Nov 1 • COVER STORY, Cucalorus 2011No Comments on Retro-Active:

Norwood Cheek Retrospective
Friday, 11/11, 4:15 p.m.
Thalian Hall Studio Theater • $10
Norwood Cheek 10×10
Sunday, 11/13, 10:15 p.m.
City Stage/Level 5 • $10

RETRO TO DIGITAL: Super 8 aficionado Norwood Cheek shoots with his digital cam during a photo op for musical outfit Sarah and Johnny. Courtesy photo.

The first rule of being a filmmaker: to love film. Norwood Cheek does. A native of NC, the now-Hollywood transplant has put a stamp on the industry in a niche of interest: the Super 8 film. It’s the pièce de résistance for Cheek’s shorts, like “cold?” or “i dreamed and bluebird,” both of which screened at Wilmington’s Cucalorus Film Fest. The latter won Best Experimental Film at the Carolina Film and Video Festival in 1997. Cheek also has an unsurpassed love for making music videos, which has built his career’s foundation.

“I was drawn to the magical beauty of Super 8 film and started making short Super 8s in high school and through college,” he shares. “In 1991 I had a lot of black-and-white Super 8 film but didn’t have an idea for a short. So I asked Superchunk if they wanted to do a music video—I was hooked ever since.”

Cheek has gone on to create snippets of visual fantasy for bands like She and Him, the Eels, Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Donnas and over two dozen more since. His love for the craft spread into a celebration of the short and Super 8 film via the Flicker Film Festival. After attending a Flicker event in Athens, Georgia, where he was visiting in the early ‘90s while doing a video for the band Five Eight, he attended the festival and found a mecca of like-minded filmmakers. He loved the concept so much because it conjoined folks who reveled in non-linear and quick-paced storylines told through retro technology. So, he brought it back to Chapel Hill and started it at the club Local 506. Today it has spread internationally, wherein festivals are held from LA to Prague, Frankfurt to Asheville, Austin to Canada. It’s only fitting that the filmmaker-turned-festival-curator has a retrospective of work shown at Wilmington’s independent showdown, Cucalorus 17. The festival will showcase Cheek’s work over the past 20 years.

“We’ll look at how it has evolved, and discuss how my attitude and approach to filmmaking has changed over the years,” Cheek says. “What I love about festivals like Cucalorus is that they inspire filmmakers to participate. My film ‘i dreamed and bluebird’ was made because of the deadline of the Cucalorus screening. Otherwise, I probably would have put it off, which I think [is] what happens with a lot of filmmakers—they have great ideas but are hesitant to finish them. Festivals like Cucalorus and Flicker help give those filmmakers that extra nudge to finish their projects.”

As part of Cucalorus, Cheek is also bringing his hailed 10×10 project to the streets of Wilmington, which he led successfully in Australia and Canada film festivals. It brings together 10 bands and 10 filmmakers to make a music video in less than a week. Cucalorus’ director Dan Brawley enlisted the help of Billy Mellon to line up the bands, which will perform during the festival at the Soapbox: Wednesday, November 9th will be Unholy Tongues and D&D Sluggers; Novembver 10th will be Fractal Farm during Visual Soundwalls (page 10); November 11th will have Onward, Soldiers, My Wonderful Machine and Summer Set; November 12th will be Big Al Hall and Rio Bravo; and it will finish on the 13th with the Noseriders and L Shape Lot at City Stage. They’ll also screen all the videos as part of the closing night party. Cucalorus accepted the first 10 filmmakers to sign up as part of the selection process.

“The most exciting thing about 10×10 is both the bands and filmmakers get something out of it,” Cheek says. “A music video can have so much more of a diverse life than a short film, and that’s what I like about this project.”

Passing on the advice of cultivating ideas while remembering to be open to the band’s wants and needs, Cheek thinks filmmakers will have a challenge worth indulging. “These are all done on basically no budget and in just a few days,” he says. “I think creativity is spawned by these restrictions, limitations and deadlines.”

He also advises to keep the reality of the process at the forefront of thought. When plans go awry, greatness can be born. “I am always trying to experiment with a new look or idea, and certainly the Eels video was that,” he says. “All animated and very time intensive—I didn’t realize how much work it was going to be. It goes to show that any idea can be written down or talked about, but the execution is an entire other ballgame.”

To capture the video’s essence in a matter of minutes always proves challenging. Nowadays, Cheek admits to “putting more emphasis on telling a story,” but he hasn’t given up innovation of experimenting with visuals and garnering different film techniques and “looks.” He’ll be conducting interviews with Wilmington’s music-scene supporters and main players throughout the week to make a mini-documentary that will screen in between the music videos.

“My thoughts on short films is that they should be short,” he says. “Ideally, between 2 and 5 minutes. It’s easy to write a story where you develop a character and their nuances over 20 or 30 pages, but the true challenge is to distill that down into a 5-minute film. Kind of like a great song: If it goes on too long, you can lose the energy and it can drag and get repetitive.”

Norwood Cheek’s retrospective of work will show as a special event during Cucalorus 17 at Thalian Hall Studio Theatre on Friday, November 11th at 4:15 p.m. Tickets are $10. The 10×10 music video project will be shown on November 13th at City Stage at 10:15 p.m. with tickets priced at $10. It’s free entry for all Pegasorus pass holders.

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