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Chel White

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Chel White
Chel White, Paris, 2013
Born (1959-05-30) May 30, 1959 (age 65)
Alma materAntioch University
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter, composer
Years active1985-present

Chel White (born May 30, 1959) is an American film director, composer, screenwriter and visual effects artist. In his independent films and music videos, White is known for his stylized, often experimental use of images, unusual animation and narratives depicting an outsider's perspective. He often adopts darkly humorous and poetic sensibilities to explore topics of love, obsession and alienation; with dreams and the subconscious being his greatest influences.[1] He describes his own work as “stories and images that reside on the brink of dreams, or linger on the periphery of distorted memories.”[2] A Rockefeller Fellow, Chel White has made three films based on the work of Peabody Award-winning writer and radio personality Joe Frank (Dirt, Soulmate, Magda ).[3]

Chale Nafus of the Austin Film Society says, "I have been amazed at the stylistic and thematic diversity in (Chel White’s) films. Surreal, ethereal, wistful, and witty, I just allow my imagination to be taken into his complex, mysterious worlds.”[4] The Austin Chronicle says, "(Chel White's) work seems to dispatch itself in some secret, subversive code, flashing messages amid animation, obscure stock footage, and actors with crazy eyes."[5]

Chel White has directed music videos for Radiohead's Thom Yorke,[6] The Melvins,[7] Tom Brosseau, Chrystabell & David Lynch, and collaborated with the Oregon Symphony.[8] He has worked extensively with film director Gus Van Sant, creating visual effects on several of Van Sant's projects.[9] White began directing commercials in 1992, and with a focus in stop motion, began directing television programs in 1999, including two parodies for Saturday Night Live. Along with Ray Di Carlo and David Daniels, Chel White is a co-founder of the international production company Bent Image Lab[10] in Portland, Oregon.

Early life and education[edit]

Chel White was born in Kansas City, Missouri and grew up in Colorado, Michigan, Stockholm, and Evanston, Illinois where his father was a Northwestern University professor and his mother a schoolteacher.[11] White cites his earliest influence as being the Surrealist paintings he was exposed to in grade school when visiting the Art Institute of Chicago.[12] He began making films in high school where, studying under instructors Peter Kingsbury and Kevin Dole, he was introduced to the films of Norman McLaren, Harry Everett Smith, Bruce Conner, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Will Hindle, Len Lye and Jean Cocteau. White recalls, "When I was 16, I realized animation was the bridge between being an artist and a filmmaker. At that point I never looked back."[13] In 1984, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Visual Arts, with a central focus on experimental film, from Antioch College. During his time in Antioch College, he was in a band named The Blackouts, with John Flansburgh, who later formed the band They Might Be Giants.[14]

Independent filmmaker[edit]

Chel White began making independent short films after college, starting with a drawn-on-film animation titled Metal Dogs of India (1985).[12] In 1991, White completed Choreography for Copy Machine (Photocopy Cha Cha), an animated film created solely by using the unique photographic capabilities of a photocopier to generate sequential pictures of hands, faces, and other body parts.[15] The film is widely considered the first noteworthy animated film using this technique.[16] The Washington Post describes it as “(a) musical frolic which wittily builds on ghostly, distorted images crossing the plate glass of a copier.”[17] The films that followed include Dirt (1998), Soulmate (2000), Passage (2001), Magda (2004), A Painful Glimpse Into My Writing Process in Less Than 60 Seconds (2005), Wind (2007), the feature film Bucksville (2011), the Donald Trump horror parody Little Donnie (2017), and Dreams of a Fallen Astronaut (2020) part of the Gratzfilm omnibus The One Minute Memoir.[18]

In 2002, as a poetic response to the tragedies of September 11, Chel White created New York to be part of the omnibus collection Underground Zero. The Chicago Tribune called White's film "an eerie paean to the city itself,"[19] and Bill Stamets of the Chicago Reader said, “Chel White’s New York makes a ruined city enchanted again: jets ascend in twilight, framed by silhouetted rooftops and cranes, and droplets sparkle like tiny diamonds as kids delight in the spray of fire hydrants."[20]

