The artwork of Holly Andres has a strangely intimate quality to it, a mix of nostalgia and peculiarity that ends up feeling like someone else’s dream running through your own subconscious. It’s a delicate and intoxicating combination, and it suffuses the emerging artist’s sweet stream-of-consciousness film, Dandelion, about the death of her mother.
Dandelion features Andres and her collaborator, Grace Carter, wistfully recounting memories of their respective mothers and their respective deaths, including everything from childhood moments to, in Andres’ case, the last days in the hospital when her mother was suffering from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. While Andres and Carter provide the voice-over, the Super 8mm camera delicately brings into focus a series of corresponding images: falling leaves, a woman painting her toenails, crayon drawings, a garden, old photographs. What keeps the viewer slightly off balance are the parts of this cinematic collage that seem slightly skewed—mainly, a diorama series done with paper dolls featuring headshots of the two mothers, each dressed in a hospital gown and in a hospital room, re-creating their deaths in a sad and absurdist cartoon style.
“I’ve always made art about what I know,” says Andres, 29, who was born and raised in Missoula, the youngest of 10 children, and graduated from the University of Montana’s art program. “My work has always been pretty self-referential and filled with self-narratives. And I’ve always explored some of the darker areas of my life.”
The inspiration has worked for Andres, who is now based in Portland, Ore., and is quickly raising her profile as one of the most promising visual artists in the city. Her work has been featured by Portland Modern, which profiles emerging artists, honored in the Newspace Center for Photography’s annual juried exhibition, and Dandelion specifically has been included in the 2006 Oregon Biennial at the Portland Art Museum, as well as awarded an honorable mention in the 32nd Northwest Film and Video Festival. The latter has the film on a nationwide screening tour that stops in Missoula Thursday, Nov. 9, at the Missoula Art Museum.
“The response [to Dandelion] has been really perplexing,” says Andres, who made the film as a class assignment. “But, ultimately, there isn’t a person who hasn’t been touched by death and doesn’t think about it. It’s a universal experience that I think the film touches on.”
Recalling her mother’s death in detail for the film was a mixed experience for Andres, both cathartic and painful. More than anything, though, it took Andres back to her roots in Missoula. When her mom was diagnosed in 1998, Andres left a frustrating run at the Art Institute of Seattle—“it felt like a business school”—and moved back home to be with her mother. The move led her to enroll at UM, where she found her work reinvigorated. Her mom died in 1999; Andres graduated from UM in 2002.
“It’s nice to be able to carve out that period of time in my life,” says Andres, who received her master’s degree from Portland State University in 2004 and now teaches at PSU and the Art Institute of Portland. “We all live busy lives and, for me, I can find myself, unfortunately, sometimes going through an entire day without thinking about my mom at all. So, being able to meet with my friend and being able to specifically talk about our mothers and celebrate their lives was important.”
The film’s focus is not only important to Andres, it’s also what’s probably attracted viewers to her film. In the first lines of her voice-over, Andres says, “The first funeral that I ever went to was my mom’s funeral. It was a beautiful day. Just like a crystal, bluebird day,” while a serene shot of leaves blowing on an empty suburban street fills the screen. That mix of mournful content and dreamy aesthetic stylings holds exactly the sort of resonance that allows viewers to see through Andres’ lens into similar moments in their own lives.
“It was never intended for a wider audience,” Andres says, “but maybe that’s what’s made it so affecting for strangers who don’t even know me or my mother. They made it their own.”
The Best of the Northwest Film and Video Festival will screen Thursday, Nov. 9, at 7 PM at the Missoula Art Museum. $6/$5 for members.
Rest of the best
In addition to Dandelion, The Best of the 32nd Northwest Film and Video Festival features seven other short films.
by John Penhall (17 min.) The perils of winning the lottery are bestowed upon the owner of a convenience store who doesn’t believe in gambling. Highlight is a Korean-speaking mouse.
by Matthew Lessner (13 min.) Michael Cera (“Arrested Develop-ment”) stars in this eccentric comedy about a boy meeting his date’s father before the prom. The dad’s a wee bit intimidating: he’s a lead-guitar-playing archer with the head of a horse.
by Jen Morgan (5 min.) This CGI-animated exploration into themes of life and death is pretty tame until a giant mosquito flies into an apartment and lovingly embraces a woman. This disappointing entry feels like it was included just to make sure animation was represented.
by Andrew Blubaugh (8 min.) Writing personal ads is an art. It made the director—“GWM, 5’7”, 145 lbs., scruffy, easygoing”—a better writer, although he figures he may end up liking words more than people. This smart film is a festival standout.
Geek Like Me
by John Vechey (18 min.) The most complete narrative of the festival features a circus freak stuck in a difficult relationship with a cute vegan. His act and her morals don’t mix, but we get to watch as they search for middle ground.
(Gone) One Moment
to the Next
by Morgan Hobart (7 min.) An experimental short that melds ambient white noise with quick-cut shots of power lines, housecats, rocky shorelines and other such disparate images. Excessively abstract but well done.
by Thom Harp (11 min.) A driving test is a metaphor for life—at least the love life of a button-nosed high-school girl whose boyfriend is off at college—in this lighthearted short with a surprise ending.