes, panel-style. With Anne Thompson moderating, Jarred Alterman, the director of the “bumpers” shown before True/False films, Taylor Ross, the creator of the mechanical fox at the Missouri Theater, Akiko Stehrenberger, the designer of this year’s poster, and Leland Drexler-Russell, the maker of the Transplant pod installation, discussed their previous experience, inspiration and experience with True/False.
Alterman, a filmmaker out of New York City, has been planning his bumpers with the True/False show runners for a while. He was originally called by David Wilson, one of the organizers of the festival, listed as a co-conspirator on along with Paul Sturtz, to do the bumpers based around a local escape-artist performing a different Harry Houdini-style escape every day.
“We had this mutual appreciation for Houdini,” Alterman said. “I dunno, maybe secular Jews are obsessed with him.”
However, the escape-artist bailed. So Wilson and Alterman came up with the bumpers which are being shown at the festival, on themes which apply both to magic and documentary film. Misdirection, collaboration, wonder and skill, all presented by local magicians. He showed Friday’s bumper, with the theme of collaboration, staring Sophie and Aaro Froesr, the owner of Gotcha! downtown.
The festival this year deals with a traditional-style magic theme, as opposed to the Harry potter magic which is popular in the 21st century. This style of magic, however, can easily be overdone, with rabbits moving out of hats and men in capes and top hats with pencil mustaches. Alterman and the festival planners agreed that it couldn’t get too cliche.
“The last thing we wanted people to think about was Gob from Arrested Development,” Alterman said
Stehrenberger is a poster designer from Los Angeles, who has been working at her craft in Hollywood for ten years. For this year’s poster, she collaborated with Erik Buckham, who designed the posters for the past two years. Their original idea involved orange trees, floating in space, similar to Avatar.
“I think after we presented it to David and Paul,” Stehrenberger said, “They were like, ‘Yay, OK, that’s great; can we reel you back in?'”
So, given an old book of magic show posters for inspiration, Stehrenberger and Buckham came up with this years posters. Even having had to design them twice, Stehrenberger says it was a fairly smooth process overall.
Ross is an artist fascinated with movement in relation to music. She talked at length about how waves move through different materials and how it relates to her art, and how she she decided to create the fox which is on display at the Missouri theater.
“When I was in college, I think I was taught to over-think everything that I was doing,” she said.
The original idea which has he was called on for was to build a mechanical tree. When that fell through, she decided upon the fox based on an anecdote from her own past, seeing a fox in New Mexico and chasing it around, getting close enough to look it in the eye. Like Alterman and Stehrenberger, Ross collaborated with a local artist on the piece, often learning more contemporary techniques, such as cutting pieces with a computer as opposed to a band saw, than she was used to, from him.
Drexler-Russell was the only artist whose original idea was basically what he ended up creating for True/False. Hailing from St. Louis with a background in green architecture, around the time when he heard about True/False, Drexler-Russell had begun to form an idea for a piece concerning aliens.
“I was thinking about electronics and I was also reading a lot of science fiction. Ender’s Game at the time,” Drexler-Russell said, “so I was thinking of creating like, these alien species that can like, invade the cityscape.”
All the the artists were very entertaining to listen to, with relevant anecdotes, and even a couple running jokes throughout the panel. One, for instance, originated in the artists speaking concerning how they applied for the festival. Ross created the metaphor of a date.
“It’s kinda like if you go on a date with someone… You’re like, can I make this work?” Ross said.
This cropped up a couple of times as her fellow panelists recounting applying or reapplying to do the art for True/False.
“I’ll go on another date with them!” Ross said.
Thompson did a beautiful job of moderating, always finding the fit segue into a question for the next person, and although it was obvious she had prepared some questions, she’s made it seem like a very natural conversation.
By Madi Mertz
What did you think of this year’s magic theme?