White's 2007 short film, Wind, was commissioned by Radiohead’s creative director Dilly Gent and the climate change awareness group Live Earth. The New York Times Magazine describes it as “(a) beautiful film, very moving, set to a poem by Antonio Machado and narrated by Alec Baldwin.”[21] Using a Robert Bly translation of the poem, Wind creates a metaphor for humanity's lack of planet stewardship. Along with eight other Live Earth commissioned films, "Wind" made its world premiere in the opening night program of the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival with keynote speaker Al Gore.[22]

The films of Chel White have screened in the Sundance Film Festival,[23] Berlinale, IFFR,[24] SXSW, Ottawa International Animation Festival, Annecy Festival, Hiroshima International Animation Festival,[25] HKIFF, SIFF, and the Edinburgh International Film Festival. 2012 saw the release of Bucksville,[26] Chel White's directorial feature film debut. Written and produced well before the Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the 2016 Trump presidential election, Bucksville is a dark but eerily beautiful and prescient story about a young man who struggles to escape the reality of being bound for life to a disenfranchised, small town radical militia started 20 years ago by his father.[27] Distributed by Phase 4 Films, Bucksville stars Thomas Stroppel, Ted Rooney and Allen Nause, with a cameo role by Tom Berenger as The Patron of Justice.[28] The screenplay is by Laura McGie[29] and Chel White, with music by Tom Brosseau. Jamie S. Rich of The Oregonian calls Bucksville, “An insightful portrayal of an extreme point of view without the expected self-righteous critique.”[30]

White's museum screenings include the Van Gogh Museum,[31] The Brooklyn Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The High Museum in Atlanta. His retrospective presentations include the Ann Arbor Film Festival (1999 and 2002),[32] Southern Circuit (2002), the Austin Film Society (2003),[33] a 20-year career retrospective at the Northwest Film Center (Portland Art Museum)[34] (2012), and a Bent Image Lab retrospective and masterclass at the Ottawa International Animation Festival (2018).[35] Chel White is the recipient of media arts Fellowships from The Rockefeller Foundation[36] The Regional Arts & Culture Council,[37] Portland Oregon, and project grants from Creative Capital, the Pacific Pioneer Fund and the Oregon Arts Commission. Fever Dreams and Heavenly Nightmares, a DVD compilation of Chel White's short independent films, was released in 2006 by Microcinema International.[4]

Chel White is featured as one of six interviewees in Martin Cooper's feature documentary History, Mystery & Odyssey: The Lives and Work of Six Portland Animators (2023). The other interviewees are Joan C. Gratz, Jim Blashfield, Joanna Priestley, Rose Bond and Zak Margolis. [38]The film premiered at the 2023 Ottawa International Animation Festival.[39]

Professional career[edit]

Chel White started his professional career in 1986, working as an animator for film director Jim Blashfield on music videos for Paul Simon, Tears for Fears and Michael Jackson. In 1991, he began creating visual effects for director Gus Van Sant, starting with My Own Private Idaho (1991). White went on to be visual effects supervisor on Van Sant's Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (1993), Paranoid Park (2007), Milk[9] (2008) and Restless (2011), as well as title effects supervisor on director Todd Haynes' film, I'm Not There,[40] and the animation sequences in David Oyelowo's feature film, The Water Man (2020).[41]

