Every time I’m around film-world-people in Dallas, I’m struck by this community’s cohesion. I’m not on the inside so I’m not privy to the inevitable feuds or contested histories. I’m lucky; I get to encounter this world in passing, somewhat regularly, as an outsider. That sense of just passing through is what Frame of Mind, KERA’s series devoted to showcasing independent filmmaking lets anyone feel, and it’s been exposing us outsiders to the highs and lows of independent filmmaking in Texas for the past 25 years.
On Wednesday night KERA’s Art+Seek and producing partner Dallas VideoFest hosted a party and advance screening of the first episode of the series’ 25th season at the Texas Theatre. The lobby before and after the screening was full of the people behind the scenes. You can learn a lot at a party like this if you want to: who made that video, who installed that sculpture, why that film looked it was made by your kid brother (it was underexposed, obviously). And if you learn nothing else, you’ll at least get a sense of how much these people love what they do.
Frame of Mind’s first season premiered on KERA in 1992. Marlis Schmidt and Suzanne Dooley, both KERA employees at the time, pitched the idea for a show which would serve as a platform for Texas indie film to the programming team and, since there was an open slot and the two were going to produce the show essentially for free, they got the green light.
Schmidt was a UNT grad and an artist who worked frequently with video and technology and Dooley a seasoned television industry exec. They established a format which has remained remarkably consistent over the years thanks to its openness. Frame of Mind shows documentaries, music videos, animation, dramatic shorts, and everything in between. While the show has gained a bit more thematic structure in the past years, it remains nothing if not eclectic.
The first episode of the new series is a compendium of Frame of Mind’s greatest hits culled from the show’s archives and edited together by Bart Weiss, president of the Video Association of Dallas among many, many other things, who’s been producing the show for most of the last twenty plus years (a few years after they launched the series both Schmidt and Dooley decamped for jobs out of state).
In the episode Schmidt and Dooley are on hand to talk personal favorites and express wonder. It’s a sentiment I think most of us in the theater Wednesday night shared. Wonder, that somehow, twenty-five years later, a little show featuring the work of independent filmmakers, artists, musicians, and more, would still be produced and shown on a regular basis on television.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but as Weiss is quick to point out, the existence of a show like Frame of Mind is practically unheard of in this industry. Outlets for independent film, especially shorts and documentary shorts, are few and far between. Let me put it this way: there’s no such thing as independent film on television besides in pockets of public TV. But there’s a regular venue for it, in Dallas.
It’s easy to forget this aspect of the world of filmmaking if you’re not connected to it. In American mythology film is big, expensive, star-studded. Independent film doesn’t make the same kind of easy sense. It’s hyper-personal, esoteric, often, it’s downright weird — my laughter at some of the films in Weiss’ anthology typically alternated with quite a few ‘but why?’ moments. It’s also characterized by a profound love of the medium. Of the 42 videos we see clips from in the opening episode, a good quarter of them feature filmmakers experimenting with the medium itself, or creating meta-referential work about the act or art of filmmaking. At the risk of name-dropping one of Dallas’ most famous filmmakers, this early incarnation of his work is worth stopping everything for:
As with any retrospective or exercise in remembering, the season opener of Frame of Mind derives much of its emotional heft (which it has in spades) from nostalgia, something film is especially adept at provoking. For many of us it’s more or less innate to the aesthetic feel of earlier technology. But that sense of wistful remembrance is also present in Weiss’ choice of clips. Weiss is a firm believer in film’s power to create empathy. Film, for him, is one of, if not the best method of exposing you the viewer to the world of another, and independent film often exists solely to do just that whether through humor, pathos, or something in between.
When filmmaker Daniel DeLoach thanked Weiss at the end of Wednesday night’s screening for simply giving his film Tryptych another audience, I could not stop smiling. There are a great many philosophical types who still argue over what does or doesn’t count as art, and there’s a strain that still pulls for a pure art that can operate outside the marketplace. This is the utopian schema in which what we consider art are those things we can’t not do. Films and their makers just want an audience. Frame of Mind gives them one.
Frame of Mind’s new season kicked off last night and airs Thursday nights at 10PM on KERA Channel 13. This season Frame of Mind will program episodes recounting the history of PBS’ groundbreaking Newsroom, the greatest hits of Texas animation, documentaries, and much more. For a full list of this season’s episodes, head to Artandseek.org