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ELENA SÁENZ ALANA MEJIA GONZALEZ SHIRA LEVIN AISLÍNN CLARKE EMMA PIPER-BURKET HANNAH FORD SOLÈNE GUICHARD FREMDINA BIANCO GABRIELLE LANSNER MEMI KOUPA
WOMEN’S CINEMA VOL VII
cINEMAKERS W O M E N
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Contents 04 Memi Koupa
104 Aislínn Clarke
The Birch Grove
Solène Guichard 5W
Alana Mejia Gonzalez
A day in Chisinau
DAM TO DAM
Memi Koupa An interview by Bonnie Curtis and Barbara Scott Featuring vivid performances and a gentle naturalism reminding us of Cristian Mungiu's cinema, PINK is a stunning film to watch. With her characteristic vérité style, Memi Koupa escapes from traditional narrative form and moves beyond notions of theatricality, into the realm of real experience. The plot of PINK is very simple, yet the implications of its characters’ actions and emotions are profound. We are proud to present Memi Koupa for this special edition of Women Cinemakers. Memi, please tell us something about your trajectory as a
filmmaker. What inspired you to express yourself in this medium?
As a teenager, I was a passionate fiction and poetry reader and watched a lot of European auteur cinema. When I first watched Liliana Cavani's ''The night porter'', I remeber had an apocalyptic experience. I'd realised the significance of subtext and motive in storytelling and felt fascinated with the medium. At the time, I was also experimenting with still photography a lot and developed a passion for portraits and the observation of humanity, along with the tech aspects of photography. I had no idea that I would become involved in filmmaking, until a few years later. I became friends with a young aspiring director and she made me work for the production of her first feature. That was it. It clicked. A year later, I started my own production company having an
At first, my focus was on delivering strong visuals with experimental narrative, so I started creating video art, then jumped to writing and directing short documentaries and music videos, before moving on to experimental short films. As a young female director in Greece, I was strongly discouraged whenever I decided to submit a feature project for funding. Until recently, the film world in Greece was very much a man's world. I think that this reality has helped me develop an indie DIY approach to filmmaking. I became much more flexible, determined and serious about my work. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production, would you like to tell us who are some of your chief influences?
Main influences and inspiration - although they are many, I'll mention first some of the European auteurs whose directing
experienced film producer as partner. For more than a decade, I worked as producer, screenwriter and creative director of music videos, TV commercials and documentaries and had the privilege to work closely with experienced and talented film directors.
From the other side of the Atlantic, David Lynch, Gus Van Sant and early Jarmush are definitely my main influences.
style has shaped me: Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman (specifically in ''Persona''), Godard (specifically in ''My Life to Live/ Vivre sa Vie''), Michelangelo Antonioni, Polanski (in Repulsion) Chantal Ackerman and Claire Denis. SEE RANK
For this special edition of Women Cinemakers we have selected tPINK, an interesting film that explores the notions of guilt, empathy, loneliness and despair, reminding us of Claire Denis' work: while walking our readers through the genesis of PINK, would you tell us whatâ€™s your writing process like?
I usually write very spontaneously, trying not to censor or filter my thoughts and the images that take shape in my head, focusing mostly on the feeling, the ambiance and character. I try to edit days or weeks later, when I sense that I'm in a different position in terms of emotional detachment and clarity and then I employ technique and get to work in a methodical manner. I always hand out every finished draft to people that I trust (film directors
A still from PINK
''Pink'' was written in rather exceptional circumstances, as a spontaneous reaction to a social event where I was invited and a whole social situation that was building up for months. The theme of the event addressed the issue of Syrian refugees and the kindness shown to them by the people of Greece. I sensed a lot of hypocrisy in what was said while the evening played out and came home feeling puzzled and frustrated. The next day, I wrote ''Pink'' within exactly 30 minutes and decided to go ahead with the production, immediately. I strongly believe that screenwriting is an organic and ongoing process, therefore I always allow for changes to happen during rehearsals with the actors. To me, rehearsals are a useful test drive not just for dialogue, but also for the dynamics of each scene and the validity of the director's work during script analysis. In other words, if something's not working during the rehearsal, you should be flexible enough to get rid of it or work on it from a new perspective.
A still from PINK
and screenwriters) and ask them for consultation and encourage them to ask me tough questions. I cannot praise them enough for their valuable input.
While writing the script, I decided to experiment with the actors' performances. I gave long pieces of monologue to only one of the characters and not a single word to the other. We rehearsed for almost two months, seeking a fragile balance between what was a minimal physical performance and monologue. It was a challenging situation for the actors in the very beginning, but soon enough we all felt that the outcome was interesting. We introduced a lot of improv exercises in our rehearsals, along with techniques from David Mamet's method and they proved quite helpful.