White directed two shorts for NBC's Saturday Night Live and Robert Smigel's Saturday TV Funhouse, The Narrator That Ruined Christmas (season 27, episode 9)[42] and Blue Christmas (season 30, episode 8).[43] Both are parodies of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer television special (1964). Airing first on December 15, 2001, The Narrator That Ruined Christmas was written by Robert Smigel, Michael Gordon, Louis CK and Stephen Colbert, with the voices of Chris Parnell, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Doug Dale, and Robert Smigel.[43] Airing first on December 18, 2004, Blue Christmas was written by Robert Smigel and Michelle Saks Smigel with additional material by Rich Blomquist, Stephen Colbert, Scott Jacobson, and Matt O'Brien, and voices by Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Erik Bergmann, and Robert Smigel. The success of the SNL shorts led to other holiday themed stop motion projects that White would direct through Bent Image Lab, including two children's television specials for Hallmark Channel. In reviewing the 2011 television holiday programs, Mike Hale of The New York Times called Jingle All the Way (TV special) "By far the best of the bunch. In addition to its charming art and pleasantly low-key storytelling, 'Jingle' stands apart from the other holiday programs by not focusing on the manufacturing or delivery of toys."[44]

In 2006, Chel White directed the music video for Thom Yorke's song Harrowdown Hill (Best Music Video, 2007 SXSW).[45] Along with his team and co-founders at Bent Image Lab, he pioneered Smallgantics, a digital miniaturizing technique first used in the Harrowdown Hill video.[46] In 2012, White directed the video for the Chrysta Bell & David Lynch song Bird of Flames, which has been described as "a haunting and surreal vision."[47]

The commercials Chel White directed have been honored with Clio Awards,[48] a D&AD Award,[49] a The One Club Award,[50] two Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) Awards,[51][52] and two are included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His personal favorite ads he directed are for the Washington State Department of Health in a campaign of surreal anti-smoking public service announcements aimed at children.[53][54]

Chel White's composer credits include Joan C. Gratz's Academy Award winning animated short film Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase, Joanna Priestley and Joan C. Gratz's animated short Pro and Con, Choreography for Copy Machine (as Citizen M), “A Bird Is Following Me” with Tom Brosseau, and the feature film Bucksville. From 1981 to 1982, he was a member of the techno duo Process Blue (Dark Entries Records).[55] 2019 saw the release of "Automaton", a vinyl record of White's experimental and soundtrack music from between 1985 and 1991 (Platform 23 Recordings).[56] White's screenwriting credits include Bucksville (feature), Little Donnie (short), story development for Jingle All the Way (TV special), and the story adaptation based on the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for the SimEx-Iwerks 4D attraction film of the same title.[57] As an actor, Chel White had a role in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993), playing a brain surgeon in a scene with Uma Thurman.[58]

Personal life[edit]

Since 1985, Chel White has lived in Portland, Oregon.


Compilations and feature-length film[edit]

  • The One Minute Mistake, segment: My Perilous Journey Through A.I. (2023)
  • The Retention Department of Perpetual Exhaustion, segment: Mr. French's Secret (2022)
  • The One Minute Memoir, segment: Dreams of a Fallen Astronaut (2020)
  • Filmmakers Unite (FU), segment: Little Donnie (2017)[59]
  • Bucksville (2012)
  • The Animation Show, segment: Magda (2007)[60]
  • Fever Dreams and Heavenly Nightmares: The Short Films of Chel White (2006)
  • Underground Zero: Part II, segment: New York (2002)[61]
  • 23rd Tournee of Animation, Choreography for Copy Machine (Photocopy Cha Cha)[62] (1991)

Short films[edit]

  • My One Minute Memoir: Dreams of a Fallen Astronaut (2020)
  • Little Donnie (2017)
  • Wind (2007)
  • A Painful Glimpse Into MY Writing Process (In Less Than 60 Seconds) (2005)
  • Magda (2004)
  • Eclipse (2003)
  • New York (2002)
  • Passage (2001)
  • Soulmate (2000)
  • The Beats, the Bomb and the 1950s: Robert Briggs (1999)[63]
  • Dirt (1998)
  • Choreography for Copy Machine (Photocopy Cha Cha) (1991)
  • Machine Song (1987)
  • Metal Dogs of India (1985)



