With national award, UIC filmmaker takes ‘bigger leaps’

still from "Illinois Parables"

A still from “The Illinois Parables,” Deborah Stratman’s film premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January.


Filmmaker Deborah Stratman works in experimental methods and arcane subjects, yet her films speak to viewers so eloquently that she has received a string of fellowships and awards.

The latest for Stratman, associate professor of art, is a United States Artist fellowship, established in 2006 by the Ford, Rockefeller and other foundations and awarded annually to about 35 to 50 artists in nine disciplines. The fellowship offers each artist $50,000 with no restrictions on their work.

“You feel a certain responsibility to try to make work that matters when so many people are trusting your work,” she said. “Having a grant like the USA award is fantastic. I feel like they really support artists by affording them conceptual space to take bigger leaps.”

Deborah Statman

“You feel a certain responsibility to try to make work that matters when so many people are trusting your work,” says Deborah Stratman, filmmaker and associate professor of art.

Her latest project is the one-hour “The Illinois Parables,” which will premiere at the next Sundance Film Festival — her fourth film to do so. She describes it as 11 vignettes that look at “the confluence of faith and technology, with a recurring theme of exodus.”

Stratman says “Illinois Parables” grew from her 2009 film, “O’er the Land,” which considered the link between American definitions of freedom and defense, but stopped short of examining religious freedom.

“When we’re faced with something we don’t know, we tend to look to a belief system to explain it; it could be faith or technology. I was curious about who or what we end up endorsing or blaming when we make those choices of how to believe in something,” she said. “Faith impacts and is impacted by governance.”

Stratman’s body of work is eclectic, from “Hacked Circuit,” which demonstrates how sound effects might have been devised for a Gene Hackman film, to “Kings of the Sky,” which portrays a Turkic-Muslim troupe of tightrope walkers in East Turkestan.

She also works in sculptural installations. Her piece “Sussarati,” at the Lincoln Park Conservatory Fern Room through Feb. 29, uses electromagnetic switches to create vibrations that make the ferns quiver.

Stratman has exhibited her work at MoMA, the Whitney Biennial and the Centre Pompidou, and at film festivals like Sundance and Rotterdam. She has received Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships, a 2012 Creative Capital Award, and a 2014 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts.

She is the second UIC faculty member to receive a United States Artist award. The late architecture professor Doug Garofalo received the award in 2006.

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