Females in Film | Film School & Education | Interviews | Massachusetts | Vermont

Interview with VCFA Student and Emerson Faculty Member Rachelle Dermer

13 Feb , 2015  

Written by Catherine Stewart | Posted by:

Fellow female filmmakers discuss work, life, and more in this new series, Females in Film. For this installment, NewEnglandFilm.com writer Catherine Stewart talks with photographer, filmmaker, student (and teacher) Rachelle Dermer.

This series of articles will feature interviews with established and emerging female filmmakers living and working in New England, as well as prominent industry figures from our region. Filmmaker Catherine Stewart discusses distribution, finding work, making connections, and handling collaborations, along with whatever else comes along. We encourage you to join the conversation here on NewEnglandFilm.com or on Twitter using #femalesinfilm.

Filmmaker Rachelle Dermer currently resides in Ayer, MA (outside of Boston), with a studio in Lowell, MA. But the east coast wasn’t always home to Dermer, she explains. “I grew up in Montana, but I lived in the east valley of Phoenix, AZ prior to coming to the east coast. I moved to Boston for my first graduate course at Boston University.” Here she earned a Ph.D. in History of Art, focusing on the History of Photography after graduating from Arizona State University with a B.F.A. in Photography.

Dermer’s current project is her thesis film, titled Photography Gave Me Cancer. The story is derived from a series of essays that she wrote over the past ten years regarding her uterine cancer diagnosis, treatment and the aftermath. “I deliver the text as a kind of monologue, enhanced with deconstructive editing techniques, in conjunction with stills, moving image and animations to comprise a finished chronicle of the struggle with disease, death, causality and meaning,” explains Dermer. “One of the central themes of the project is negotiating the space between the binaries of meaning and meaningless, control and chaos and systematic and random. I consider my vacillation between the opposing poles of inherent versus applied meaning and the search for the unknowable cause, as if that could offer any real comfort; I investigate the idea of causality, which seems to be adjunct (at the minimum) to the possibility of meaning in disease.”

Dermer has completed a number of short films, including Myths of Freedom, a Road Trip Diary, which screened at Clark University and the Marran Theater at Lesley College and I Fell, which won an audience choice award at the Boston Bike Film Festival in 2005 and “Best Screenplay” at the 2006 NEMBA MTB Video Awards.

She screened her short film, Flipping Cancer the Bird, at the Art Institute Boston in 2006 and completed her first documentary feature, Commit to the Line, in 2008. Recently, she exhibited an installation piece that included video in a group show at Gallery Kayafas in the south end of Boston. The piece was called “Miss America.” The exhibition took place in July 2012; it considered expressions of patriotism and was called Intra-Country: Patriotic Expressions.

Dermer’s experience of the Film MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) is informing her career each time they meet for their jam-packed sessions of lectures, discussions and film screenings.

“The sense of community and support is remarkable. Once the week is over, we all leave and go back to our regular lives.” Dermer teaches at Emerson College and lives with her partner and two children. They are assigned a faculty mentor that helps them navigate deadlines and work whilst also offering time for discussion. “This allows me to really concentrate on the work more than the traditional model that requires daily attendance in classes. It enables me to really get into the work that I am doing and then when the monthly deadlines occur, I have substantial work for discussion. It does require a lot of discipline because there is not the weekly classroom meetings where a professor is overseeing the progress of one’s work.”

It’s not just the course itself that feels right for Dermer however, the faculty are also integral to the experience. “I am a big fan of Nina Davenport who teaches in the program. Nina’s participation in the program was one of the big reasons I decided to attend VCFA. T. Marie Dudman, who also teaches in the program has been a huge influence on me, as well. Cherien Dabis, who initially was a guest in the program and is now faculty, is fabulous. Really, all of the women who teach in the program are quite remarkable.”

Dermer says she has been making films in conjunction with her photographic work since Apple added an s-video input to the Macintosh computer in the late 90s. “My interest in film is an extension of my photography work. Once it became accessible to me, it became a part of my artistic practice.” Advancements in technology in recent years have made filmmaking a far more attainable activity and career for many. As the shape of filmmaking tools evolves in years to come I hope that even more artists, and in particular female artists, who have a grounding in one artform explore filmmaking in a personal, engaging and fearless way, just as Rachelle Dermer has in recent years.

You can learn more about the Vermont College of Fine Art at their website. Look out for future articles with more students and staff at the VCFA as part of Females in Film here are NewEnglandFilm.com.

Related Article: Interview with Maria Clinton, Documentary Filmmaker and MFA Student at VCFA


You can learn more about the Vermont College of Fine Art at their website. Look out for future articles with more students and staff at the VCFA as part of Females in Film here are NewEnglandFilm.com.