Commercials and Public Service Announcements[edit]


Other media[edit]

  • Animation Sketchbooks, book, featured artist, Chronicle Books LLC, by Laura Heit (2013)[79]
  • Animation in Process, book, featured artist, London: Laurence King, by Andrew Selby (2009)[80]

Fellowships, grants and awards[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chel White".
  2. ^ https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0924603/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 [user-generated source]
  3. ^ Oppenheimer, Mark (19 January 2018). "The Last Days of Joe Frank, the Radio Legend Who Inspired Today's Audio Golden Age". Slate.
  4. ^ a b "AVANT CINEMA 4.2: FEVER DREAMS/HEAVENLY NIGHTMARES - Austin Film Society". Archived from the original on 2015-10-17.
  5. ^ "Here Come the Judges".
  6. ^ "NEW RELEASE: Thom Yorke "Harrowdown Hill"". VideoStatic.
  7. ^ "Hooch by Melvins - Songfacts".
  8. ^ "Northwest Film Center Archive: January/February 2001".
  9. ^ a b "Gus van Sant's Milk Gets Bent". 19 February 2009.
  10. ^ "Bent Image Lab in Good Shape". 17 September 2008.
  11. ^ "Ultravillage | A collector's guide to underground new age and ambient music".
  12. ^ a b c "Chel White's Early Animated Films: "Machine Song" & "Metal Dogs of India" – Night Flight". Archived from the original on 2016-01-26. Retrieved 2016-01-08.
  13. ^ "What Animation Means to Me…". 2 April 2012.
  14. ^ "The Blackouts - TMBW: The They Might Be Giants Knowledge Base". tmbw.net. Retrieved 2024-02-14.
  15. ^ "What are all those paint men digging? - ' Choreography for Copy Machine (Photocopy Cha Cha)'".
  16. ^ "How Xerox Invented the Copier and Artists Pushed It To Its Limits - Atlas Obscura". 21 November 2016.
  17. ^ Richard Harrington (1991-08-30). "MOVIES". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. ISSN 0190-8286. OCLC 1330888409.
  18. ^ "The One-Minute Memoir | Film Threat". 2 June 2020.
  19. ^ "Dramatic films deal with 9/11, one year later – Chicago Tribune". Chicago Tribune. 6 September 2002.
  20. ^ "Underground Zero II". 6 September 2002.
  21. ^ "Videophiles | Earth Matter". 19 May 2010.
  22. ^ https://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/04/26/entertainment/main2730075.shtml, Anonymous Author,2007-04-26, Retrieved on 2009-03-17
  23. ^ "Sundance Institute".
  24. ^ "Homepagina | IFFR". Archived from the original on 2015-04-17. Retrieved 2015-04-10.
  25. ^ "Best of the World".
  26. ^ "Home". bucksvillemovie.com.
  27. ^ "Bucksville".
  28. ^ "BUCKSVILLE Releases April 29, 2014 | the Confluence". 29 April 2014.
  29. ^ "Laura McGie". IMDb.
  30. ^ "Bucksville". Rotten Tomatoes.
  31. ^ "Cracking the Frame".
  32. ^ http://media.aadl.org/documents/pdf/aaff/aaff_41_program.pdf [bare URL PDF]
  33. ^ "Here Come the Judges".
  34. ^ "NwFilmCenter".
  35. ^ "Ottawa Fest First Program Highlights: 'Isle of Dogs,' Bent Image Lab & Steven Subotnick". 25 July 2018.
  36. ^ "IW NEWS | Rockefeller Funds $750,000 for 22 Artists". 2 May 2007.
  37. ^ a b https://racc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/ArtNotesJanFeb05.pdf [bare URL PDF]
  38. ^ Six of Portland’s most gifted animators are the focus of a new documentary
  39. ^ Six Portland-Based Animators Step In Front Of The Camera
  40. ^ "Best Commercials, Advertising and Brand Creativity".
