Victoria Campbell has always been a storyteller, with Vineyard providing some of her earliest sources of inspiration.
“This was a great place to foster imagination,” the actress-turned-cinema said last week by phone from her parents’ home in Vineyard Haven.
said Ms. Campbell, who recently co-curated a film series for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.
Screening at MoMA on February 16 and February 17, the program celebrates the Film Millennium Workshop, an influential center for experimental filmmakers since the 1960s.
“It was such a ramshackle place in the East Village, but with all this crazy history,” Campbell said.
“Andy Warhol was there. Todd Haynes showed his first movie there. Steve Buscemi used to rent equipment…a whole bunch of names,” she said.
Mrs. Campbell discovered the workshop after making her first film, House of Bones, about her family on a vineyard.
“I got my first show in New York there. A hundred people came, and that was great,” she recalls. “Then I worked there and took the tickets and watched all kinds of movies that I had never seen, [and] Then I decided I needed to go back to school.”
She chose the documentary program at the New York School of Visual Arts, and learned new ways of telling stories
“I want to experience what a documentary could be,” said Ms. Campbell. “I love its texture. You don’t depend on the studio or the cast — you can go out and do these stories yourself.”
She also learned visual techniques at the Film Workshop, which closed in 2011 and sold its archive to MoMA.
“The Millennium has really taught me how to use the Super 8,” she said, referring to the Eastman Kodak color film format introduced in 1965. “I was going to go shoot the city with the Super 8 and all of a sudden it had a nice old he-she.”
She also used the coordination in Haiti, where she worked as a humanitarian volunteer after the 2010 earthquake.
Compared to the huge capacity of digital files, Campbell said, movie stock imposes a certain order.
“I think you’re shooting with more focus,” she said.
Her journey in the film industry began on the stage, as she sought to establish an acting career after college.
“I was really driven into acting, since I was a little kid,” she said. “I loved theater, and that was what I thought very strongly that I would eventually do.”
But after majoring in French and Italian literature at Bard College, she faced the hard realities of pursuing an acting career in both New York and Los Angeles.
“New York was a lot more difficult than I imagined, auditioning and trying to make money as an actress,” she said. “We did Shakespeare in the parking lot, not in the park.”
Ms. Campbell did find some film roles in Los Angeles, but scorned the work she did, such as portraying “The Angry Woman” in the cable TV Life of Christ.
“I was supposed to be Mary Magdalene, but [the actor playing] You remember that Jesus was very young.
She said other potential bookings were also uninspiring.
“They really liked me on the reality show [with] Flava Flav. It was things like that, like being a girlfriend or best friend,” she said. “I hate that feeling of waiting to do someone else’s job and to be directed. You give away a lot of your power, which you did for a long time.”
Back in New York, Ms. Campbell finally acted on what a friend of hers in the film industry from their college years had been suggesting to her.
“He always asked me to bring a camera and photograph my family,” she said.
The death of her beloved grandmother pushed the Bone House into existence.
They were going to sell [her] “I’m going to get a camera and capture this crazy house and all the characters,” said Mrs. Campbell, remembering her next thought.
Self-taught Mrs. Campbell has traced the grief-stricken members of her family’s struggle with the loss of both the paterfamilias and her home on the Island of Generations.
Her most recent documentaries include Dimka, which depicts a differently dressed Russian exile, shown during the Spectrum Festival of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society last spring, and Mr. Le President, which was filmed during her travels to Haiti.
Mrs. Campbell’s shorter, more experimental work is represented in MoMA shows with In Betweens, a six-minute, 35-second audiovisual tapestry of New York.
Weaving both interior and exterior shots, finding footage, environmental sounds and spoken words, the film acts as a meditation on time, space and consciousness as well as an image of the city.
“I’ve been playing around with the way we see New York, and also space and how space has changed,” said Ms Campbell, who included footage from the old Millennium Center after it closed.
“Sometimes in New York things are so fast, you don’t always realize how [quickly] “Things change,” she said.
Her other work, as a middle school teacher in the South Bronx, led to a short film in the series produced by two of her students, siblings Roberto and Anxa Polanco.
“They had an idea and they went out and made a movie,” she said of Polanco’s dystopian visions of the future.
Ms. Campbell remembers her middle school years were not the happiest of her life. “I was so eager to leave the island and see the world,” she said.
Now, it’s not just middle grades anymore—it’s in Vineyard again, too: During a year of Prep 562 in the South Bronx, Mrs. Campbell teaches English to seventh and eighth graders at West Tisbury School, just over the road from where she joined Tisbury School in the eighties.
“It’s funny that I’m back in the one place I longed to leave,” said Mrs. Campbell, who also lives with her parents, in her childhood bedroom, with a young daughter.
But the vineyard also offers a retreat from urban life and a chance to reconnect with its first creations.
“This island has always been my inner architecture,” said Mrs. Campbell.