Q&A with Tish Sparks and Jeremy von Stilb of Contrast Film Festival – Starts July 18

The 2019 Contrast Film Festival runs July 18 – 21 at the AFS Cinema. See the full line up and purchase tickets. Image courtesy of SO PRETTY. 

The second annual Contrast Film Festival—a celebration of gender-defying, forward-thinking, and accessible art with an emphasis on female and queer filmmakers—takes place this weekend, July 18 – 21, at the AFS Cinema. The creators of the Festival, Tish Sparks and Jeremy von Stilb, also make up the programming team behind Homo Arigato, AFS’s ongoing film series focused on rare and beautiful queer films. Following the success of last year, the 2019 Contrast Fest will bring more Texas film premieres and unique performances, including an opening night screening of Jack Smith’s 1963 seminal queer art film FLAMING CREATURES on Thursday, July 18, at 8 PM. For this special event, the film will be presented with an original live score by Austin-based musicians Thor Harris, Peggy Ghorbani, and Sarah Gautier who perform together under the moniker THOR & FRIENDS. ​

AFS sat down with Tish and Jeremy to talk about the Festival and what to expect this year:

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE CONTRAST FILM FESTIVAL?

Jeremy: It’s four days of mind-bending, boundary-pushing, outlandish, and exciting cinema, performance, and comedy. 

HOW DO YOU SELECT THE FILMS TO SCREEN AT CONTRAST FEST?


Jeremy
: We are drawn to things that unusual or adventurous. Sometimes experimental films can mean watching things that test one’s patience though, so I think we still want to showcase films that are filled with joy and are invigorating to the audience. We try to find a balance between challenging and entertaining. 

Tish: We are also always kind of looking for films that are a bit under the radar or are not likely to play at other festivals around town. We want to create a unique experience for the audience and give them an opportunity to see films that they maybe wouldn’t be able to see in a theater otherwise. And when we get those audiences to the cinema, we also aim to present work that will spark conversations afterwards. Whether the audience loves or hates something they see at the festival, we at least want them to feel something! There is nothing worse than bland films that elicit tepid responses. 

WHAT MAKES CONTRAST DIFFERENT THAN OTHER FILM FESTIVALS?


Jeremy: It’s a film festival programmed by Tish and I who first got our start DJ’ing and doing music events but both went to film school. I think there’s a lot of cross over in our own creative approaches and the festival reflects this. It’s not wall to wall sitting in a theater, there is a lot of live performance and audience engagement. 

Tish: I think the thing that is exciting about Contrast is that people could have totally different experiences attending the same festival. Like, if you are more of a music and performance person you could have a pretty full weekend of just taking in those events but if you are more of a cinephile, you can see six or seven films in a weekend too. And if you are someone who likes to take in a little bit of everything – a film here, a show there, a panel discussion in the evening, a wild club experience inside of a school….we’ve got you covered too! 

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START THE FESTIVAL?


Tish:
Contrast grew out of our work over the years curating live music, programming the monthly film series Homo Arigato, and producing parties and other types of events. We wanted a way to combine our varied interests and offer our communities an opportunity to see great work, make friends and connections, feel inspired, and hang out over a weekend. 

WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT THE FILMS AND EVENTS FEATURED THIS YEAR?


Tish: We are doing some really special things this year that we are super excited to share with audiences! When we first conceptualized this festival a couple of years ago, one of the ideas we had was to do a live re-score of Jack Smith’s seminal queer art film FLAMING CREATURES, and we are actually getting to do it this year. The film is such a pivotal moment for queer film but it is rarely screened outside of museums. We wanted to make the film more accessible by bringing it back into the cinema and pairing it with contemporary music. There are so many ideas in the film that are still relevant, so we wanted to try to find a way to help modern audiences connect with the work. 

We are also presenting Texas premieres of so many great films. The Sundance standout ADAM by director Rhys Ernst, the really wonderful, Teddy Award-nominated film SO PRETTY (that was shot on 16mm film!), Midnight Shorts by Bertrand Mandico (THE WILD BOYS) and Yann Gonzalez (KNIFE+HEART), several films from Brazil focused on queer and trans experience, and more! 

There are a few performance-based events on the lineup that are super unique and fun as well. We are doing a ‘late night adult multiplex’ at the Austin School of Film that will feature a performance from avant-hip hop artist Saturn Risin9, drag performers, VJs, and three microcinema spaces that each have their own theme and design. The festival will also feature a web series screening and discussion with filmmakers, and we will close out the festival with a comedy & music event called Yes You Can! That event is kind of a riff on wellness culture (but is also actually meant to inspire and motivate!) featuring a performance from NYC-based, multidisciplinary artist Bunny Michael and lots of locals, so it should send us off until next year with positive vibes. 

WHAT DO YOU HOPE VIEWERS TAKE AWAY FROM THE FESTIVAL?


Jeremy: I want the films and events to let people exist in an alternative reality for a few days where they can imagine a world that could be rather than the world as it is. I want to fantasize about a world where women, queer people, and those that are typically marginalized are empowered and free. I think that’s what links all of the work we are showing. 

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