Since 2004, writer, filmmaker and all-around champ Jason Silverman has transformed the Center for Contemporary Arts' Cinematheque program from an already solid indie/arthouse experience into something of which Santa Feans should be immensely proud.
Most recently, Silverman and crew created the ongoing Living Room series, a streamable selection of films and discussions with their makers that rose in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and would seem impressive in any city, let alone our sleepy hamlet. But now he's off to new opportunities in New York. I spoke with Silverman as he prepares for the move.
SFR: First of all, where the hell do you think you’re going and what does that mean for the Cinematheque program at CCA moving forward?
Jason Silverman:I've got all kinds of amazing project work happening, including producing this amazing performance film that I can't talk about quite yet. And other projects that are just taking up a lot of my time and energy. I thought it was just fair to let CCA rebuild with people who are going to be able to be more committed.
Is someone taking your job?
The CCA is going to be announcing new programmatic directions soon, and I'm sure they'll have great people doing the same work that CCA has always done.
What’s to become of the Living Room series? Was that hard to throw together so immediately during a pandemic?
We had our first show, I think, 10 days after [the first] lockdown was announced, and we had to scramble and hustle to get it done. But it wasn't…I think arts and culture production is hard, and I think the people who do it know that and don't really think in those hard/easy terms. It's 'what do we need to do to get this movie, series of paintings, performance, opera or concert out to the world and share it with people?' Everyone who does this work is driven by this concern. They just do it.
It was immediately obvious that with all of the fear and isolation our neighbors would be going through for an indefinite period of time, we needed to be fierce about what we do best, which is to connect people using these amazing stories. We snapped to it and it's been really great. The conversations are so rich right now because the stakes for our culture and for our neighborhoods and for our families are so high that when you're talking about a work of art or activism—when an artist does that, when an activist does that…we're all in this together right now, so we can have conversations with a level of honesty and intensity that we probably wouldn't have had before. We'll keep [the series] going. and I'll be consulting.
We’ve all been leaning into the arts with these lockdowns. Not that it’s quantifiable per se, but do you think it’s become more important than ever?
I don't know that it's become more important, but what I believe is that everyone recognizes the power of connection right now. In Santa Fe particularly, arts and culture are the way we connect. All of us go out to operas, movies, plays, concerts, exhibits, coffee shops, rallies and local restaurants; we meet each other, and that connection is the engine of this community's progress.
We can't meet in person right now, so I think we all recognize the vital and urgent nature of our connection through arts and culture. And we're doing it in different ways, and when we do it we're feeling the power of it, and we also feel the absence of the ways we used to do those things.
For a curator, it's a really interesting moment. It's a really powerful moment, because we can reach back into our personal histories and find the work that impacted us most deeply and revisit those in ways that offer our patrons and our neighbors new ways to see ourselves and our communities during the pandemic.
One of my favorite Living Room programs was an older film about Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (editor's note: the film was called Following the Ninth: In The Footsteps of Beethoven's Final Symphony, and it streamed through the CCA last March) and it was so emotional. We had the filmmaker and Guillermo Figueroa from the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra talking about what that piece has meant to them, and what would have been a sweet conversation took on a level of urgency and emotion. The music took on a level of urgency and emotion. It became one where a lot of the audience were crying in their living rooms. I think all of us are raw right now, and that opens us to experiencing these stories in their various forms more powerfully.
As a filmmaker yourself, do you think the pandemic will be a turning point for the medium, or are filmmakers waiting for COVID-19 to relent so they can get back to the old way of doing things?
I'd say the combination of the pandemic and the greater kind of socioeconomic crisis that we're in means that there will not be a return to what we would have considered normal before.
I think artists will play an even more important role in helping us find new ways of seeing each other and seeing the world. That movement is well under way. If you think about the protests from the summer and the growing distrust in corporate controlled media from all ends of the political spectrum, you realize…the soul of our communities is at the center of a battle. We're trying to figure out who we are right now, and I don't think we trust corporations to tell us. I think a lot of us are turning more and more toward people working outside the for-profit storytelling system for their information. That's really encouraging and really scary. If we work with stories that talk about togetherness and kindness and love and progress as opposed to the stories that are dominated by fears and victimhood and revenge, we're going to be a better, stronger community.
There are a lot of storytellers in every medium who are trying to reach us with empowering and enlightening stories in their various forms. I hope those stories connect with people and I hope the cultural -institutions stay strong so they can tell those stories. Please, please, please know you don't need to send your money to political campaigns. Support Santa Fe's cultural institutions. We're going to need them for repair, for connection, for reevaluation and for inspiration. We need them now, we're going to need them even more when we're able to throw open the front door.