Filmmaker Focus: Cade Bursell

The AAFF is committed to championing bold, pioneering, and artistically-inspired filmmakers. And we’re dedicated to bringing creative, quality content to our audience. Thus, another installment of Filmmaker Focus, which features an AAFF “alumni” providing personal insights into their approach on new projects. This month, we hear from Cade Bursell:

Much of the experimental film I make is prompted by thinking about mobility and the environment; I am curious about what it means that fewer people are able to say we have lived here all our life and wonder in turn how this impacts our sense of connection to and therefore responsibility for places we live, pass through or remember. I am drawn to preserved areas, rural/urban borderlands, toxic sites, and marked or unmarked sites where significant events occurred.

To begin I locate and examine site related documents, conduct formal interviews, visit frequently and have casual conversations about the site. I pay attention to the changing shapes, sounds and textures of the place over time holding the intent of directly and metaphorically referencing both the research and more slippery impressions, in order to pose questions, comment upon and trouble the ways in which think about and experience place.

For some projects I hand paint, bleach, dye, cut up frames, hand process, or utilize liquid light to make emulsion; I make use of materials from the site. For me, employing handmade techniques allows a direct, tactile engagement with the materials, resulting in imagery that has a more organic visual presence: a textured surface, a rough edge, a fading image.  Using a phrase borrowed from Laura U. Marks, the viewer when offered a projected image of this kind engages through a touching with our eyes, a more embodied interaction, which further reflects the overarching intent of my work - advocacy for a deeper intimacy with and care of the places around us.


I recently completed a 16mm film Heron Pond: Boardwalk View that set out to investigate how visitors interact with a natural site, in this case a Cypress/Tupelo swamp that is a critical habitat for threatened and endangered species. This film incorporated hand held cinematography with handmade strategies including taping duck weed, one of the swamp’s smallest flowering plants onto the film’s surface. The sound is entirely composed of recordings gathered from the boardwalk. 

Currently, I am working on two new projects warming trend and pink economy.  warming trend is further along and is about ways in which it’s predicted that climate change will impact Southern Illinois. I began by conducting research, filming images of the frozen, melting world around where I live, and collecting educational films about the Midwest landscape.  Because the film concerns the impact of changes of temperature on the land, I am burying, freezing, thawing and warming the film; so far the result is an image that has traces of these changes etched onto its surface much like what is occurring in the surrounding landscape.

pink economy is a bit different thematically, it is meant to interrogate the current landscape of mainstream GLBT politics.  I began this project by collecting magazine cutouts, researching historical archives, gathering interviews and other relevant images and audio. The most interesting and challenging part of working this way is allowing for the reoccurring experiences of failure and discovery within the making process, and to know when there is a need for tender manipulation rather than a strong-arm wrestling of the materials, ultimately in order to create a more meaningful work for viewers to engage with.

Cade Bursell is an award winning media artist whose work has screened internationally. She received her MFA from San Francisco State University and has taught at the San Francisco Art Institute, Film Arts Foundation and SFSU. She currently teaches media arts production in the Cinema and Photography Department at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL. Her film SKATE won honorable mention at the 40th Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Posted on December 02nd, 2008