VIP - VideoChannel Interview Project

Lake, Ellen

Ellen Lake
US videomaker


Interview:10 questions

1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background

I am an artist living with my family in Oakland, California. I studied visual art at Mills College in Oakland where I received my MFA in 2002.

2. When, how and why started you filming?

I started filming in 2000 with a Hi 8 camera. My first movie was called “Ian’s Collections” about my friend Ian and his eclectic collections – macaroni & cheese boxes, sand, straws, and m&m icons. Ian was one of five housemates and he lived in the attic room and that room was filled with his collections – his main criteria being that most items were compact and able to be flattened – so he would therefore never have a fluffy pillow collection or a life preserver collection. He was such a compelling curator of his collections that I picked up my first camera.

3. What kind of subjects have your films?

“Ian’s Collections” started me on a series of shorts about collectors and their unusual collections. Now I’m working on a series combining 16 mm films from the 1930s and 40s with cell phone video from today. This series, “Call + Response,” has individual pieces that can be viewed individually or together as one and the work explores ideas about time, technology, history, and memory.

4. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?

I started with short documentaries and I like to work in series, but along the way I can’t help but experiment with equipment and style. I tend to like a tight shot and lots of detail.

5. Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.

The source material for my current project is 16 mm home movies I discovered in my grandmother’s closet. The films smelled like vinegar and were beginning to decay. I digitized 21 reels and will draw from this collection for this project. Created with no thought of an audience beyond the living room, these films maintain their sense of intimacy and offer evocative images of life seventy years ago. Contrary to the stereotype of the faded, scratched, and shaky home movie, these films are carefully shot often with lush, vibrant color. I combine this with cell phone video from my now old Sony Erickson phone.

6. What are the chances of new media for the genre film/video in general
and you personally?

Over half of all films made before 1950 have deteriorated, been discarded or destroyed. Thinking about the rapid evolution in technology, how often something is lost to make way for something new, my new work juxtaposes the past and present to investigate ideas about personal diary, collective memory, nostalgia, preservation, and the place where private and public experiences converge. With the ever-widening range of technological media available today, I’m working on a project that mixes old and new media to explore ideas about time, place, technology, and history.

7. How do you finance your films?

I have a day job writing grants for a non-profit arts organization- Kala Art Institute,, a residency program for digital media artists and printmakers. I apply for grants for my film/video projects as well.

8. Do you work individually as a video artist/film maker or do you work in a team?

I work solo, but am always open to collaboration.

9. Who or what has a lasting influence on your film/video making?

I love funny, quirky documentaries.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a film/video maker?

One day I’d like to try a full feature doc. I’ve always worked in shorts and in series.

Can works of yours viewed online besides on VideoChannel/SFC? Where?
List some links & resources

Here are a couple of links
“Let’s not keep score” – Disposable Film Festival

“Rubber band ball” – Perpetual Art Machine,com_gallery2/Itemid,50/lang,en/?g2_view=core.ShowItem&g2_itemId=18890