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Five minutes with documentary filmmaker Cheryl Dunn

We speak exclusively to New York documentary film maker and photographer Cheryl Dunn about creativity.

Five minutes with documentary filmmaker Cheryl Dunn

You’ve spent a large part of your career documenting city streets; and the people who strive to leave their mark there from graffiti writers, artists, skaters, boxers, bikers, protesters, and assorted characters. Why are the streets the focus of your work? What do you find there? And what do you find there creatively? 

I like the democracy of the streets, they belong to everyone. In New York life is lived out on the streets. The streets reflect the way people are thinking at any given time. It’s a place to have your voice heard. To sell stuff, to protest, to support causes, to be seen, to collaborate. The best creativity comes from the streets. From the ground up. Not from the top down. The streets are a path to adventure and luck if you are open to it.

What is your view of graffiti writers in terms of voice and artistic expression?

That is a broad question. Some of it is great some of it not so great but I appreciate it. I can only speak for the people that I know and follow. I have many friends that are brilliant contemporary artists that started as graffiti writers.

Your work also focuses on creating films about artists of your generation who have influenced the realities of urban life through their own work. How has their work has influenced society, and why you chose to document these particular artists? 

Some of the artists that I have filmed and incorporated or made films about are Barry McGee, Margaret Killgallen, Thomas Campbell, Chris Johanson, Dash Snow, Mark Gonzales and Ed Templeton to name some. I gravitate to people because they inspire me because what they are doing is real and powerful. I was shooting and hanging with some of these people almost 20 years ago because I was compelled to do so. What they were about and making moved me then and still does. How they influence society is for society to decide eventually.

In your opinion what do you think art or creativity brings to society?

Art cultivates free thinking, ingenuity, new ideas, compassion and enlightenment. Art is vitally important to mankind, it is a portal to understanding each other and hopefully a peaceful coexistence.

What will you be speaking about at Semi Permanent?  

Street photography, and making a documentary about it.

Cheryl Dunn is speaking at Semi-Permanent Sydney. Carriageworks, from May 22 to 24.


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