  41. ^ "The Water Man movie review & film summary (2021) | Roger Ebert".
  42. ^ "Chel White".
  43. ^ a b ""Saturday Night Live" Ellen Degeneres/No Doubt (TV Episode 2001) - IMDb". IMDb.
  44. ^ Hale, Mike (23 November 2011). "Kicking off an Animated Holiday Season". The New York Times.
  45. ^ a b "'Itty,' 'Billy' win SXSW jury awards". The Hollywood Reporter. 14 March 2007.
  46. ^ "Archives". Los Angeles Times. 4 July 2012.
  47. ^ "Chrysta Bell Feat. David Lynch Video for "Bird of Flames" is Very Strange Indeed". 2 August 2012.
  48. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-08-13. Retrieved 2016-01-07.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  49. ^ "Peace Out | Lugz | D&AD Awards 2001 Pencil Winner | Animation | D&AD".
  50. ^ "Memorial Blood Center of Minneapolis /".
  51. ^ a b "FILA".
  52. ^ a b "Office Max".
  53. ^ "These awesome horror animations are also anti-smoking PSAs". 11 February 2022.
  54. ^ "Stop-Motion Gains Speed". 27 March 2006.
  55. ^ "Process Blue - Control Panel LP". 22 November 2018.
  56. ^ "Automaton, by Chel White".
  57. ^ "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 4-D".
  58. ^ "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues". Rotten Tomatoes.
  60. ^ "The animation show. Volume 1 and 2". 2007.
  61. ^ "Movie of the Week: Underground Zero". MTV.
  62. ^ "The 23rd International Tournee of Animation". Entertainment Weekly.
  63. ^ ""The Beats, the Bomb & the 1950s": Remembering Robert Briggs – Night Flight". Archived from the original on 2019-08-15. Retrieved 2019-08-15.
  64. ^ "Love is an Enigma in David Lynch's 'Bird of Flames'".
  65. ^ Harrowdown Hill
  66. ^ "NwFilmCenter".
  67. ^ ""The PJS" Ghetto Superstars (TV Episode 2000) - IMDb". IMDb.
  68. ^ List of The PJs episodes
  69. ^ "Advertising | American Indian College Fund". 28 January 2020.
  70. ^ "Q&A: Director Chel White". December 2004.
  71. ^ "Reese's Pieces Bows TV Spot". 14 April 2003.
  72. ^ Six of Portland’s most gifted animators are the focus of a new documentary
  73. ^ "Chel White (#198)".
  74. ^ "Chel White Y Danza | In Context | PBS". PBS. Archived from the original on 2019-02-16.
  75. ^ "The American Avant Garde (TV Series 2004– ) - IMDb". IMDb.
  76. ^ "Short films aired on "Exposure"".
  77. ^ "Oregon Art Beat | Season 2, Episode 19 | OPB". 26 October 2023.
  78. ^ "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues".
  79. ^ "Stunning new book opens up the sketchbooks of a host of top animators".
  80. ^ Animation in process
  81. ^ a b "IW NEWS | Rockefeller Funds $750,000 for 22 Artists". 2 May 2007.
  82. ^ "SXSW '07 DAILY DISPATCH: "Billy the Kid" and "Itty Bitty Titty Committee" Win Top Jury Prizes at SXS". 14 March 2007.
  83. ^ IMDB Awards for A painful Glimpse Into My Writing Process
  84. ^ "FLORIDA FILM FESTIVAL 2004 ANNOUNCES WINNERS | Film Threat". 22 March 2004.
  85. ^ "Path of Bees".
  86. ^ "Sweden's Twin Winter Festivals Shine: Arctic Light and Stockholm International". 15 December 1998.
  87. ^ "Chel White | Ann Arbor District Library".
  88. ^ "Chicago International Film Festival (1991)". IMDb.
  89. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-04-02. Retrieved 2019-08-14.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

External links[edit]