TU professor brings “Sweaty Eyeballs” to Baltimore

Department of Art + Design, Art History, Art Education’s Phil Davis will curate three-day international animation festival at the Parkway Theater

By Kyle Hobstetter on October 1, 2019

Professor Phil Davis holds up a poster for the Sweaty Eyeballs Animation Festival
Towson University associate professor Phil Davis holds up a poster for Sweaty Eyeballs, a three-day international film festival he's curating in Baltimore's Parkway Theater. 

Ever since he was a kid, Towson University associate professor Phil Davis had a passion for animation. 

While studying film at Syracuse University, for his senior project he created a hand-drawn feature — the only one in his class to do so. 

It wasn’t a hard decision to make for Davis. He loves drawing. Plus, he was tired of dealing with actors and he loved the fact he could create a feature film without having to leave his desk.

“I want to have maximum control over the thing I make, and I want to make it in my bedroom,” laughs Davis. “I just toiled away on pieces of paper to make a film. And I think that's what's so beautiful about it, too, is that you can make something with such limited means. 

“And it can be really powerful, and really beautiful, and moving and interesting.”

That passion for animation led Davis to create the Sweaty Eyeballs Animation Festival, which takes place Oct. 4-6 at the Parkway Theater in the Station North neighborhood of Baltimore. 

And while most equate animation with Disney and Pixar movies, Sweaty Eyeballs takes a look at a more “adult” take of the art form.

The three-day juried international film festival showcases unique, experimental and diverse voices in the field of animated filmmaking with a focus on innovation in craft, storytelling and work that questions preconceived notions of what animation can and should be.

“I'm trying to highlight that this art form is extremely expansive and diverse, and there are lots and lots of really interesting artists who are making interesting work out there in the world,” Davis says. “This is animation made by artists that are on the cutting edge of the medium, experimenting, trying new things, both visually and with storytelling. 

“We’re trying to pull it out from the noise and reveal it to audiences here in Baltimore.”

Davis has been presenting an iteration of Sweaty Eyeballs to Baltimore audiences since 2012, where he was asked to curate a one-off event at the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown’s Patterson Theater.

That first screening sold out, and gave Davis proof that there is an audience for this type of animation. So he kept it going with an annual once-a-year event from 2013-2016 with the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Then in 2017, Sweaty Eyeballs moved to the Parkway Theater and turned into a monthly screening series where Davis curated short programs, feature films and brought in guest curators. 

After starting as just a one-day event, Davis always thought there was a chance it could be a multi-day festival. And now with the event taking over the Parkway Theater for a weekend, he’s excited for the first film to roll.

“I took eight years to really build the audience for it,” Davis says. “And now the audience is there. And I think people are — at least, I hope they are —really excited about it. It seems like they are from my contacts in the academia and also art scene in Baltimore.”

Check out the entire Sweaty Eyeballs Schedule

One of Davis’ main concerns in planning was finding funding for the festival. But he found help through Towson University and its BTU – Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore initiative.

Sweaty Eyeballs was one of six projects that was awarded Emerging Idea or Priority Investment support through BTU. Emerging investment funds are allocated for a one-year period and focused on supporting new and emerging TU community partnerships and projects. 

Read More: Strong Support Helps BTU Partnerships Grow  

The specialized knowledge base in the Office of Partnerships and Outreach is helping to develop a unique arts based entrepreneurship model for the festival that will translate to other endeavors for Towson University’s faculty, students, and external partners.

“Working with the Office of Partnerships and Outreach and BTU has been amazing,” Davis says. “That's been the biggest sort of push to make this thing a reality. Without the BTU help, I don't think Sweaty Eyeballs would have happened. It was kind of hinging on that.

“And what I think is really nice about the structure of BTU is that they are very specifically trying to grow this thing that, I'm creating and not have it just be me relying on them,” Davis says. They want to see me be able to expand it, and then get my own funding in the future and make it a sustainable model for something that can continue into the future.” 

Phil Davis working with a student
Davis has been teaching at TU for 10 years, working in both the Electronic Media and Film Department and the Department of Art + Design, Art History, Art Education. 

For the past 10 years, Davis has been part of Towson University’s faculty in both the electronic media and film department, and then transferring to the department of art + design, art history, art education. 

Through his time at TU, Davis has been able to teach students both film editing and animation.

To go along with teaching and curating a three-day festival, Davis still makes at least one animated feature each year.

And while that may seem like a lot, he credits Towson University’s supportive environment to help him develop as both a teach and artist.

“I feel like if I didn't have this job, I don't know where I would be,” Davis says. But I don't think I would be making as much work as I'm making. And I don't think I would probably be curating a three-day international animation festival, because it wouldn't have the sort of infrastructure and stability to be able to pursue these kind of creative endeavors.

“TU has been great at providing me resources, space to sort of develop these things, and also students to bounce ideas off of. Yeah, I got no complaints. I love it here.”

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: TU Matters to Maryland, BTU-Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore.