Utah filmmaker learned the value of listening while shooting ‘Collodion’
What: Park City Film presents Eric Overton’s “Collodion: The Processes of Preservation”
When: Sept. 25-26
Where: Park City Film Virtual Cinema
Cost: Free, but registration is required
“Collodion: The Processes of Preservation,” which Park City Film has scheduled for free virtual cinema screenings on Sept. 25 and 26, is much like the wet, glass-plate photographic media alluded to in the film’s title.
The film captures a transparent self-portrait of the American wilderness, and while filmmaker Eric Overton, a photographer, physician and Utah native, reminds viewers of the fragility of these landscapes through this delicate art form, the film also emphasizes the importance of communication that goes beyond listening for the sake of responding.
The filmmaker’s inspirations for the film came in roundabout ways. The first came while he was finishing his medical residency in Phoenix a few years ago.
“I had been working on a series of photographs that I called ‘Wild America,’ which are these collodion landscape photographs that I started in 2012,” Overton said. “Taking these photographs was a way for me to get outside.”
Overton’s draw to collodion photography stemmed from the early 2000s, when he was a film student at the University of Utah.
One assignment required him to see nine films at the Sundance Film Festival that year, and he watched Steven Cantor’s documentary “What Remains,” which examined the creative process of collodion photographer Sally Mann.
“I loved the aesthetic and approach to what she was doing, and I decided to try the wet-plate coating process on my own,” Overton said. “I ordered all the chemistry, but just couldn’t figure it out, so I put it away for a few years.”
During those few years, Overton started a family and began medical school.
“I remember one day that I wanted to do something outside, after spending so much time with my head in books and studying,” he said. “So, I found a teacher, Quinn Jacobson, in Denver and did a two-day private collodion workshop. During that class, I geeked out and learned the process backwards and forwards.”
Although Jacobson taught studio work, Overton decided to take the process outside.
“I started photographing places that I had never really experienced,” he said. “It’s crazy that I, being born and raised in Utah, had never been to Bryce Canyon.”
Overton does remember seeing red-rock spires during family road trips to New Mexico.
“We would just speed through the scenery on our way to Thanksgiving dinner,” Overton said, laughing. “I can remember my dad shouting, ‘We’re making good time,’ while I was wanting to stop and look at what was outside the windows.”
These memories served as the basis of Overton’s “Wild America” series, which led him to another inspiration for the film, a businessman and art collector named Jeffrey Morgan, owner of National EWP, Inc., a company that specializes in drilling water wells.
“He bought more than half a dozen pieces of my big collodion landscapes,” Overton said. “We got along, even though he’s dapper, well put together, and leans conservative.”
Overton and Morgan formed a strong friendship, regardless of their differences.
“We would get together and talk about art, and really connect about the value of land,” Overton said.
After a few months, Overton decided he wanted to make a documentary about land, its use and its preservation. To get the ball rolling he contacted his friend, Jennilyn Merton, a local filmmaker who is known for her work on the documentary “Sons of Perdition.”
Merton helped Overton put together a pitch to ask Morgan for funding regarding a film that would eventually become “Collodion.”
“I wrote a couple of paragraphs explaining the concept of this documentary film, which was what it means to protect wilderness and what wilderness offers,” Overton said.
Morgan’s reply wasn’t what Overton expected.
“He said he couldn’t support the cause of preservation, because he thought a film like this could be used as political propaganda,” Overton said. “I was taken aback because we had these great discussions, and I felt, as disparate as we were in political leaning and ideals, that we understood landscape does matter.”
Before Overton replied, he called his wife, Jesse, and told her what happened.
“She’s the reason I have accomplished anything in my life, and her advice was for me to take a step back and pause,” Overton said.
After reading Morgan’s email a few more times, the filmmaker sent off a reply.
“I told him I understood, but also said I’d love for him to be one of the subjects of the film, because his voice matters in the whole discussion.”
After reading Overton’s email, Morgan agreed to become executive director.
“He told me later that no one had ever responded to him the way I did, and I realized that my reply, because it wasn’t reactionary, had perpetuated a conversation.”
That respect continued throughout the filmmaking.
“Although Jeffrey was executive director, I had 100% creative control,” Overton said. “He never influenced me, or demanded to see any of the shots, clips or edits. He was a great collaborator.”
Overton approached the other subjects in the film the same way. By listening, he was able to tell their stories accurately.
“It was a great lesson I learned, and it has become more timely than I could possibly imagine,” Overton said. “Sometimes we all need to just shut up and listen.”
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