Dustin Zemel- Visiting Documentary Filmmaker

Heidi Hickle, contributing writer

Dustin Zemel, the visiting media arts scholar, has come to Robert Morris University from Portland, Oregon to show, teach, and demonstrate his artistic ways through the medium of video.

In Portland, Zemel worked as a freelance videographer, editor, and fine artist for the past six years.

He received his undergraduate degree in Film and Media Studies and Biology from Washington University in St. Louis. He then went on to graduate school at Montana State University where he got his masters in Science and Natural History Filmmaking.

“There was an ever increasing discontent within me, not just with science and natural history but traditional documentary making in general,” stated Zemel as he explained how he became fascinated with the fine arts.

Zemel has always been interested in the arts, but finding the line where he truly enjoyed what he was doing took searching and realizing what it was that he did not want to spend the rest of his life doing.  He discovered his artistic avenue with video and fine art in Portland.

“I was able to fuse my interest in media and media criticism and instead of doing it through pen and paper, which a lot of people do, I could do it through the medium itself,” he explained.

He worked at Discovery Health for six months before realizing this area of video was not his cup of tea. As a result, he left this area after feeling dissatisfied with what he was doing. He was still looking for something more.

Zemel’s second year project for his master’s degree was creating a policy video for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). During this time, he decided that the ‘cut and dry’ scientific video productions were not what he could see himself doing for a long time.

He also tried his hand at Hollywood films with his first summer internship being with a company in Las Angeles.

“It was big, it was very top down driven,” he said. “It is a big ladder that you either climb or you get off the ladder.”

He, therefore, decided to get off the ladder and follow his own dreams to accomplish the things he wanted to do, the way he wanted to do them.

In 2010, Zemel founded Grand Detour. In Grand Detour, They facilitate experimental media in Portland and host art exhibits about twice a month.

From May 23 to May 27, they will be putting on an experimental film festival titled Experimental Film Festival (EFF) Portland.

Zemel has been featured in three solo art shows, and group shows where showing new pieces were emphasized. Of these shows, he has been featured internationally, and locally (Portland).  He sticks to the realm of video to explore the fine arts. Portland has a huge community of arts, which has helped him to do his work.

It was here that Zemel realized that these people are not doing these things to make a living but the exact opposite.

“I am making this thing because it is saying something incredibly important about the world in which we live,” he explained.

In Pittsburgh, Zemel is teaching a Documentary Production class in which he shows students different forms of documentary and helps them understand the greater question, “What is a documentary?”

He is currently shooting a documentary of a different type. His subjects are fathers and the exploration of what they had or have in mind for their sons, and what they think their fathers had in mind for them.

It will be a lot of exploration of ‘contemporary masculinity.’ As each subject is shot and all the footage is collected, it will be compiled in a non-linear randomized fashion.

“I want to explore this idea through algorithmic generative documentaries, meaning what happens when we are not the decision makers of decision what videos go where and carefully crafting the interviews,” Zemel said. “We will have a computer generate a 10 minute timeline by exploring and comparing them to see how the computer randomizes the footage several times we will see if it is the same documentary or what similarities and differences it has.”

Zemel is enjoying his time at RMU, which will last until the end of the semester, and he wants to visit more of Pittsburgh and explore the city.

If you would like to know more about Grand Detour and the EFF Portland, visit www.effportland.com.