"There are so many film festivals out there today that it boggles the mind," says Steuerwald, coordinator of Urban Image, a new collective of media artists based in Jersey City. But, she asserts, "We're not a film festival. I see this more as a critical showcase. There's a critique process."
As she scrolls through the museum's website to make sure that A Sense of Place has been included in the calendar of events, Steuerwald sits to discuss Urban Image alongside two of the three founding members of the group, Maggie Menjivar and Carlos Orrego - the third, Ignacio Guzman, is busy at his new job as a graphic designer for MTV.
"Media is not something that someone makes to project in their closet," Steuerwald says. "Film and video is not a private experience; it's a public experience."
It's exactly that experience that Steuerwald says Urban Image will allow students to have. She calls Urban Image "the 21st century version of a salon," referring to the French tradition of displaying art in annual showcases.
"It's a really important part of film and video to have a professional place to screen your work," Steuerwald says. "It's important for a career to get your work out there. It's cool and it's what's supposed to happen."
Steuerwald, a professor of media arts at NJCU, has been a self-starter in the arts for years. She has worked in various media, eventually finding her calling as an independent filmmaker. As a graduate student at Syracuse University, she co-founded a multi-media arts space that is still in use today.
The model for Urban Image was a similar artists' collective that was co-founded and nurtured by Steuerwald herself. Women's Work was formed in 2001 to present short films and videos from NJCU's female media artists. The group is still active, having recently held a screening with the Fort Lee Film Commission for Women's History Month. Another is planned for later this week at the Purnell School in Pottersville.
When Steuerwald finally locates the December 9 listing for Urban Image on the Jersey City Museum's website, she breathes a sigh of relief.
"Working with the Jersey City Museum people has been fabulous," she says. "It's just fantastic."
Urban Image banged out a continuing deal with the museum to hold twice-annual screenings of the group's work, one per semester. The same deal has been worked out with the Hoboken Historical Museum, which will host A Sense of Place in March of next year.
Steuerwald hopes that Urban Image will be able to work out similar deals with arts organizations throughout Hudson County - and beyond. "There's no reason why the show can't travel to Anthology Film Archives," she says, referring to the independent movie house in Manhattan.
For now, however, the group is focused on carrying off their first screening without a hitch. There have been some close calls. One of the filmmakers, Jaime Villacis, had his belongings held by Customs on a trip to Ecuador. In his bags was the master copy of his film "Metro Park." Luckily, Steuerwald found her own copy of "Metro Park" to use for the screening.
Another former media student, Barry Goldman, doesn't even know that his original music is going to be used in the showcase's opening credits sequence; he hasn't responded to emails yet.
Putting the screening together has been a very hands-on process for the group. Guzman designed the posters and postcards advertising the event himself. Steuerwald still has to find someplace to purchase food and drinks for the reception that will precede the screening. And Orrego will be assembling more than a dozen short films and authoring them onto a single DVD so the screening flows smoothly.
As Steuerwald notes, "We developed everything."
"From scratch," Orrego adds.
"From scratch," Steuerwald agrees. "The four of us have had a lot of fun. We've had a good time."
A Sense of Place features short documentaries that "investigate in depth" a single location. Because many of the filmmakers live in the area, the show has a distinctly Hudson County feel. One film conveys the experience of riding a PATH train; another looks at Jersey City residents as they wait for the street sweeper to pass so they can park their cars; still another explores Hoboken's waterfront district.
"People's inspiration often comes from places where they reside," Steuerwald explains. "This is where we are. This is what we're all immersed in."
Other films in the showcase go in closer to examine smaller locales. One looks inside a fish tank; others go into a car wash or the kitchen of a Sizzler.
"You're exposed to new places," Orrego promises those who attend the show.
Orrego says he wants "as many people as possible" to come to Thursday's screening. "I'm hoping for a sellout, a full house," he says.
"I think it'll be well-received," Menjivar says. "It's something new, something different."
"All of the work is of a high level," Steuerwald says. "There are some terrific pieces in this show."
Fourteen short films by students and former students of NJCU's Media Arts department have been chosen for the showcase. Because the screening is just over an hour long, some of the films had to be excerpted to fit into the program. "We decided to be inclusive and trim," Steuerwald says.
The founders of Urban Image envision a revolving door of curators to organize future showcases, one of which will likely feature video self-portraits. Steuerwald says students are already lining up to get involved next semester, but that Guzman, Menjivar and Orrego will always have a place in Urban Image.
Steuerwald calls the group "an open-ended opportunity for students to continue to show [their] work." Menjivar says she plans to remain a part of the group she helped found. "Who knows, I might be out in L.A. Physically, I won't be here," she says. But, "I would definitely stay involved with [Urban Image]."
Orrego also plans to keep in contact with Urban Image after he graduates next May, no matter where his career takes him. "I'm stuck here for the rest of my life," he laughs. "I'll be involved as much as I can. It's my baby." "Establishing this collective of Urban Image still keeps a viable connection between the graduate" and the school, Steuerwald says. "It's a very cool way for an organization to keep going." For more information on this event, go to www.jerseycitymuseum.org.