Q&A with Filmmaker Ashley S. Brandon
In this online series, we spotlight the approach, philosophy, and work of people from around the Midwest filmmaking community with six simple questions. In this interview, we get to know filmmaker Ashley S. Brandon. Her documentary short, MICKEY'S PETS, received distinguished recognition from the first-ever Female Filmmakers Night Grand Jury.
Born and raised in rural Ohio’s Great Black Swamp region, Brandon is a documentary filmmaker with interest in telling the stories of small-town America. A graduate of Northwestern University's Documentary Media MFA program, her films have screened at various festivals and been funded by the Tribeca Film Institute and ESPN Films. She also teaches film production at Quinnipiac University.
MIFF: What types of films do you make and what is your approach to filmmaking?
AB: I mainly work in non-fiction film, but more and more I’ve been evolving into making documentary films which cross the line into adopting fiction techniques and tropes. I’ve only been making films for a few years, so it’s hard to explain a philosophy or approach that I have when making films, as I still feel like a naive novice. Perhaps being naïve is an approach that I’m subconsciously implementing upon myself. I want to constantly be learning, exploring, and evolving within my craft but also with the stories that I choose to tell. In the end, I think it is safe to say that my philosophy is to always have the eyes of a child; always questioning the world around me and the ways in which I can use art to translate my fascination and curiosity to an audience.
MIFF: How did you get started in the film industry?
AB: I grew up in rural Ohio where my window to another world was through film and television. Due to this I became a cinephile. I distinctly remember being in the third grade and for an assignment sharing what I wanted to be when I grew up. My dream was to be a rapper and coming in at a close second was filmmaker. Since rapping isn’t a university major and my parents were persistent that I attend college, I decided to pursue my second choice in college and absolutely fell in love with documentary film in the process. After graduating with a BFA in Film Production, and attending graduate school earning an MFA in Documentary Media, I’ve just been making films non-stop. I still rap.
MIFF: What advice do you wish you could go back and give yourself when you first started in film?
AB: The biggest bit of advice I wish I could go back and tell myself is that the stories and people that are surrounding you daily are more interesting than you think. When I was younger I used to often feel debilitated by my location in the Midwest. I’d see inspiring films taking place in beautiful places around the world and think to myself “I need to get out of here to be a real filmmaker!” But that is totally not true. I recently relocated to Connecticut to teach film at a university, and all of my upcoming work is taking place in the Midwest. The Midwest has a goldmine of stories and wonderful people. Also, there is nothing better than making films about the place and people that raised you.
MIFF: What do you most enjoy about the creative community in the Midwest?
AB: What I enjoy most about the Midwest creative community is the humbleness. There are so many talented filmmakers in the Midwest and it doesn’t matter what credentials or awards you’ve won or haven’t won – we’re all a family looking to make art and help others make art. It’s a beautiful thing.
MIFF: What are you most excited about in the film industry right now?
AB: I’m most excited by the merging of documentary and fiction that is happening at the moment. Films such as STORIES WE TELL, BOMBAY BEACH, and THE ACT OF KILLING have not only dismantled the perception of what a documentary is but also opened up the doors to what a documentary can be. I find that really exciting and almost liberating as someone who is primarily based in working with the “real."
MIFF: What's next for you?
AB:As of 24 hours ago I locked picture on my newest film titled ON THE BIT. The documentary short follows veterans located in rural Illinois who are combating their physical and mental wounds of war by gentling horses and taking part in equestrian therapy.
To nominate someone from the Midwest filmmaking community to be considered for this series, please email Midwest Independent Film Festival Executive Director Amy Guth at amy [at] midwestfilm [dot] com.