How do we remember the people we've cared deeply about in our lives? In long, soft-focus flashbacks, or in bits and pieces? Video artist Gail Marlene Schwartz, who lives in Burlington and Montral, thinks the latter. Last month, the 40-year-old filmmaker was named one of 10 winners of the Wonder Women Film Competition sponsored by The Pen and Brush, a 110-year-old New York City nonprofit that fosters women's efforts in the arts. Her winning film is "Hot Air Balloon," a 6-minute short in which Schwartz recalls a teenage crush and how it set a pattern in her life, leading all the way to her present relationship. It has also screened at the Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival in Austin, Texas.
While captions on the screen give "Hot Air Balloon" a story of sorts, the rest of what we see and hear is more like a collage, as Schwartz calls it. A woman's voice describes her lovers, past and present, in soundbites that overlap and sometimes contradict one another, while we see fragmented images of her dressing and making herself up, as if for a party.
Schwartz says she first conceived the film for "a show on women role models." Thinking about her own, she remembered "this German teacher named Sue who really affected me in a big way . . . I had a strong desire to get her attention." She started telling her story to the camera, but "watched the footage and realized I was much more interested in the mistakes than in getting it right," she says. "I started thinking about the nature of memory. How do we develop our identities - what do we change, and is that a good or bad thing?"
Schwartz isn't just interested in her own memories - her multimedia career involves telling other peoples stories, too. A 12-year Vermont resident with a background in acting, she started using video to supplement live performance while serving as co-director of the Green Mountain Guild. After obtaining an MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Goddard College in 2004, Schwartz decided she wanted to use video to "take real stories and tell them for the purpose of creating sustainable culture," she says.
Some of her videography jobs are for pay - a tribute video for a friend's partner, a promotional clip for a Montpelier nonprofit. Some are personal art projects. All have similar concerns. "I'm very interested in the way people communicate who they are," she says. "A lot of times, daily life and the way we interact doesn't allow for a more in-depth way of expressing the intricacies of our stories."
Schwartz still works on the stage: She's currently touring her one-woman show Crazy, about anxiety and depression, around the state. When it comes to digital video technology, shes still making the transition from iMovie to the professional editing software Final Cut Pro. But Schwartz is committed to the new medium. "Video is the language of the 21st century," she says. "Visual imagery is the dominant way of people communicating now."