I Want to Breathe Sweet Air
Synopsis: Filmmakers Pam Falkenberg and Jack Cochran, recipients of the 2020 Queens World Film Festival Lois Weber Pioneer Award, are back with “I Want to Breathe Sweet Air,” a film poem in three parts with acclaimed writer Lucy English. Their stunning and terribly beautiful visual indictment of careless land development and the impact of climate change on the natural environment combines new material shot specifically for this project with footage from the vast library accumulated by Outlier Moving Pictures during six years of documenting environmental destruction. Three horizontal visual strands, with as many as nine different images on screen at once, accompanied by an unsettling soundscape that functions as a musical score, concretize the text of Lucy’s poem, underscoring without any polemic the urgency of the climate crisis and the struggle for environmental justice, and powerfully demonstrating that environmental devastation is everywhere, while still seeing hope in protected remnants and restorations.
For over six years, Jack Cochran and Pamela Falkenberg have been making personal films together again under the name Outlier Moving Pictures. They hope their work will prove worthy of the name: avoiding the usual patterns and approaching their subject matter from the margins (which sounds better than saying that as filmmakers they are oddballs and cranks). Pam and Jack met in graduate school and made films together when they were young. Jack went on to become a professional cinematographer working out of LA and London, while Pam stayed in the Midwest, where she was a college professor and independent filmmaker before dropping out to work in visual display.
Their first film together, “The Cost of Living,” based on some of Jack’s short poems, screened at several film festivals, including the Buffalo International Film Festival and the Cornwall Film Festival, was nominated for two awards at the 2019 Queens World Festival, and took the award for best experimental film at the 2016 WV FILMmakers Festival. Their most ambitious film, “Teddy Roosevelt and Fracking,” about environmental threats to the wild landscapes of North Dakota, premiered at the 2018 Queens World Film Festival, where it was nominated for three awards and took the award for Best Documentary Short, followed by awards at the Go West Film Festival, the Ozark Foothills Film Festival, and the American Presidents Film and Literary Festival at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museum. “The Names of Trees,” their most celebrated film, accepted by more than thirty festivals in fifteen different countries and nominated for best visual poem and best experimental film several times, is another collaboration with poet Lucy English, a surprisingly uplifting, hauntingly beautiful, and deeply mysterious depiction of the bittersweet memories of a lost love. Their numerous other short poetry films, experimental films, and documentaries have screened all over the world, and their catalog of films and list of accolades continues to grow. “Legacy,” their newest film made in collaboration with poet Fiona Tinwei Lam, about a marriage that founders on the rocks of cross-cultural differences, just premiered in April 2021 at the Cadence Video Poetry Festival at the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle. They are currently at work on “Now and Then,” an experimental film based on a new collection of Jack’s poems, and also on their first feature together, an experimental road trip/documentary essay about the loneliest road in America, Highway 50 in Nevada.
Jack and Pam co-direct the films they make together, and they collaborate fully, even when they divide up the credits. Their poetry films usually start with a poem (often, but not always, one of Jack’s poems), which they think of as analogous to a script. However, when collaborating with Lucy English on “The Shadow,” “The Names of Trees,” and “I Want to Breathe Sweet Air,” the process was more dialectical: some images and sounds came first, then Lucy wrote the poems; the poems inspired more images, and eventually the edited film poems. For us, the exact process depends on the project and remains open to experiment, so our body of work is somewhat disparate and hard to categorize. Some of our eclectic interests include collage, found footage, and repurposing; the film essay and film poetry; image capturing and post-production techniques that reveal what cannot be seen with the eyes alone (e.g., high shutter speeds, moving cameras, infrared photography, green screen and digital layering); landscapes and the ways humans mark them; human rights/social justice; and postmodern melodrama.
Jack has written poetry all his life, but he never knew what to do with it until he shared his notebooks with Pam, who said, “You’re a filmmaker — shouldn’t your poems be films?” Pam and Jack both want to make lots of different kinds of films together, but Pam is especially proud to have been the one who suggested that Jack’s poems should come to life as films. They are both delighted that making films of Jack’s poems has led to interesting collaborations with other poets and filmmakers.
Pam is an independent filmmaker who received her PhD from the University of Iowa and taught at Northern Illinois University, St.Mary’s College, and the University of Notre Dame. She directed the largest student film society in the US while she was at the University of Iowa, and also ran films series for the Snite Museum of Art in South Bend, IN. Her experimental film with Dan Curry, “Open Territory,” received an individual filmmaker grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as grants from the Center for New Television and the Indiana Arts Council. OT screened at the Pacific Film Archives, as well at numerous film festivals, including the AFI Video Festival, and was nominated for a regional Emmy. Her other films include museum installations, scholarly/academic hybrid works shown at film conferences, and a documentary commissioned by the Peace Institute at the University of Notre Dame. She is an occasional contributor to Moving Poems Magazine (http://discussion.movingpoems.com/).
Jack is an independent filmmaker who has produced, directed, or shot a variety of experimental and personal projects. As a DP he has extensive experience shooting commercials, independent features, and documentaries. His varied commercial client list includes BMW, Ford, Nissan, Fujifilm, Iomega, Corum Watches, and Forte Hotels. His features and documentaries have shown at the Sundance, Raindance, Telluride, Tribeca, Edinburgh, Chicago, Houston, and Taos film Festivals, winning several honors. His commercials and documentaries have won Silver Lions from Cannes, a BAFTA (British Academy Award), Peabody Awards, and Cable Aces. Some notable credits: Director of Photography on Brian Griffin’s “Claustrofoamia,” Cinematography for Antony Thomas’ “Tank Man,” Director/Cinematographer of “Viento Nocturno,” and Cinematographer of Ramin Niami’s feature film “Paris.” Jack was trained at the University of Iowa Creative Writers Workshop as well as the University of Iowa film studies program.
Lucy English was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in London. She studied English and American Literature at the University of East Anglia, and has an MA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Digital Writing from Bath Spa University. She has three novels published by Fourth Estate: “Selfish People” (1998), set in contemporary Bristol; “Children of Light” (1999); and “Our Dancing Days” (2000), set in a Suffolk commune in the 1970s. She is best known as a performance poet, first winning the Bristol Poetry Slam in 1996, and going on to tour worldwide, performing her poetry at many international festivals. Her first poetry collection “Prayer to Imperfection” was published by Burning Eye books in March 2014. She co-ordinated the International Conference in the writing and practice of performance poetry at Bath Spa University and since then ran the first performance poetry module at a UK university. In 2006 she was artistic director of Apples and Snakes Poetry Tour, Exposed. In 2007, she was a finalist in the first BBC Radio 4 Poetry Slam.
In 2010-11 she toured the UK with the acclaimed Arts Council sponsored multimedia poetry show Flash and in 2014-15 toured with Count Me In. She is one of the organizers of ‘MIX,’ the conferences in digital writing. She is co-creator of the poetry film organization Liberated Words, which curates and screens poetry films. She created the digital poetry film project, “The Book of Hours,” which was short-listed for the New Media Writing Award, and twice long-listed for the Sabotage Awards. Two of the “Book of Hours” films won the first and second prize for the 2018 Atticus Review Videopoem Contest, first prize to Kathryn Darnell’s “Things I found in the Hedge” and second prize to “Que Es El Amor” by Eduardo Yague. Many of the https://bookofhours.org films have been selected by poetry film festivals, including O’Bheal, Rabbit Heart, Juteback, Zebra, and Athens. She is currently working on a new novel.