As UNCW wraps up its spring semester with finals week (good luck, encore interns!), Shannon Silva of the film studies department and founder of UNCW’s Visions Film Festival finally sees the light at the end of a very long and busy tunnel. As a filmmaker, she’s gearing up for a summer dedicated to personal creative work.
“The spring slows down on my filmmaking front,” she says. “Visions is such a heavy workload that, in addition to my normal teaching load, I am focused on that project pretty intensely January to May. . . . I typically shoot a film in the summer and edit through fall.”
Silva’s latest piece, “Baby Oil,” is set in 1978 rural North Carolina and is loosely based on family stories from her childhood. It recently garnered her the North Carolina Arts Fellowship of $10,000. She’ll use the money to help produce and direct her short narrative. Silva joins the ranks of more than a dozen other NC contemporary artists celebrated in North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship 2017 Award Exhibition, on display now through August 5 at Cameron Art Museum.
“Receiving the award has honestly energized my work,” she explains. “Having the support and recognition from the arts council allowed me to fund the project, but also to set in motion two additional projects that are following ‘Baby Oil.’”
The stage is set for “Baby Oil” with 1970s second-wave feminism (peppered with issues of sexuality, family, as well as workplace and reproductive rights). Two sisters, Leigh (14) and Susan (25), are stranded in a trailer park without transportation as a major storm system approaches. So they decide to kick it poolside as long as they can, smoking pot and sunbathing. Hannah Black plays Susan; Silva’s son, Kai, plays her son; and Flynn Gniadek plays Leigh.
“The film is based on an experience my mother and I went through in the early ‘70s during a super cell storm event,” Silva details. “My father left with the car, and my mother and I were stranded in the middle of nowhere. The character of Leigh is based on my aunt, and though she was not actually part of the ‘true’ story, she is added in to function almost like the voice of reason that must have been running through my mother’s mind at the time.”
Since 1980 the arts council has given away over 600 cash awards to artists statewide, in order to both encourage and strengthen artists’ voices and creative explorations. Visual artists, like Asheville’s Jackson Odell Martin, and choreographer Robin M. Gee of Greensboro, as well as Thomas Schmidt’s crafts out of Charlotte and fellow filmmaker Katina Park based in Durham are among those honored. Silva, a first-time grant recipient, is the only Wilmington-based artist to be on the receiving end in 2018.
“I’m just terribly grateful for the support this fellowship has provided,” she says. “Not only in the form of funding, but also through workshops, this exhibit provides guidance to artists who are developing their professional approach to their work. The impact has been immense on me, personally, and I encourage other artists to keep applying.”
Among this year’s fellowship cohort, Silva and her 9-year-old son fell in love with Winston-Salem visual artist Jason Adams’ work “All Aboard.” She describes Adams’ large-scale, interactive wooden sculptures as beautiful and fun, but also purposeful. They pose questions about humans’ relationship to the natural world and one another. “‘All Aboard’ is a must see,” she states, “especially for families who love art and want their kids to experience art at an early age.”
As a professional filmmaker and university instructor, each of Silva’s endeavors intertwine in ways that keep her inspired and in love with art and filmmaking. The Visions festival and conference, a course Silva created in 2006, is led by 20 students each year with a target audience under 30. The event continues to vitalize her and her own work each year.
“Basically, I’m around young energy all the time,” she praises. “It can be intense, but it’s great for keeping me on my toes. Undergraduates are so young, unjaded and hopeful. They are beginning their journey. To be around that energy on an ongoing basis is useful to my own practice. They keep me young at heart.”
Silva now prepares to tackle projects beyond her award-winning “Baby Oil,” which led her to formally partner with long-time collaborator Tiffany Albright. Along with Silva’s husband Andre, they have created a filmmaking collaborative to support and encourage one another on ongoing projects. Silva already has helped produce Albright’s narrative short, “Peek,” and is currently working with Andre on his animated short, “Gifnosis.”
“For my own directorial work, I have two films in production,” she continues. “The narrative short ‘Shoot the Duck’ is a story about a young girl competing in a roller-skating contest and will shoot in mid-June. The film has a 95-percent female principal cast (ages 9-29) and is, in contrast to the more poetic, atmospheric ‘Baby Oil’ piece, a high-energy, playful film. The second film I am working on is a hand-drawn, stop-motion, animated film about the accidental, natural genetic modification that ferns experienced that resulted in their ability to adapt and survive a changing environment that was threatening their existence.”