Inside “The Film Lounge” with Kristian Day

    Kristian Day.
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    Over the past few weeks, we’ve been visiting with Iowa filmmakers whose works will be seen in “The Film Lounge,” a new television program that will premiere next week on Iowa Public Television. If you’re joining us here for the first time, feel free to click through our blog to meet our other featured artists.

    If you’re free, feel free to join us for any of the free preview parties Feb. 5 in Iowa City, Feb. 9 in Des Moines and Feb. 11 in Sioux City, where you can meet some of the filmmakers and other film fans. The parties, like the series itself, are presented by IPTV, Produce Iowa and the Iowa Arts Council.

    Meantime, let’s meet Kristian Day, a documentary filmmaker, photographer and noise artist who lives in Des Moines but spends up to 40 percent of his time working in Los Angeles.

    A native of Rock Island, Illinois, Kristian developed an interest in music and art at an early age. Avant-garde artists such as Brian Eno, Boyd Rice and Merzbow inspired him to build microphones out of radio parts and modified electronic children’s toys to create atmospheric/anxiety-driven recordings.

    Day and crew on set for 'Outed Web Series.'
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    By 2006, he was recording soundtracks for films such as “100 Tears,” “Am I Evil,” and Ron Atkin’s “Mutilation Mile,” in addition to his own albums released on independent labels.

    A year later, he discovered the films of Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage and Ingmar Bergman, and began directing and producing his own movies. His short films relied heavily on visuals, shot with few or no actors, and focused on atmosphere and emotional reactions.

    In 2010, he made his first feature length documentary, “Brent Houzenga: Hybrid Pioneer,” for his “Made in Iowa” series and followed that with “Capone’s Whiskey: The Story of Templeton Rye.” That led to a made-for-TV documentary called “Templeton Rye: Iowa’s Good Stuff” that aired on IPTV in conjunction with Ken Burns’ “Prohibition” series.

    Today, Kristian works as a freelance producer and coordinator on independent films and national television shows as well as his own projects. His works have played in numerous festivals across the United States – Dallas, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago – and around the world, including Austria, Greece and Italy.

    His contribution to “The Film Lounge” is “Cactua,” a short film that uses improvisation to meditate on the experience of being alone in a solitary environment.

    Day filling in as prop specialist while co-producing 'Up on the Wooftop.'
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    What type of films do you make?
    I’ve worked mostly on “big box” shows like “The Bachelor/Bachelorette,” “Intervention” and “House Hunters” these days. Not to say I don’t want to make anything personal again, but it just becomes one of those situations that I need to make a living and wanted to stay in the industry.

    Since 2013, I’ve been commuting back and forth from Des Moines to Los Angeles working on different shows. I get to work on independent films off and on throughout the year. Back in 2015, for example, I co-produced Joe Clarke’s talking-dog Christmas movie “Up On The Wooftop.”

    What themes does your work deal with?
    With my first short films, I explored ideas such as isolation, personality disorders and repressed violence -- back when I was an angry 20-something.

    When I made my first documentary, “Brent Houzenga: Hybrid Pioneer” in 2010, I explored Des Moines’ DIY art scene and completely removed myself from those negative themes. The film really assembled itself smoothly, and I think it was because I had buried myself underneath all those other ideas for so long that when I was finally able to make something different, it was a relief and everything clicked. The film is almost seven years old now and it still plays a couple times a year in different markets.

    Day and crew on set for 'Outed Web Series.'
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    What are you currently working on?
    I am still working on those “big box” shows because I need to eat and keep a roof over my head. I have two docu-style projects that I have been shooting without telling many people.

    I’ve also been spending some of my time writing for magazines such as Horror Hound and Fangoria. It’s been really healthy to explore different avenues of creativity, and I compare it to farmland: If you continue to grow the same crop over and over again in the same soil you can burn it out. You need to grow different things or sometimes just not grow anything at all in order to maintain a quality crop.

    What do you enjoy about being an artist/filmmaker in Iowa?
    The idea of being able to afford a house on a salary that is 100 percent provided from my career in media arts is a huge plus. Besides, I can talk all day about the change in seasons, landscapes, etc.

    I generally like the Midwest, but the bottom line is the economy in places like Los Angeles is false. It’s not realistic. Different priorities create different goals. Most people travel to Los Angeles to be a director or an actor, but they realize so fast that they have to find consistent work or they just won’t make it. So you’re always in that “survival” mode, making you scramble, looking for whatever work you can find.

    I also dislike the idea of living with five to six other people. I am a really private person, but I’ve made enough connections in Los Angeles that I get hired on a lot of shows and movies. The Hollywood money goes a lot further for me in Des Moines.

    Film festival poster for 'Cactua,' 2010.
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    What is one thing you would like to see change about the film scene in Iowa?
    Even though I live here, I don’t really consider myself part of the film scene in Iowa. I feel a real disconnect from it. I used to go to every art opening in Des Moines on First Friday and see friends, drink beer, etc.

    I grew up in Cedar Rapids from 1999 through 2004, and at that time there was an amazing DIY music scene. Punk and hardcore parties were being held at community centers, basements, warehouses and closed storefronts. The music was amazing, but what really got me were the passion, aggression and complete hands-on-creativity. People had balls back then. There was no Facebook, so you had to flier the entire city to get people to come to your show. It also forced people to face their enemies head to head. No passive aggressive status updates that give you a lame and temporary moment of satisfaction. Nobody made any money back then, either, but it didn’t matter. People just wanted to make art and share it with their friends. I miss those days.