July 18, 2024
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Turning sounds into sights: From music-making to the movie screen

The work of Mike Stoltz, a new lecturer in the cinema department, will premiere at Media City Film Festival, Nov. 7-11

A still from Stoltz's newest work, Holographic Will, which premieres Nov. 7-11. A still from Stoltz's newest work, Holographic Will, which premieres Nov. 7-11.
A still from Stoltz's newest work, Holographic Will, which premieres Nov. 7-11. Image Credit: Mike Stoltz.

In the early 2000s, the only movies Michael Stoltz knew were from going to Blockbuster Video — and at the time, he had no idea where to even begin if he wanted to make his own, especially the sort he was interested in.

“I enjoyed them as entertainment, but the idea of making a movie, it seemed impossible,” said Stoltz, a new lecturer and filmmaker at Binghamton University. “This is before laptops; even having a video camera was kind of rare. Maybe a family would have a camcorder, but it wouldn’t be the kind of thing that an 18-year-old would have.”

These days, Stoltz creates experimental films, but he started his professional career thinking he was going to be a musician. During his college years in Florida, Stoltz was working his way through school part-time while focusing mainly on what he was more excited about at the time: punk rock. Back then, he lived in a warehouse-turned-apartment where he and his bandmates often performed, since the building was a large and affordable space outside of town, where they “could do whatever… be loud.”

It was thanks to a chance encounter with a young professor from the University of Florida which cemented Stoltz’s future career. That professor had been attempting to host film screenings on campus, but attendance was dismal. He decided to seek out a new space — and the warehouse was a perfect fit.

“Seeing these filmmakers come through and load in their video projector or their equipment the way that a band loaded in a drum set, it really clicked for me,” Stoltz said, who would go on to focus his musical energies into his later pieces. “These are people making creative work.”

Filmmaking became a container for Stoltz’s “sound ideas” — the noises, field recordings and structured sounds that he was passionate about but which didn’t fit into a rock band’s art.

Stoltz followed his new passion and went on to earn his bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida and his master of fine arts in film and video from the California Institute of the Arts. Previously working out of Los Angeles, he recently relocated to Binghamton to teach. As a moving image artist, Stoltz is especially interested by the processes of cinema, and many of his works focus on themes of time and sound. He applies a variety of techniques to his films, with some focusing on performers or subjects and others on landscape or architecture; he often employs 16mm analog film, which he edits by hand. He’s drawn to this physicality.

“Working with the physical medium, every time you make a cut it becomes harder and harder to repair that. There’s not an undo button the way there is on the timeline of Adobe Premiere or Final Cut. Every edit is very deliberate and very final,” Stoltz said. “If I’m left to my own devices, I might edit something 1,000 different ways and not be satisfied with any of them. The idea that everything is so finite when you’re editing physically — to someone like me, that’s an advantage.”

Many of Stoltz’s films have spent their time in the festival circuit. Several have screened internationally, in venues such as the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Hong Kong International Film Festival, Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival (BAFICI), International Film Festival Rotterdam and the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam, while others debuted stateside, in venues such as the New York Film Festival and the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

His most recently completed work, Holographic Will, will premiere at the Media City Film Festival in Windsor, Canada, from Nov. 7 to 11.

In many ways, Holographic Will is a return to a certain form that Stoltz said he first explored in the 2010s. The fast, direct focus on one subject reminds him of his past works, yet its kaleidoscopic, shifting focus is something new. The impetus behind the film, after all, is very time-restricted: the reason he first became interested in filming his own domestic space came when his apartment’s ownership changed hands, threatening his stay there.

“This place that had been a stabilizing force in my life for so long all of a sudden became upended,” Stoltz said. “I never anticipated making a domestic film or filming something in my home, or even thought that would be interesting to share with the world, but it felt really important to keep a record.”

Shot frame by frame, with individual images comprising each moment of the nearly six-minute film, Holographic Will is comprised of about two rolls of film and 24 individual frames per second. This establishes an almost-animated quality to the video; unlike traditional animations, however, the subject stays stationary under the camera’s gaze.

Instead, the camera itself shifts every time a new frame is exposed. That, in practice, means the images speed by in a dizzying, disorienting way.

“I’m really into this idea of time manipulation. Film and cinema are so useful [in that way], especially for stretching out time, making things very slow and durational. But I’m also into this idea of things being very fast and quick and a film being able to have this very stimulating quality to it,” he said. “This film is definitely that; it’s very fast. It’s very intense. but my hope is that it really energizes and charges people up when they watch it.”

Holographic Will, though, isn’t the only thing that Stoltz is excited about in the upcoming months. In a nod to his origins, Stoltz acknowledges Binghamton’s more than 50-year-history in cinema — the program helped many of Stoltz’s elders, friends and mentors get their starts when they themselves were students here in the ‘70s — and his desire to teach a new generation of filmmakers.

“My hope is that I can help students who don’t already have that clear path, to encourage them to be open to new ideas, to be frank about what they’re interested in and what they’re not interested in, and to remind people that the college campus can be a place to find all those things,” said Stoltz, who is working with both undergraduates and the first-ever class of cinema graduate students. “If you’re looking in the right places, the campus can provide so much for you.”

Although he doesn’t have to go to a Blockbuster anymore to watch a film, it can still be just as hard as it was in the early aughts to find the resources and audiences that are so essential to filmmaking, said Stoltz, whose as passionate about his work as ever. It turns out that all you really need to start in cinema is to dream that it’s possible.

“I wasn’t trying to be the next Wes Anderson. I was really thinking about it in terms of expression and creativity and doing it with this kind of very simple means, the way that a punk band does. Maybe you don’t even know how to play, but you can make a lot of noise. And maybe only three or four people want to watch it, but you have an audience. Not that the point of making experimental film is to be obscure — but you can be as specific and esoteric as you want,” Stoltz said. “You will find people who are interested, you will find other artists who are making work that’s in conversation with your work.”