What was your preparation with actors in terms of reharsal?
We have appreciated your use of light and darkness to create a sense of heightened reality in depicting street life: can you describe your approach to lighting?
Dramatic lighting is a natural choice for me when filming in an urban context, especially in Athens. It brings out the gritty feeling of the city, that for me is part of Athens' identity. This type of lighting also helps put the emphasis on specific architectural elements, character traits
A still from PINK
PINK features expressionistic noir photography suffuses with a subtle nightmarish quality: what was your choice for cameras and lenses to pursue such captivating visual results?
The film's DoP, Olympia Mytilinaiou and I had already shot a film demo on Digital Bolex a year ago, and were delighted with the outcome. When 'Pink' came up, we instantly knew that our obvious choice was the Digital Bolex, to get that S16mm grainy film look and feel and to give the film the nightmarish aspect that you're describing. The lenses we used were Zeiss S16mm lenses and we worked within the range of 9, 12, 24, and 50 mm. We daresay that PINK stays in the liminal area between routine night the life and imagination, to urge the viewers to elaborate personal interpretations and especially to find an answer to the question "Who is the savior and who needs to be saved?". Could comment this peculiar aspect of your film? How
A still from PINK
and adds depth to the frame. In my work, I'm always going for depth and perspective in every single composition.
I find it important for a work of art to raise questions that encourage us to explore our true motives and to ultimately deepen our level of self-awareness. I think the real question that the film asks is whether we are sober enough to acknowledge that most of the time through our acts of generosity, we primarily serve our Ego and seek to cater our own needs. Perhaps the question applies to every individual, and to every modern society.
much important is for you to address the viewers to a particular interpretation?
You are a versatile filmmaker and your works oftern incorporate such intimate vision to accurate aesthetics: do you think that your being a woman provides your artistic research with some special value?
I've always felt that most women carry the potential to be all-encompassing personalities and creators. I think that the work of women artists and film auteurs can be truly complex and multi-dimensional and thus, hard to categorise, much more often than a man's work. In this respect, maybe my gender somehow defines or affects the value of my work or brings a certain quality to it.
A still from PINK
Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Memi. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving?
At this point in my life, I'm focusing exclusively on writing and directing narrative and more specifically on arthouse films with strong female leads, exploring aspects of female identity that are under or misrepresented in contemporary film production. I find this to be my raison d' etre as a filmmaker. I've just recently finished writing my first feature, 'Feline'. It's a Greek-French coproduction in development with MarieJosee Croze from France, and Youlika Skafida from Greece, in the leading roles. I'm expecting to start shooting, during the winter of 2017-18. The film is an existential portrait of a woman who had a short and celebrated career as performance artist in Paris, during the early 90s, and who lives a bumpy life in Athens, in the present.
An interview by Bonnie Curtis and Barbara Scott
Gabrielle Lansner An interview by Bonnie Curtis and Jennifer Rozt Druhn The Birch Grove is a poetic film by New York based mutlidisciplianry artist Gabrielle Lansner: inspired by the novella of the same name by the Polish author, Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, it addresses the viewers to explore the power of family ties through captivating narrative: we are particularly pleased to introduce her work to our readers. Hello Gabrielle and welcome to WomenCinemakers: when walking our readers through your usual process and set up would you tell us if you think that there is a central idea that connect all your works?
I come to filmmaking from an extensive background in choreography and performance. During my career as an artist I have always been interested in story, character, emotion and psychology. I have made dance/theater pieces for the stage with actors and dancers and more recently have turned to filmmaking as another medium of exploration. At the
center of all the work is my interest in the heart and the psyche and telling stories . Although I am portraying fictitious stories and characters, the emotional threads that are expressed are always truthful and derive from a confluence of my experience and the lives of my performers. A personal empathetic connection to the emotional themes runs throughout the different works. You are a versatile artist and over the past 30 years you have explored a number of artistic disciplines moving from pure dance works, to dance/theater, to film. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production, we would invite to our readers to visit https://www.memoryhouseproductions.com in order to get a synoptic view of your work: while walking us through your process,would you like to tell to our readers how does your background in choreography and performing influence the evolution of your style? In particular, what does draw you to such captivating multidisciplinary approach and when do you recognize that a technique has exhausted its expressive potential to self?
