Walter Ungerer is a longtime filmmaker and artist of international reputation, beginning with the underground film scene of NYC in the early 1960s, continuing through to his own experimental short films and features in Vermont from the late '60s to the 21st Century. Several years ago Ungerer moved from Vermont to Maine, where he continues to make films and videos.
Ungerer was born in New York City in 1935 of German immigrants. He studied art and architecture at Pratt Institute, receiving a BFA degree in 1958. He then went on to Columbia University, where he received an MA and PD in 1964. Simultaneously with his educational studies, Ungerer worked as a freelance cameraperson and editor. He turned to independent personal filmmaking in 1964, after returning from Nigeria, where he was the cinematographer for a television “special”. Between 1964 and 1969 he produced five films: The Tasmanian Devil (1964), Meet Me, Jesus (1966), A Lion’s Tale (1968), Introduction To Oobieland (1969), and Ubi Est Terram Oobiae? (1969). In ‘69 he moved to Vermont and a teaching position at Goddard College. He had been teaching film production at Columbia University. In 1976 he formed Dark Horse Films, Inc. a Montpelier, Vermont non-profit company under which he produced four features: The Animal (1976), The House Without Steps (1979), The Winter There Was Very Little Snow (1982), and Leaving The Harbor (1992).
Then came a long period of exploration with the computer, using the computer to not only edit but to create the entire film without the use of a camera. This period produced Birds 2/93 (1993), Anna’s Amazing Moving Animals (1994), Relatives In X, Y, & Z (1996), The Window (1997), Kingsbury Beach (1999) and Untitled 2.1 (2001); all short films no longer than ten minutes long. These works rekindled Ungerer’s passion for drawing and painting. They gave him the opportunity to hone his creative eye and his acute visual sense. They also offered him, once again, the experience of putting colors and shapes on a real surface; missed since the days of being an artist student and young artist painting or drawing on newsprint paper or canvas.
In 2001 Ungerer returned to documentary filmmaking to produce and all this madness (2002), a film about the September 11, 2001 attack on the NY World Trade Center. Once before he had made a film based on political motivation, and his criticism of American government policies. Keeping Things Whole (1974) was an interview docudrama that recorded people’s views of the Viet Nam War; at the same time weaving in a fictional story about a young man about to be drafted. and all this madness is a more straightforward investigation into the causes of the 9/11 attack.
Down The Road (2005), one of Ungerer’s more recent films, is very much autobiographical, though not totally a documentary. Through interviews with friends of Ungerer, it searches for reasons for the collapse of his eighteen-year marriage. It Includes clips from his earlier films as well as old “home movie” clips of better times (as when the camera plays hide-and-seek with his three year old daughter). This material is woven together in the form of a tapestry of memories and present day occurrences to give (more than anything else), an impression of the media artist’s life. The film was included in the 2005 Syracuse International Film Festival and the 2005 Athens International Film Festival.
91 Le Grand is a four months study of the movement of light through a space in Ungerer’s home in Maine. The camera simply records, programmed to take still pictures between intervals of being shut down. More than anything else, it is a meditation in time, space and place. An outgrowth of 91 Le Grand is a video
installation titled Inside-Outside. Using two projectors, it incorporates the photographs of Ungerer’s partner Dianna Rust and 91 Le Grand, to illuminate a series of hanging curtains in an interior space. It was installed at the Space Gallery,Portland, Maine in 2005; and is now on exhibit at the Brattleboro Museum of Art, Brattleboro, Vermont. Additional venues are now under investigation.
In July and August of 2006 retrospectives of Ungerer’s computer works were at the Alamo Theater, Bucksport, Maine; and Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine. That year additional retrospectives occurred in Kiel, Hamburg and several other northern Germany cities, culminating in a November tour to the area by Ungerer.
With fifty years of filmmaking, video, computer, and media experience; Ungerer's works have been shown at festivals and competitions throughout the world including the Florence International Film Festival, Florence, Italy; the Tours International Film Festival, Tours, France; the Athens International Film Festival (Best Feature Film for The Animal, Merit Award for The House Without Steps, and 91 Le Grand included); the Houston International Film Festival (Bronze Award for The Winter There Was Very Little Snow); Atlantic Film and Video Festival, NS, Canada (Critics' Choice Award for The Winter There Was Very Little Snow) and the Black Maria Film Festival (Jurors' Award for Leaving The Harbor and 91 Le Grand). He has also been honored with special exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City; Everson Museum, Syracuse, New York; Filmmuseum, Amsterdam, Holland; the Athens Film Society, Athens, Greece; the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Kowloon, Hong Kong; and the Fleming Museum, Burlington, Vermont. Among other grants and awards, he has received an American Film Institute Independent Filmmaker grant in 1977, and a National Endowment for the Arts Media grant in 1983. He has also been the recipient of several Vermont Council on the Arts fellowship awards.