Published on January 15th, 2014 | by Palette Magazine0
Abraham Ferrer – Visual Communications, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
By Palette Magazine –
Abraham Ferrer is currently Senior Programmer and the former Co-Director of Exhibitions, curating Visual Communications’ year-round screenings and exhibition programs. This includes the annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF). Abe chairs the Festival Programming Committee and supervises seasonal festival staff and volunteers. He has taken on duties helping to manage the archival holdings with a staff Archivist. Also a visual artist, Abe has produced many short animation films. He has been a part of the Visual Communications team since 1985.
Q: Tell me about your background, where did you go to school? What did you study?
A: I’m pretty much a California kid: my parents arrived from the Philippines when I was three months old, and after staying in South San Francisco for three years, we moved down to the Los Angeles area when I was three. I studied studio art at UCLA, and mostly painted in oils and spent much time as a darkroom photographer. I always saw myself being involved in the visual arts since I had a good aptitude for creating art as a child and through high school and college. Somewhere along the way, I became involved with one of the college newspapers and, by way of on-the-job training, picked up publication and collateral design, which is a good part of what I do today.
Q: What was your first job out of school? What did you want to be?
A: While I was taking a number of freelance jobs right out of college, my first paying gig was actually working at a 7-Eleven just down the street from UCLA, and let me tell you, working in the Westwood Village area, where pampered college students and all sorts of A- and B-list celebrities rolled through the door for anything from Slurpies to cheap vodka steeled my resolve to get more and more involved with the local community-based arts scene. When you see no less than Michael Jackson himself rolling through your aisles and looking like the sorriest person in the whole wide world as he purchases nothing but tabloid papers that drop gossip on him, all you can really say is “I sure wouldn’t want to be him,” and count down the days when I can put the 7-Eleven in my rear-view mirror.
Because I liked the mobility that photography afforded me, I looked more and more of studio art as a burden, and gravitated more toward graphic arts and production. Discovering the Asian Pacific American media arts organization Visual Communications satisfied multiple aspirations — the organization had a working black-and-white darkroom to manage all its archival holdings in the area of still photography, and I liked that the organization’s broad definition of “media arts” encompassing not just film and video production, but collateral, multi-media and 2-D visual art provided a welcoming transition from the college environment.
Q: What drew you to curating media arts?
A: Our then-executive director at Visual Communications brought me on to the organization because she knew I had some organizing and budgeting experience from serving as editor of one of UCLA’s many print publications. She apparently felt that at some point I could step in and help out with organizing and planning some of the many public events that VC put on, from film screenings to serving as support staff for various fundraising events.
One of the first things I helped out on outside of the darkroom and layout studio was serving as event support for one of Visual Communications’ long-term film screening series, “Pioneering Visions.” This involved setting up and running projection of film and video programs, from single-channel to multi-channel presentations, to such mundane tasks as setting up and putting away folding chairs and such. I think that by learning the ropes of curating and exhibition from a more nuts-and-bolts approach, I came to appreciate the tasks involved in making media available to audiences, and afforded me the opportunity to see how film programs are built for audiences — what works are appropriate for the event circumstances, what the intended audience “take-aways” are, working with artists and venues to insure a successful event.
Q: How did you get the job as Exhibitions Director at Visual Communication? Also, did this position make you the obvious choice for Co-Director of the LAAPFF?
Because Visual Communications’ staff in the 1980s and 1990s was an exclusively hand-picked (owing to the very low turnover rate of the permanent staff), we all assumed multiple roles, given that VC is a non-profit arts organization and that multi-tasking was (and still largely is) an unwritten requirement of understaffed organizations such as ours.
While I was still quite involved with working in our darkroom and executing design projects such as our quarterly newsletter and other collateral, I started becoming involved with our Film Festival in 1987, later becoming Co-Director in 1988. Because I was beginning to take on a more active role in organizing screening programs and seeking collaborative screening events with various community organizations throughout the Southern California area, the position of Exhibitions Director was formalized as a regular, salaried position three years later. I don’t think my continuation as Festival Co-Director was the result of a formal hiring practice — I was simply plugged into a position by our E.D. and refined and expanded on what I’ve learned from assisting on past VC screening events and fundraisers. I do think, however, that since VC’s operations and resources were largely based “in-house”, that the functions of programming, organization, publicity and marketing, and planning dovetailed nicely with the skills I had already developed and acquired in the early years of my involvement with Visual Communications.
