Jan Andrews is a creator of video art and documentaries. She has received numerous awards in both categories. Her documentary on poet Joseph Brodsky was an official selection of the 2010 Venice Film Festival, and a 2010 Visual Arts Fellowship was awarded to her from the Utah Division of Museums & Arts for her video art.
Jan has worked on several film projects with NOW-ID, on films that were documentation of performances and also promotional videos. To be able to collaborate with your editor is such a gift and Jan is the gift that keeps on giving - she is intuitive, curious, creative and profoundly skilled and we are grateful to work with her.
Tell us a little bit about your background. When did you know that you wanted to work as an artist and how did you choose you preferred medium?
I began making films in 1983 when I returned from Egypt as I wished to return and make a film of the extraordinary culture of the Bedouin I had been studying in the Sinai Desert. I had been taking photographs since I was a child and had taken many interesting photos of Egypt but I really wanted to show the movement of people and animals in that stark and seemingly barren environment. Some of my first films, shot in 16mm, which was the format of the time, were of anthropological issues but I made them more as experimental meditations than a strict documentary. My first films were well received and played at many festivals and art galleries so I was hooked. Sadly, I never returned to Egypt to make the film that still hovers in my dreams.
You originally studied Anthropology - has that area of research figured into your creative work?
I did study anthropology and drifted into paleontology and forensic work as I found the dead more interesting than the living (and, with limited exceptions, I still do). I approach most of my work from a different tier or perspective but I have made documentaries whose stories unfold more traditionally because the subject matter required a more direct approach such as for a famous writer of nonfiction nature books who was struck twice by lightening and a Russian Poet exiled from his homeland and his language who won the Nobel Prize in literature and became a poet Laureate of the U.S. But I still try to apply a certain way of story telling that may lift my work from the ordinary.
You are such a prolific artist: doing short films, documentaries, photography, which format do you prefer and why?
I really enjoy all of these mediums. Being diverse in one’s interests leads you to want to express ideas in different ways. When I was in high school I did drawings and sculpted in clay. I find that even though I now put a camera between myself and the subject I am still drawing and sculpting. How you frame a subject, how you follow and frame the action, using available light, etc. is emotionally quite similar to those other art forms.
Can you talk a little bit about your creative process, where do you look for inspiration?
I usually always have a camera with me and have shot hours and hours of video (including many strips of outtakes of 16mm). When I have an idea for a piece I go through a multitude of clips and often find enough shots to tell a story. For example, I made an experimental film about the Kamikaze pilots when I found a booklet the Japanese Government had given them to guide them to their certain death and I used images of birds I had shot through the years as a metaphor for the planes.
Who are some of the people who have inspired you in your work and why?
There are many documentary and fiction filmmakers I admire; however, the major influence on my work can be laid at the feet of Chris Marker, a French filmmaker of exquisite, profound and personal films that reveal the essence of human nature. The topics of these films are universal and as relevant today as when they were made. His style was unique and the stories were told as if someone was reading you letters about what they had seen and experienced and philosophical viewpoints of the state of the human condition. Because of this, in my early films I never had a narrator but let the images and the people I filmed tell the story. This strategy is also due to my love of Ingmar Bergman’s films. He told simple stories of human behavior and carved into them wider meaning that touched, in profound ways, what I had studied in anthropology about societies and how some people adhere to norms but others, the interesting ones, create their own individuality which can succeed or lead to utter failure.
What do you consider to be some of the highlights in your career so far?
One of my early films was accepted into the Sundance film festival. It also traveled the world playing at festivals, shown in art galleries and had a limited theatrical release. I also received an NEA grant for that film and for the following film. It used to be much easier to get funding for creative work that was more artful and experimental. My last full-length film was about the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky who was exiled from his country in the 1970’s. He lived in New York and became friends with Mikhail Baryshnikov who invited the film to be screened at the Baryshnikov Center and he also curated it into a couple of festivals. When I met him he told me it was the best film about Brodsky that he had seen. I have met some very interesting people making these films and some of them have remained friends and friendship is a way one’s own life grows larger.
Traveling seems to be important to you - can you talk a little bit about why traveling is a source of inspiration for you in your work and describe a couple of your favorite travel destinations?
I became an anthropologist with the idea I would travel to exotic locals and live among the locals; however, as I changed my area of interest to skeletons, they usually hang out in archeology labs... I traveled nonetheless and, as I mentioned in the beginning, eventually traveled to Egypt and was there for several months. When I made the Brodsky film I traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia and Venice, Italy where he was buried and where my film premiered. In general, I enjoy travel just to be taken out of myself and into another world. When I return I find that I am rejuvenated and ready for a new artistic adventure.
You are an established artist in Utah and have worked here for many years. Do you think the city has changed a lot over the years in terms of the type and quality of work that is being explored and presented? What companies or artists working here excite you and why?
I do have friends who are artists and do interesting and exciting works. One of my oldest friends, Gary Vlasic, is an inspiration for his variety of talents from performance to his interesting art pieces. He appeared in an early film of mine in which he used choreography to interpret schizophrenia. The film also included Linda Smith of Repertory Dance Theatre who portrayed someone with amnesia. I of course must mention NOW-ID as I have edited many of your recent works and have been intrigued by the process of creating a dance/theatre piece. They always tell a story in a strange way like an experimental documentary film. Trent Alvey has a wide range of formats from installations to paintings. There are many local artists I admire and I should not try to name them because I am sure to leave someone out.
Who do you consider to be three of the most significant artists in the world (living or dead)?
Anselm Kiefer. Marlene Dumas. Ai WeiWei.
Looking towards the future, where do you see yourself as being in 25 years?
Ashes spread in the Southern Utah Desert.