Chris Bower lives in Asheville and has produced several short films in addition to the feature length science fiction epic Moon Europa. Bower is currently producing We Won't Bow Down a documentation of the Mardis Gras Indians of New Orleans. In addition to his film making pursuits he fronts the notorious and ever-evolving punk filth band, The Sexpatriates
ASA: How did you get into film making?
CB: I started doing experimental film and slide dissolve back in 93 with a group of artist in Knoxville. From there I messed around with it when I could get my hands on a camera. I jumped around a lot as a younger artist. I did music, painting, sculpture, installations, photography, writing, design and went to school for historic restoration. I came to a point where I felt I needed to commit to one thing. I decided it would have to be film because it is the one field where I was going to use everything I was into. Also it was the most challenging.
Do you think you have a specific style or approach to your films that differentiates you from other filmmakers?
My style is very visual. I’m sort of old fashion in that I believe in “pure cinema”, telling a story through images. I like to push the medium, experiment with the camera and with narrative structure. There is a certain magic that can be achieved through proper cinematic decision-making. I also believe that film can be a powerful art form and not just a commodity. I’m not sure if that differentiates me from anyone but these are the ideas that shape my process.
What are the advantages to being a filmmaker in Asheville?
You have a lot of community support from individuals and small business. A good infrastructure with Blue Ridge Motion pictures. As well as a large pool of talented people to collaborate with.
It has very little economic opportunity. The arts are used to attract people to the area but there is little offered to help the artist. The city and county could get together and offer healthcare and housing/studio services to the people whose backs they have built their reputation on but I doubt this even registers in their thought process. They take our creativity, commodify it, and sell it to the outside world. What does the artist get? Nothing but higher rent. What is the artist worth? After a few nice words and a glossy magazine spread, Zero. Give back? What is that? Support? We’ll give bloated prices for a piece of bullshit public art instead of making a significant contribution to members of the arts community that are struggling to survive.
Again, the city and county could offer health care to artists through the health department. And use some city funds and land to build short-term housing and studio space to nurture and replenish what they have harvested from us. This would free up resources and allow artists more time to develop, produce, market and sell innovative work. Leading to a more vibrant community and more tax dollars. But unfortunately, I think that the city’s love and support of art is really the love of exploiting people for it’s nice P.R. and ad campaigns. I sound jaded I know, but I think this can change for the better if we want to make it an issue.
What prompted your interest in documenting the Mardi Gras Indians?
Steve Mann’s photographs. When I first saw his images I knew I had to see these amazing people. I got my chance after Katrina when Steve invited me to go down to help document how Katrina was affecting the Indians. We were trying to get a grant that George Soros was giving away to help tell the story of that tragic situation. Unfortunately we did not receive the grant. A good six months went by and I couldn’t get it out of my mind so I went to Steve and Craig Hobbs, producer of Moon Europa, and asked if they wanted to do a feature documentary on the Indians. They said yes and we went down and talked it over with some of the Indians and they were down so we went for it.
How has the production of a documentary been different than the production of a narrative movie?
The whole process is different in everyway.
Are there any movies or filmmakers that specifically inspire you and your vision as a filmmaker?
I like the philosophy of Herzog, the grand vision of Kubrick, the dedication to craft of Sergio Leone, Ridley Scott and the Coens, the daringness of Godard and the completeness of the Maysles brothers.As far as films go, so many mean so much to me in different ways that it is to hard to single any one out.
You've been painting lately, is this something you've always done or is it new to you?
When I was younger I concentrated on painting but gave it up because I wanted to explore other things. Then when I lived in Paris I did a series of paintings based on space but then got wrapped up in film and once again lost interest. I haven’t painted in almost 8 years so it feels very new.
Describe your process of making the paintings.
Well it’s like found object art. I paint houses to pay the bills and so I’ll save left over paint I find on the jobsite. I’ll find boards and other scrap material in the alley, I live chicken alley, and then I’ll find random imagery that excites me in some way. After I get enough stuff together I’ll do as many paintings as I can as fast as I can. It is sort of primitive I guess.
I love to work as fast as possible because film making is soooo slow. It takes years from beginning to end. After doing film for so long it amazes me that I can create something and it is finished quickly. Sometimes in a few days!
In your opinion, are there any similarities between your paintings and your film making?
We built the spaceship in Moon Europa and Solatrium out of found and salvaged objects, so I bring that same spirit to the paintings. But what I like about my painting is that I can just let go and do it. With the films I am constantly thinking, questioning and planning.
Chris Bower discusses the inspiration and costuming of Moon Europa in "Sewing the Muse" a new Art Seen Asheville production about the work and collaborations of R. Brooke Priddy.