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Art in ascent at the 5Point Film Festival

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Contributed imageClimber-filmmaker Jeremy Collins will present the world premiere of "The Wolf and the Medallion" on Saturday, April 30, at the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale. There will be an encore presentation on Sunday, May 1.
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CARBONDALE -Jeremy Collins says that his latest film, “The Wolf and the Medallion,” which has its world premiere Saturday, April 30, at the 5Point Film Festival, acts as an invitation to viewers to recognize life as a potential adventure. “To pursue dreams, take chances,” the 35-year-old Collins said Thursday morning as he drove across Kansas, destination Carbondale. “It becomes an invitation to anyone to join that sort of journey.”Those inclined to take him up on that offer should know that Collins doesn’t intend to stand idly by at the shore, waving good-bye as others head off on their quests. Collins offers himself up as guide, inspiration and model risk-taker.When Collins presents “The Wolf and the Medallion” at 5Point, he will be stepping into new territory. The film’s imagery was originally made, in part, from Collins’ oil monoprints – a step forward from the technique he used to make his last film, the extraordinary “Border Country.” “Border Country,” a major hit at last year’s 5Point Festival, was eight minutes long; the new work doubles that. Bookending the presentation, Collins will create, live on stage, several oil-on-glass paintings. Most challenging, the screening will be accompanied by a live music component, with Andy Michael, who composed the soundtrack, playing piano and conducting a small pit band to create the music and sound effects – an entirely new experience for Collins, and one not often witnessed in cinema, much less in a film festival devoted to outdoors and sports action movies.”When I think of what the next level is to achieve, I think of authenticity. What’s missing when you screen a film? What if all the components were there, and you’re treating it as a full piece of art?” Collins said of introducing the live-music element into his work. “I’ve never done anything like this. It’s new ground for all of us. We’re pushing the boundaries of our imagery, our storytelling, and really living into what we’re asking others to do and join in.”Those who have seen “Border Country” know that Collins dug deep on an emotional level. His previous film, his debut as a filmmaker, had been a comedy: “The Brief, Biased History of Big Wall Climbing.” (His collaborator on that film, Timmy O’Neill, is also featured at this year’s 5Point; he emcees Saturday morning’s film program.) But on “Border Country,” Collins went into a different realm, creating a mixed-media documentary centered around the death of a friend in a climbing accident. To maintain the spirit of adventure, Collins aimed for an even more poignant emotional statement. But was that even possible?”To do a film about a friend who died – How do I top that, in terms of tapping into my own personality?” he said. “The only way to move on was to do love. So this film is about love.””The Wolf and the Medallion” began with a letter Collins wrote, while climbing this past September in the Keketuohai Geological Preserve, in China’s Xinjiang Province, near where China and Mongolia intersect. The letter was addressed to Collins’ 4-year-old son, Zion, and concerned the issues that seem always to occupy Collins’ mind: pushing oneself, facing fears, seeking comfort in allies. He came up with two central images.”The wolf refers to the things that can conquer and destroy us – complacency, apathy, addiction. The medallion is what holds us close, to keep the wolf from us,” Collins, who also has a 10-month-old daughter, Sela, said. “It’s the things that seek to destroy us – complacency in this case – and the things that seek to sustain us – family.The letter became the basis of the script for “The Wolf and the Medallion.” For imagery, Collins started with another creation from the Keketuohai trip: a Japanese-style sketch book whose 60 pages reach 33 feet in length, but could be folded, accordion-like, to fit into his pocket. Collins will have the original sketch book with him in Carbondale. Collins grew up in Kansas City with no more interest in visual arts than the average kid. “I didn’t do more than anyone else,” he said. “But I just never stopped like everyone else did. I knew the visual arts were what I was doing with my life from early on.”Confronting the computer as an art tool, in his teens, was a hurdle. “That was terrifying to me. I thought I was going to break it,” Collins said. “Eventually I embraced it as another tool for expansion. Now I go back and forth between computers and traditional media pretty seamlessly.”At Central Missouri State University, Collins added running track to his list of pursuits. But during one track season, he realized he was spending more time climbing than running. Over time, he discovered that climbing rocks and mountains was far better inspiration for art-making than running around a track.”It certainly was a catalyst,” Collins said of how climbing affected his art. “But very few of my images are specifically about climbing or mountaineering. It’s the natural experience, being in nature, living a life of adventure and risk – that influences it more than climbing. A person climbing – it’s more metaphorical than literal.”Collins – who makes the bulk of his income as an illustrator, and also sells his paintings in galleries – considers himself still in the process of intertwining his passions. “It didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “I like to think I’m still growing into it. I’m still discovering how far I can go with this marriage of climbing and art.”Collins’ approach mixes serendipity and planning. He says that his writings and drawings aren’t necessarily intended to become finished projects. “You start with an essay, and it grows into something larger than itself,” he said. “I’ve certainly made sketch books that have never gone anywhere.”But “Border Country” and “The Wolf and the Medallion” are part of a thought-out design. Collins has in mind a four-part project covering the four directions of the compass. “Border Country,” set in Yosemite, represents West; “The Wolf and the Medallion” is East. His trip to Patagonia last year covers South, and a planned journey to the Vampire Spires, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, should take care of North.Another significant spot on Collins’ map is Carbondale. When he came to 5Point last year, it was his first visit to the festival, then in its third year. He was somewhat dubious: “A film festival in a community center? Interesting,” he recalls.”Then you pull up and enter the place and the energy overwhelms you,” he said. “It’s filmmakers from all over the world, and a community that supports it, that is really present. I knew I’d be coming back.”

The fourth annual 5Point Film Festival runs through Sunday, May 2, in Carbondale. Highlights include daily screening programs, a storytelling event at Steve’s Guitars on Saturday, an exhibition of portraits by Cory Richards at Phat Thai, an ice cream social on Saturday, book signings and more.

stewart@aspentimes.com


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