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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Campus Creatives: Vicky Westover

    Robert Alcaraz/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

Vicky Westover, the Director of the Hanson Film Institute, talks about her new and upcoming film projects on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 at the UofA. Westover has been a dominant force in the film industry for years.
    Robert Alcaraz
    Robert Alcaraz/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Vicky Westover, the Director of the Hanson Film Institute, talks about her new and upcoming film projects on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 at the UofA. Westover has been a dominant force in the film industry for years.

    Vicky Westover says she is “”embarrassed”” by how much time she can spend on her couch watching films.

    As program director for the UA’s Jack and Vivian Hanson Film Institute, Westover watches numerous films each week — for her classes, for film festivals and events she is organizing and, of course, for the institute.

    Westover is an adjunct faculty member for the UA’s new School of Theatre, Film and Television and serves as the Fox Tucson Theatre’s program director. She also produces the occasional film or documentary.

    While her first love is photography, Westover’s love of film began when, as an exchange student in England, she took a film appreciation class.

    “”I went expressly to study film. When I got there, not enough of the English students had signed up for the film classes, so they canceled them,”” Westover said, laughing.

    Even though Westover wasn’t able to learn how to make films during this time, she was able to take the film appreciation class with a professor who would later become a director for the International Film Festival Rotterdam, a major forum for independent films around the world.

    “”It really deepened my love of film and I began to understand that there were actually people in the world who presented film as a profession, that that was their career,”” Westover said. “”After I finished my undergraduate degree program, I realized that if I didn’t become a filmmaker, I could still be involved in film more in this presenting capacity.””

    I spoke with Westover as the institute was preparing for the Native Eyes Film Showcase and Tucson Cine Mexico, a film festival that is hosted in collaboration with Cinema Tropical and the Mexican Consulate in Tucson and is scheduled for early March.

    How did you get into producing films?

    When people ask me what I do, I say I produce films, film events and programs. … When I was producing festivals and events, people would say, “”You should be a producer.”” And I used to just laugh. But they really are similar skill sets. So when I came here, a colleague here asked me to produce her short film (“”Alma””). I said, “”Uh, I’ve never done that before.”” She said, “”Yeah, but I think you can do it.”” So I did and realized it’s identical skill sets. Then another faculty member came to me and said, “”Would you produce my film?”” It’s like, OK. Then an alum came to me and said, “”Would you produce my film?”” … So it’s been fun for me, after being this person (a film programmer) to also now being on the other side of trying to make things and get them into festivals. That’s kind of fun.

    Can you tell me what “”Apache 8″” is about?

    It’s about an all-women firefighting crew from the White Mountain Apache Reservation (near Payson, Ariz.) … This crew has been fighting fires on and off the reservation since the 1970s. It has since been reintegrated with men. But when it started in the ‘70s, women hadn’t yet been allowed in the United States onto professional fire crews. The first woman had to sue her way onto the New York City Fire Department. So these women were fighting wildland fires before it was considered an OK thing for women to be professional firefighters. …

    So it focuses on these four women. One is the first Apache woman hotshot. The other one is in her 50s and about to retire. She’s the crew boss and she has been leading this group of women for years. Not just about their firefighting, but it’s also about their lives and their struggles, and other kinds of issues on the reservations, hardships, joys and triumphs. They’re amazing women. They’re pretty much unknown.

    Given the numerous projects you and the institute are involved in, how many staff members and interns work here?

    I am a staff of one. I’m just amazingly efficient, I guess, or crazy or insane, but I manage to pull it all off. But you see, collaboration is helpful. There are a lot of people who willingly support the work either in their own professional capacity or just out of love and interest for film and Tucson and what we’re doing.

    Then I manage every semester to get one or two good interns. There have been semesters where I have had nobody and that has been difficult. But this semester I’m lucky. I have Charissa (Delmar) who is helping with (Native Eyes Film Showcase), I have one student intern who is primarily working on Cine Mexico, and then I have one student who is kind of like a general intern. Three is a lot.

    Are there any particular genres of film that you enjoy?

    I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but I really like historical costume dramas. I’m a sucker for Merchant Ivory films and things like that, Masterpiece Theater, “”Amadeus.”” I just love that kind of stuff. I love history. I like production design and costumes. … But I also like thrillers. I like Jason Bourne and all the Bourne films. But one of my all-time favorite films is “”Wings of Desire”” by Wim Wenders — it’s a German film. So I have eclectic tastes.

