For One Duke Filmmaker, an Avalanche of Awards

Duke's Joshua Gibson has won 14 awards in the last two years for his work

Duke filmmaker Josh Gibson among the kudzu, the subject of one of his recent films. Photo Courtesy Josh Gibson
Duke filmmaker Josh Gibson among the kudzu, the subject of one of his recent films. Photo Courtesy Josh Gibson

Josh Gibson is on a hot streak.

The Duke filmmaker has spent the last two years piling up the hardware at film festivals all over the world. The most recent may be the most prestigious -- an award for his new, short film "Light Plate" from the Edinburgh International Film Festival, an annual festival in Scotland.

It's the latest in a string of successes for the 39-year-old, who began making films as a Duke student in the early 1990s. He's been making film and videos steadily since then to document those places and things that fascinate him, but until two years ago had never won a film festival award for his efforts.

And then along came Kudzu Vine. The 20-minute, black-and-white documentary was an old-school examination of kudzu, the ubiquitous vine you can’t help but see as you travel the highways of the south. It won awards at nine different film festivals. Three of Gibson's subsequent films won five more awards collectively.

Gibson smiles and shrugs at this run of good fortune. He’s not entirely sure what to attribute it to, but says the throwback nature of his work may have something to do with it. Gibson still shoots his movies using 35-millimeter film, which, at a time when most moviemakers are using a broad swath of digital tools, makes him something of a dinosaur. (When film festivals don't have the technology needed to show his films, he's ready with a digital version.)

Gibson's use of film, which he develops, cuts, splices and tinkers with himself in the darkroom and photo lab he built in the basement of his Durham home, has a grainy, gritty, retro look.

"I'm working in celluloid (film) at a time when it's disappearing," he says. "So there may be nostalgia at work."

But the beauty of Gibson's movies runs deeper than just the film itself, says Tom Rankin, who recently retired as director of Duke's Center for Documentary Studies.

"While there is a quality of early cinema in his works, there is also a very contemporary sensibility to his use of sound and his interest in the intersection of the natural and cultural worlds," says Rankin, who continues to direct Duke's MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts program. "His black-and-white films are seductive in their pace, their light, their overall temperament."

Gibson’s latest award comes for "Light Plate," a 10-minute black-and-white film he shot while teaching film in Italy. It follows a native woman as she turns dough into chunks of homemade ravioli, set against the backdrop of the small Tuscan village in which she lives. The sights and sounds are authentic to that place -- a barking dog, the sunlight casting shadows over a field, the tap-tap-tap of shoes across the city square.

And since it's Italy, food plays a key role.

"In the summers that I spent in Tuscany, I was most impressed by the food -- not only eating it and the fresh local ingredients at the markets, but also its relationship with the landscape," Gibson says. "Vineyards, wheat fields, sunflower fields are all incorporated into the vistas and the living spaces."

Read more about the making of Light Plate here.

Light Plate from Josh Gibson on Vimeo.