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Salem Film Fest

Mass Reality Check: Catching up with 2013 Winner

Posted February 21st, 2014 by brianlepire in Featured, Event, Interview


Salem Film Fest 2014 is packed with great films, panels, and events for audiences to attend. One event making its return this year is Mass Reality Check, the college doc shorts showcase for Massachusetts-based college and university students and recent graduates working in short documentary and experimental documentary film. Along with featuring the best documentaries from around the world, SFF also hopes to expand the genre by providing student filmmakers with a venue to display their talents and flourish.

As we prepare to announce the selected films for this year’s MRC on Monday, we thought we’d take a moment to catch up with last year’s inaugural winner, Liss LaFleur, whose short film, NONNI, provided audiences with a glimpse into the life of Icelandic artist and LGBT advocate Nonni Ragnas.

LaFleur, a native Texan currently studying at Emerson College, was able to meet with representatives from  LEF Foundation, Documentary Educational Resources and The Independent after SFF2013 to get some advice about filmmaking as a career and provide insights into funding, distribution as well as other professional considerations. Since then, she has been involved with numerous projects around the country. Her camera is never too far from her reach.

Your short film NONNI, which introduced audiences to the Icelandic painter and gay rights pioneer, won Salem Film Fest’s inaugural Mass Reality Check. What was your experience like participating in last year’s Mass Reality Check?

My experience working with the Salem Film Fest and Mass Reality Check competition was exceptional. Some of my family was visiting from Texas, and it was an early screening of NONNI. It was an intimate and positive environment and audience, and I was thrilled to see how everyone reacted to it. It was also an awesome opportunity to meet with the judges; from The Independent, DER, and LEF, and see work from other graduate students in New England. I felt extremely supported and encouraged artistically, and am very thankful for the experience.

You’ve been involved in many projects since Salem Film Fest 2013. Can you recap what you’ve been up to since Salem audiences have last seen you?

I’ve spent the last year developing the New England Graduate Media Symposium. The purpose of this symposium is to create an occasion for graduate students to formally present media based work to each other, faculty, and professional colleagues. The symposium intends to foster the spirit and practice of exchange, collaboration, and intellectual community among members of the area’s various graduate programs, and to function as a springboard for future projects.

For the inaugural year, Performing Actuality: How Reality is Re-presented will take place on February 14, 2014 with keynote Su Friedrich. Media artwork and scholarship will interrogate the interplay between actuality and fiction, non-fiction and performance, and the objective and subjective. These works bring to the foreground the contrivance of their own depiction of truth and challenge the interaction and participation of subject: viewer: and maker

I’ve also been revisiting a project that I initially started in 2008 with the nonprofit Home for the Holidays Texas Inc. Now a tranmedia project, tiled ONE WAY HOME, the immersive experience is based on documenting a close community of charity queens, who for the last 25 years have raised money to purchase one way tickets for individual and families of those dying of AIDS in Texas.  It’s my goal to both immortalize and challenge the current status of HIV and AIDS, and inspire a new generation to ensure that no one dies alone. I’m hoping to begin applying for funding as early as January!

Are you currently making any more films? If so, what are you working on?

Along with the redevelopment of ONE WAY HOME, I’m currently working on an interactive nonfiction project that investigates the needs and relationships of LGBT prisoners based on pen pal exchanges and a variety of other communication tools. This project stemmed out of my own curiosity and advocacy, and is now a collaboration with Black & Pink, a Ford Funded initiative called Out for Change through the MIT Center for Civic Media, and the Emerson Engagement Lab.

Aside from these two large projects, I’m also working obsessively to digitize a collection of over 300 reel-to-reel recordings left to me by my grandfather. I intend to turn this into a project down the line, but it’s extremely challenging to preserve a history that is both personal and political, and I want to give myself the time and space to create it once I’ve heard everything.

What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers interested in participating in the 2014 Mass Reality Check?

Just do it!