    Is that the one where the angel falls in love with a woman?

    Mm-hmmm. So can I share with you the highlight of my programming career?

    Oh, please do.

    So I was running The Baltimore Film Forum. … We partnered with the historic movie theater there; it was called The Senator Theatre. It had been named one of the five best movie theaters in the country because of the quality of the exhibition, the quality of the sound, the screen. The projectionist was one of the greatest projectionists on the planet. Every film was lovingly checked frame by frame before it was ever shown. It was the best quality exhibition you could imagine. …

    So, through someone I knew, we were able to invite Wim Wenders to Baltimore, because he had friends in Baltimore, and we learned that he was coming for a completely non-film related thing. So we invited him to come, and we would like to screen “”Wings of Desire”” because many people consider that to be his masterpiece, and we would do it at The Senator. Well, it just so happened that he had a brand-new 35-millimeter print of “”Wings of Desire.”” He personally brought it from Germany. This film was pristine. Not a speck on it. Beautiful rich blacks, beautiful glowing silver light.

    So we screened “”Wings of Desire,”” the greatest print of it possible in the greatest theater ever. We had over a thousand people in the audience and we had the director. He gave a Q&A that wouldn’t end — it was like a two-hour Q&A — with people in the audience who just loved this film and had seen it a lot of times. So the quality of the conversation was really amazing. That was one of the greatest nights of my life as a film programmer. (Laughs.) That’s the kind of thing that turns me on.

    What keeps you motivated in doing this work? To someone who hasn’t worked on film festivals, he or she might wonder, “”Why?””

    I wonder that sometimes, too. Last year I literally got sick because it was so exhausting. I’m, like, up in the booth around midnight, waiting for the projectionists to put the films back on the reels so that I could ship them the next day to Miami, so that they could make it to the next festival. That’s how exhausting it is, because it’s so understaffed. I literally made myself sick. After it was done, I asked myself, “”Why? Why?”” But I get back up and do it again later. So it’s some kind of an addiction. (Laughs.)

    It’s thoroughly exhausting, but exhilarating at the same time. I guess it’s because I have a mission-driven personality, I don’t know. It’s just exciting to me to showcase a great film and show it to an audience, let them see something that they wouldn’t get a chance to see, give them a completely different experience and opportunity, and if possible, support that filmmaker so that he or she goes on and keeps doing what they’re doing.

    Given all the projects and collaborations you’re involved in, do you find time to watch films recreationally?

    I am embarrassed by how much I sit on the couch and watch movies. It’s pretty terrible, actually. I could be doing something else. But it’s important, obviously, for me to watch movies. So obviously I have to constantly watch movies so that I know what I’m doing. I like to stay current with new Native American cinema, I like to stay current with Mexican cinema.

    But I will watch anything. I like mainstream stuff and I like it for sheer entertainment. Of course, I probably watch it a little bit differently than maybe you would. Then I like to watch something aesthetically challenging, something avant garde.

    The other day — I was telling my class this — I was channel hopping and I came across the most amazingly wonderful, awful film. Everyone should see this. It was easily the worst movie ever made, and I mean that. It’s called “”The Wild Women of Wonga”” and it was made in 1958. You could watch this movie and appreciate it on a number of levels. You could appreciate it for how bad it was, every aspect of it. Or you could look at it seriously almost from a feminist perspective because this is the premise behind the movie: Made in 1958, but set 10,000 years ago when Mother Nature or whatever the force is that creates humans, on this remote island, created a tribe in which the women were stunningly beautiful and the men were hideous and kind of brutes. Then, in another tribe, I don’t know if it was on the other end of the island or on another island, she created a tribe where the women were very unattractive and the men were stunningly beautiful. Then what happens is, they meet. (Laughs.) These two tribes meet.

    This film was amazing in what it told you about the perception of male and female roles in the ‘50s, the role that women should have, and issues of attractiveness. You could watch this film and discuss it at highly academic level. But I was laughing hysterically at how bad some of it was. So I’ll watch that, I’ll watch what I think is probably the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ll watch something that took the prize at Cannes. I like it all.

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