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Q&A with Filmmaker Matthew Salton

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Matthew Salton (BA, Comparative History of Ideas (CHID) and BFA, Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS), 2008) has spent the last seven years producing film projects ranging from music films to documentaries to shorts. He moved to New York City two years ago and now works as a freelance video editor and filmmaker. His first feature length effort, Dwarves Kingdom, will be released in 2013. Examples of his work can be viewed at matthewsalton.com.

When did you become interested in film?

I always had an interest in film, but it wasn't something I decided I was going to actively pursue until I was a student at the UW and made my first shorts. I was a movie fiend growing up, but I only watched the big blockbusters. I took a Fellini class in the Department of Comparative Literature my sophomore year and taking that class really opened my eyes to another world of moviemaking.

Matthew Salton

Matthew Salton

How have your CHID and DXARTS degrees influenced you as a filmmaker?

The cool thing about CHID and DXARTS is that they're interdisciplinary degrees that allow people to study multiple, sometimes disparate fields. In DXARTS, far from being a film school, I also took computer music classes which introduced me to new ways of listening to music and sound. It gave me a strong love of 20th century classical music. The classes that I took with Shawn Brixey (DXARTS) and Philip Thurtle (CHID) acquainted me with works and writers that have given me the courage to think and do things differently. Both degrees instilled in me a strong sense of curiosity which informs all my work.

How would you describe your films?

I've made a variety of shorts, documentaries, and music videos. My recent film, Dwarves Kingdom, is a documentary, but one with a strong sense of stylization. Whether that means I ask people unconventional questions or ask subjects to do things they normally wouldn't do, I hope to leave the audience in a state of wonder.

Can you tell us more about Dwarves Kingdom?

It's a feature length documentary film about a little people theme park in Western China. A regular-sized Chinese businessman built a huge fantasy village filled with mushroom style cottages and stucco castles. About 100 little people from all over China live and work there, dressed in medieval garb, performing Chinese pop songs and dance numbers to curious tourists. The film is an exploration of the park's eccentricities, its people and their dreams. I stumbled upon the place watching a YouTube video. I don't remember what I was searching for. The video was a news report in Spanish and I don't speak the language so I didn't understand, but the images of the park and the hundreds of little people mesmerized me. I knew that I had to go there. A few months later I was there making the movie.

You turned to Kickstarter for funding. How has that worked out?

I self-financed the film, paying for two trips to China, a translator, and new equipment to fit the needs for a "run and gun" production overseas. I ran out of money and needed more resources to finish the movie's post production (original music, sound mixing, film festival submission fees). I knew that I had amazing footage to show and had a really great project. Unfortunately, the Kickstarter goal was not met, but the upside is that more people know about the film and are excited to see it. The movie will still get finished.

What are some of your all-time favorite films, which have inspired you as a filmmaker?

A lot of the movies from Werner Herzog, David Lynch, Roman Polanski, Robert Altman and Todd Haynes inspire me. Lessons of Darkness is a movie that I remember seeing early on that deeply affected me. It's a documentary film by Werner Herzog that takes place in the Kuwaiti oil fields in the aftermath of the Gulf War. It takes the point of view of an alien observer and disregards the political turmoil that ravaged the land. It is comprised primarily of beautiful shots of the relentless burning oil fields with Herzog's voice over periodically adding "What are they doing?" "Can they no longer go without fire?" and things like this. It's puzzling and beautiful. I had never seen anything like it before and found it really exciting. I should watch it again.