In the final week for submissions to ASFF 2014, we speak to ASFF 2013 filmmaker Nick Jordan about his artists’ film Nature House Inc (2013). This is a documentary film which depicts the proliferation of bird houses, erected to attract the migratory Purple Martin – “America’s most wanted bird.”
ASFF 2014 is open for entries for four more days, inviting filmmakers to submit their short films across all genres for the chance to win screening at the festival in November as well as a number of other great prizes, including awards and tour screenings at other major international film festivals.
A: Nature House Inc. is a short film about the proliferation of bird houses, erected to attract the Purple Martin, known as “America’s most wanted bird.” What inspired you to make a film about this?
NJ: It was in Southern Illinois, during the filming of our feature documentary Between Two Rivers (co-directed with Jacob Cartwright), that I first spotted the distinctive bird houses. I filmed them, and we included a few shots in the completed film. That kindled my interest further, with the idea of basing a short film around them.
When I saw pictures of the giant stack of bird houses in Griggsville, Illinois, and the accompanying mural reading “America’s Most Wanted Bird”, I was compelled to go there. Luckily, it turned out it wasn’t too far from St Louis, where we were screening Between Two Rivers at the film festival, so we were able to make a trip out to Griggsville, Pike County, Illinois, referred to as the Purple Martin capital of the USA.
A: In researching your film, you discovered that over one million North Americans have installed Purple Martin bird houses. Why do you think that this has become such a widespread phenomenon?NJ: I think most people find it appealing to live in close proximity to nature, and the houses are an effective way of attracting the birds into your garden. Purple Martins are rather loud and gregarious creatures, with a rich, throaty call. So it’s colourful and lively to have them around. A whole folk culture has sprung up around Purple Martins in the USA, with merchandise, festivals and societies.
However, the popularity of Martin Bird houses is the result of cunning marketing too, which the film picks up on with the mural. The claim that Purple Martins can consume 2000 mosquitos a day is somewhat exaggerated. Purple Martins are more likely to devour dragonflies, which are the main predator of mosquitos. So if you have a Martin Bird house you probably have more mosquitos, not fewer.
A: What has been the impact of the increase in these man-made bird houses?
NJ: It’s helped sustain and improve numbers of Purple Martins significantly, which were in severe decline up until the 1970s. The birds migrate down to the Amazon basin for the winter, and when they return each spring to North America they are now entirely dependent of these man-made bird houses for nesting. It’s an evolutionary process known as a Behavioural Tradition Shift. Man-made structures for martins are not a new phenomenon though: Native Americans used hollowed out gourds and erected them for Purple Martins to nest in. They probably used them as scarecrows, to protect their crops of corn, and to keep vultures away from their meats and hides hung out to dry.
A: Artists’ film as a medium is growing in critical reception and popularity, demonstrated by the 2013 Turner Prize going to Laure Prouvost for her artists’ film and as the genre has firmly established its place in international film festivals. What can artists’ film do to convey ideas and messages?
NJ: There’s certainly equivalence now, but I don’t think film can convey idea better or worse than anything else. It’s just a different way of making and presenting images. I’ve always worked across different mediums, dependent on the subject matter or even just the mood I’m in, be it painting, drawing, sculpture or film.
Sometimes they feed into each in unexpected ways. For example, Nature House Inc. has led me to import Purple Martin bird houses from the USA. I’ve assembled and painted them individually, and installed them in Swansea, where they can currently be seen as part of Art Across the City.
A: In terms of bringing your work to new audiences, how do film festivals help you to develop your outreach?
NJ: I’d say film festivals are vital, both for showing work to the public, and for connecting with the wider community of filmmakers and festival programmers. Festivals are a collective shared space, spanning across many borders, so they enable lots of professional connections and good friendships to develop too. Festivals are also increasingly open to experimental artist’s films, so are usually a healthy, eclectic mix of genres, whether animation, music videos, documentaries or narrative dramas.
A: Do you have any future projects line up?
NJ:In terms of film, I’ve just completed a new work made during a residency at Headlands Centre for the Arts, near San Francisco, in collaboration with Jacob Cartwright. It’s a 25 minute roam through the cultural and natural landscape of the Marin Headlands, which overlook the Golden Gate Bridge. It includes an abandoned hippy commune, a nuclear missile site, Beat poetry, a Zen soldier and a rabid raccoon.
I’ve also recently premiered The Rising, which is a short film centred on the invasive Giant Hogweed plant. I filmed its yearly growth cycle, along a local riverbank, with some marauding teenagers too. It’s sort of part Sci-fi, part Natural History documentary, and features a droning electronic score by the masterful Lord Mongo. We’re hoping to release the soundtrack on green coloured vinyl too.
Register your entry for ASFF 2014 today, visit www.asff.co.uk
Watch Nature House Inc here
1. Nick Jordan, Nature House Inc (2013).
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