We had the good fortune of connecting with Emilie Upczak and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Emilie, how do you think about risk?
I think of risk taking as an essential element to being a filmmaker, with every project I make, I set off on a new course and risk the uncertainty of where I am headed. The concept of practiced improvisation is one I have become more comfortable and familiar with. I generally feel excited stepping into the unknown frame of a new idea, but then I must find the stamina to see my idea through and to withstand the vulnerability of the risk I am taking. Looking back over the course of my artistic practice, I find something redeeming about every film I have made – do I like everything I have made…no, is the honest answer. Would I change that…no, I would not. Every project shows me where I was at, at the time, where I was living, who I spent time with, what I was concerned with. Each film is like a postcard, sent to myself from the past, bursting with the boldness of risk taking. Without risk, there can be no success, but of course you also risk failure. A sage person once told me, it is best to create one’s own definition of success, and now I do that, with each project, I ask myself what am I risking, what do I hope to achieve and what is enough for me to feel I have reached my goal.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I started off as a cultural administrator working in contemporary visual art spaces and then at film festivals. I realized I was a closeted artist and I needed to make work to feel good about myself and those around me. I enrolled at Vermont College of Fine Arts in my late 30’s and received an MFA in Film from there in 2015. I transitioned away from administration to make films and teach.
I have made experimental and documentary films, and now seem to be working primarily in the dramatic narrative form. Most of my work is concerned with some sort of underlying social issue or questions about identity. I just recently completed a short film entitled SILT, the story of Emery, a Navajo botanist, grieving the death of a beloved aunt, who travels alone to northern Mexico, where she is nourished by images of the last trip they took together traversing the Colorado River.
I am excited about my new work, and also believe being an artist means one must be perpetually optimistic. I have become a better filmmaker with each mistake I make and each project I complete. Making is the key.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The Sie Film Center in Denver is a great spot to see a thoughtfully programmed film – with a drink in hand.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My mother, Patricia Upczak, has always been an excellent role model and an enormous source of support for me personally and artistically. She is an author herself and her work ethic and joyful engagement with her own artistic practice and with the world around her, has shown me what’s possible.
Photo Credits: John Otterbacher SILT, Kevin Huggins MOVING PARTS