Richmond’s Todd Raviotta
I recently had the pleasure and privilege of sitting down with Todd Raviotta – an educator, filmmaker, and photographer here in Richmond. What follows is our talk, transcribed as word-for-word as I can make it. Because the guy can turn a phrase, and I don’t want to leave anything out.
Q: You’re a director, editor, and educator. What do you direct, what do you edit, and what do you teach?
A: Starting backwards, as an educator I’ve been teaching at Maggie Walker Governor’s School and I’ve been there ten years. I do a Digital Video Seminar with the seniors, and a Film Studies class that is dual enrollment with VCU. Next year I will be doing two sessions of Film Studies, and the Digital Video Seminar (production, etc) will take a back burner. This has been a huge part of my life for the past decade.
At VCU I teach in the Photography and Film Department. In the fall I’m teaching an Advanced Film Production class, Digital Filmmaking, and a Senior Portfolio class. I’ve been doing that since getting my Master’s Degree in 2004.
In the future, I want to get into larger classrooms and share what I share in these classes with other places. Eventually I’d like to travel with my work, rather than teaching with other people’s media. I already develop my own curriculum, but I want to be able to use my work as a jumping point for discussion in my classes, or on tour, at conferences, etc. I want a larger audience.
I also teach at VMFA over the summer, so I’m doing that right now. It’s a Digital Filmmaking Class Workshop. The students are middle school to high school. Rising juniors, sophomores, sort of like summer camp – before they get to summer party zone. It’s a great supportive community and it’s been really inspiring for me. When I taught there last summer I was already at a crisis point about my work, my aversion to television and advertising, and now I’ve realized that you can talk about what is going on in the world in fine art without sacrificing your integrity for a product or service.
Editing – again, what I do for hire is work with independent filmmakers in facilitating their vision. Griffith Films – we’re working on a documentary about returning to farming. There’s a lot more to it, but I can’t really talk about it at this time. I’ve been working with Bob Griffith for about ten years (since 2001) and the projects have been amazing, social conscious documentaries or fund-raising tools for local organizations.
I’m also editing a project for Dr. Utsey (Shawn) about the impact of grave robbing in post Civil War America and the African American community in Richmond. It’s a phenomenal piece. Being the son of a doctor, it’s been eye-opening to see into the history of medicine 100 years ago.
That’s the for-hire editing I’ve been doing. I have other projects, but these are the most current. I also edit my own work; this is what I can provide as a service to others. That’s where I feel most comfortable in other people’s projects, is in post-production and editing.
Directing – this has been under change. Sometimes I think of directing as the way to make the art I make, but it isn’t strictly focused around nonfiction storytelling. Right now I do have a short film in development where I’m looking for locations and window to do production, but life (teaching, life stuff) keeps pushing it back. In the meantime, the life surrounding me in Richmond is interesting to document as a cultural phenomenon.
Q: On your Facebook page you say your job is “making and bootlegging RVA art and culture” – what do you mean by that?
A: Since graduating from the Master’s program I’ve been part of local organizations from Yellow House, Gallery 5, and RVA Magazine and I’ve met a lot of amazing artists, musicians, dancers, choreographers, fire-spinners, hoopers, models, designers, writers, and what they do inspires me and participating and attending their events is exciting with a camera. With my background in filmmaking and avant-garde experimental editing I’ve taken a new approach to how I see the event. (Link to vimeo and gifs). This spreads between doing videos of my photography, the straight-up video, the photography, and what I offer to RVA Magazine and other places. It’s stuff that actually happened. Part of my focus is getting people out of their homes and into the city where they live. Most people get frustrated with where they live because they stay glued to the TV and see how great things are in New York, etc, but if they actually get out and see what Richmond has to offer they might not be so discontented. That’s what happened to me. I saw what was going on and I wanted to share with the rest of the world, and wish others would do the same. Sometimes it starts with people who have moved away from Richmond, seeing that work that I make, that reminds them of Richmond, but also shows them a Richmond that they missed.
Q: Tell me about the PLF
A: The PLF started as friends inviting me to dance parties. I used to sit and watch movies and work on the computer. After years of being invited, I had a life change that allowed me to say yes. Then, hanging out with friends I’d worked with in other environments, seeing them having fun and this extreme creative expression led me to want to share that and be part of it. I found myself breaking down personal barriers and limitations I’d placed on myself artificially and was able to enjoy brining my photographic arts to share their other arts – fire-spinning, Djing, dancing, burlesque, and more. That’s where the PLF has come into play. It’s been liberating – parties, really good friends.
Q: You’ve lived in New Orleans, Northern Virginia, and have made Richmond your home for the last 15 years. What makes this town special?
A: One, coming here for VCU and being immersed in an art school, being surrounded by artists, this make this town a watershed for talented artists. The creatives from most parts of the surrounding areas come here. VCU’s school goes back to the Bauhaus in terms of design philosophy. I got to study under world-class teachers that have helped shape the creative people in this city. They create restaurants, galleries, and other places. Growing up in New Orleans and having it be a shell of what it used to be, where everything is so commercialized, it doesn’t feel like home. New York is so overwhelming it doesn’t feel home. Los Angeles is so rooted in commercial mass media control and there is no room for creative experimentation. Before, I was fascinated with Haight Ashbury circa the 1960’s, Seattle grunge in the late 1980’s and early 1990s, Paris in the days of artists in Montmartre, coming to Richmond, and being immersed in that culture, seeing friends leaving to go to those places, and finding what I was looking for creatively here made it hard to consider leaving. And I still feel that way. When it comes down to it, when you leave here you have to sell out to the commercial world. You can go somewhere to seek out an indigenous, creative community, but you’re an interloper and it’s hard to find. I didn’t want to go to work selling pretty girls to people with no sense of morality. I want to share the message of my philosophy that I share in my classroom, which is basically “be a good person” and I can do that here.
Me: Thanks for the best interview ever, Todd. I have one question I’m going to end with for all the interviews I do on the site
Todd: Lay it on me.
Q: If you had my job and could interview 5 people in Richmond, who would you interview?
A: I have more than 5:
John Reinhold , Parker, and the rest of the bunch with the PLF
Prabir Mehta from Goldrush, Long Arms, and practically every other band in Richmond
Meg Liles from the VMFA
Kiki Von Kitsch from Voix De Ville Foilles
Casey Longyear and Marche, who run Rumors. In terms of entrepreneurship, they are amazing and inspirational. They not only make a profit, they make their “thing” their business. .
David Hood – saxophonist for NOBS!
Allison Apperson – Hot Lava and other bands.
Brandi Price – Diamond Center (maybe education, too)
On August 3rd there will be a show at The Camel featuring Todd’s work. There will be music. There will be dancing. There will be friends.