In short: our E.D. simply went with and developed and supported the talent that was on-hand. I wouldn’t begin to know how anything was “obvious” as far as I’m concerned.
As Visual Communications has undergone many organizational changes since then (the death of our longtime Executive Director in 2003; the institution of formal hiring practices; a regular practice of devising and executing long-range planning cycles for VC; the installation of VC’s first Executive Director not to be hired from within the organization in 2008), the role of staffers has been re-envisioned. Part of that ongoing change is the shift in emphasis of Visual Communications from a largely creation and production-based organization to one that functions more as an incubator of new talents and keeper of our visual and media heritage. To that end, I have transitioned away from serving as the Film Festival’s Co-Director (I currently serve as Senior Programmer). Screenings will continue to be a part of this new set of duties, though in a far more strategic, selective policy than before.
Q: What does the job of Exhibitions Director entail? Do you have the same responsibilities at the film fest?
A: When I was serving as Exhibitions Director (1991 through 2012), the position pretty much encompassed the following (in no particular order of importance):
1) Program, organize, and present the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
2) Program, organize, and present Visual Communications’ ongoing screening series, from “Pioneering Visions” in the 1980s and 1990s, to its most recent incarnation, “Remapping L.A.” in the mid-1990s through its conclusion in 2011
3) Seek community collaborative screening opportunities with various arts organizations, institutions, and non-profit community organizations in largely underserved communities throughout Los Angeles and Southern California
4) Assisted in the programming, planning and presentation of large-scale Visual Communications fundraising screening events
5) Organized ongoing shop-talks and moderated artists dialogues; and
6) Provide written and multi-media-based discourse on personalities and issues pertaining to Asian Pacific American cinema and media arts, for the organization’s quarterly newsletter, website, and social media clients
I’m pretty sure that a standard-issue job description for this position wouldn’t include experience in darkroom photography, photojournalism, studio art, printmaking, layout and design for publications and collateral, and ability to use the telephone to gossip with colleagues while “on the clock.” But then, that was the skillset I came in with. I never envisioned that they would be part of what I ended up doing.
Q: What is an average work day for you?
A: Coming into the office at midday (checking e-mails in the morning before stepping through the door), staff meetings, e-mail and telephone solicitations and follow-up, updating posting throughout our social media clients (from job announcements, organizational updates, notices of new items of interests to our followers, etc.), posting updates to our website, meetings with various staff (from Film Festival to Archival Preservation, to assisting with Artist Services, to grantwriting). And that doesn’t include non-linear digital desktop editing and prepping of in-house productions for either servicing outside film festival requests or uploading to our various streaming sites.
Q: What have been the changes you’ve seen over the years regarding Asian Americans and film?
A: The Asian Pacific American community has greatly expanded to include Pacific Islanders, South and Southeast Asians, and even communities from the Western part of continental Asia (Persian and Arab communities, in specific). And in the time I’ve been around, the communities and its peoples have become much more acculturated into the larger fabric of American society; those communities can be seen now in many non-traditional arenas, from commerce, business, technology, activism and electoral politics to sports, the arts and entertainment, publishing, the non-profit sector, and just about everything else in between. Given that, we are still challenged to see these accomplishments celebrated as part of American society, and not as anomalies perpetrated by “outsiders” or “foreigners.”
The mainstream entertainment industry remains a prime culprit in imposing institutional impediments in the paths of people of color and other underserved communities, primarily by the persistent absence or “voice” in the creation of media images of us. So the Alternative Screen (not to be confused with “indie cinema”) is still a vital nexus by which our visions and voices continue to be heard, while the inevitable process of acculturation into American society slowly breaks down these barriers.
Q: What would you like to see?
A: I’d like to see it ALL. Look at my previous responses, and read between the lines. You know what I mean…