The strangely somber act of taking down graffiti and scrapbooks full of the mementos of strangers and family stories shared through generations are just a few things that stand out in the pool of inspiration that go into Matt McCormick’s filmmaking.
With it being his first year at Gonzaga, McCormick, assistant professor who works half-time for integrated media and halftime for the art depatment, has already started implementing programs the university had never seen before.
McCormick said he wants to create a filmmaking community at GU because he sees its presence and knows it would be receptive. His spearheading has resulted in the creation of the new visual literacy minor as well as a first annual student Film Festival that will take place later this spring.
“I was brought in to create this film program. It’s starting off with these small classes but as it grows and gets more momentum, it’s going to continue to have more offerings and eventually have a whole major,” said McCormick.
McCormick’s professional career started when he was in high school as a photographer for the school newspaper. Because he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life at the time, he looked to his interest in film to keep him going.
In college, he kept up with photography until he later diverged into the path of documentary filmmaking.
Moving to Portland afterward deemed to be a spark in his creative career. He worked independently and collaboratively on films that later gained the attention of the public. Then he worked on planning the PDX Film Festival.
On the side, McCormick worked in advertising and directed commercials or music videos for Portland bands like The Shins and Sleater-Kinney.
“I had a midlife career shift and moved away from advertising and became a professor,” he said. “It’s always been about finding this balance between maintaining an active practice as an artist or filmmaker but also not going broke."
Some of his photographs and films that he planned the set-up of are also currently on exhibit at the Jundt Art Museum.
“On certain levels, I think Matt’s photographs and films are about getting us to look more closely at the landscape and the built environment," said Jundt curator Paul Manoguerra. "The relationship between the ways that humans have made use of the landscapes here in the American West and the way we draw meaning from that landscape.”
McCormick said creative work can convey a greater message related to concerns or political interests but often, it’s a personal reflection of one’s own thoughts. There is no brand identity attached to the work McCormick puts out. And with the variance of skills he has acquired, he expressed that he can do so many different things around film.
“I could find myself in Africa making a documentary about zebras. I could be in Hollywood working on special effects for some science fiction movie,” McCormick said.
His films “The Great Northwest” and “Buzz One Four” were screened at The Magic Lantern Theater in Spokane. An excerpt on the event from "The Magic Lantern" said, “McCormick’s films have screened in venues ranging from the Sundance Film Festival to the Museum of Modern Art, and have been favorably reviewed by The New York Times and Art Forum.”
“The Great Northwest” is based on a scrapbook four women made to document their travels through the Northwest in 1958, before the Interstates were built. It was full of trinkets like photographs, brochures and postcards. McCormick found it in a thrift shop and felt compelled to retrace their steps.
“Their book is a document in itself and I’m doing the update to it 50 years later,” he said.
“Buzz One Four” is about his grandfather who was a career Air Force pilot.
“He was involved in one of the spookier nuclear weapons accidents. He almost blew up the Eastern Seaboard,” McCormick said. “I never understood how big of a story it was.”
His grandfather crashed a plane carrying nuclear bombs but luckily, they didn’t explode.
McCormick said filmmakers must have patience and be self critical because those skills will always transcend time. In this new age of media, he tries to remind his students not to be in such a rush.
“Having things right at your fingertips shouldn’t make the creative decisions any easier. We want to make sure we’re working as hard as we can on that part,” McCormick said.
Melina Benjamin is a staff writer.