It was quite by accident that I began filmmaking. I had the opportunity to film some of my work and when I got behind the camera for the first time I realized that this was the perfect medium for my work. My stage work was always gestural and intimate and using the camera seemed like a very specific tool that I could use to direct the viewer’s eye and to capture emotion in close-ups of both body and face. For this special edition of WomenCinemakers we have selected The Birch Grove, an extremely
interesting film inspired by the novella of the same name by the Polish author, Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz and that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article: what has at once captured our attention of your insightful inquiry into the power of family ties is the way you have provided the visual results of your analysis with coherent combination between autonomous aesthetics and visual consistence. While walking our readers through the genesis of The Birch Grove, would you tell what did inspired you to Iwaszkiewicz's novel?
I was introduced to the work of Iwaskiewicz’s while I was screening my short film, The Stronger, at a film and dance festival in Tarnow, Poland. A Polish choreographer had made a dance piece based on one of his short stories and suggested that I look at his work. I was immediately captivated by the story and it’s poetic language. A sense of time and place was so evocatively described that I felt immediately drawn in. The Birch Grove, is filled with huge themes: love, death, regret, jealousy, desire, respect, anger: they all come into play as the story between the two brothers unfolds. I was also drawn to the fact that the author was also writing about the characters’ internal and external journeys. Your style seems to be very analytical, yet The Birch Grove strives to be full of emotion: how would you consider the relationship between analysis and spontaneity within your work? In particular, do you like spontaneity or do you prefer to meticulously schedule every details of
Across my 30 year career, I have moved from creating very abstract dances, to dance/theater pieces inspired by literature and historical events, and most recently I have turned to film. I started dancing at 10 and began making dances as a teenager. I have always been interested in developing my own work. But, through the years I was also drawn to theater: initially “experimental theater” and then studying acting formally and also pursuing a career in acting for several years. So, the jump from abstraction, to creating “dance/theater” that was story and character driven came after several years of working as an actress. I had taken a break from making dances, but when I started again I became interested in emotion and story. My first project in this genre was based on the Brecht play, THE JEWISH WIFE. Instead of creating abstract movement, I became interested in creating movement that embodied emotion and was able to convey the inner life of a character, as well as tell a story. At this time, I also started adding the spoken word to the works.
My working process to develop a film is lengthy and has many layers. The Birch Grove is an 80 page novella with many characters and primary and secondary stories. After reading the novella many times, I decided what part of the story I wanted to tell and which characters I wanted to include. I chose to focus on the relationship between the two brothers, and the younger brother’s relationship to love and death. The next step of the process is to develop the choreography. I work in collaboration with my performers to create the dance and movement. In the rehearsal studio each performer will create movement that embodies their character’s emotional journey through a guided improvisation process. Each performer investigates their character and then writes a long list of active verbs that capture their emotions. Then, they choreograph gestures and movements that evoke these verbs. These are components that are created through improvisation and then sewn together to create choreography that is “set.” We also do improvisatory writing exercises during our rehearsal period, as another tool for the performers to explore their characters. I will give “writing prompts” to the performers and then they will write spontaneously in a stream of consciousness style. This sort of exercise helps them to delve into their character’s world. So, there is a lot of improvisation in the developmental stage, but when we go to shoot the film, everything has been rehearsed and choreographed. But, inevitably there are also
your works? how much importance does play improvisation in your process?
Escaping from traditional narrative form, The Birch Grove features a brilliant storytelling: how did you develop the script and the structure of the film?
My challenge in developing the script and structure of the film is deciding how best I can tell the story without words. With The Birch Grove I had a fairly clear idea of what sections were going to be danced and which sections would be realistic vignettes. I did make a storyboard before the shoot, which is not my usual practice. For me, this film is the most traditional narrative that I have made. I also knew early on that the film would either have some dialogue or a narration. I wanted the audience to know that this is a story of two brothers and was not sure if that would come across without words. Iwazkiewiczâ€™s writing is beautiful and poetic and I wanted to add that element to the film as well. The narration for the film was written/edited by playwright Ellen McLaughlin. Ellen came on board after I started editing the film. She watched the film many times and had a lot of feedback about what she was seeing. From these discussions the editing continued and the story became clear. Ellen then wrote a narration for the film that was drawn from the novella. The Birch Grove is 80 pages long, the narration for the film, 2 pages. She succinctly was able to choose certain sentences and passages that clarified the story and deepened the emotional impact. We have appreciated the filmâ€™s expressive color palette, stunning widescreen compositions: what were your aesthetic decisions when shooting?
images and moments that happen spontaneously on the set, and we capture those on film as well.
The combination between music and spoken words plays a crucial role in the dynamics of The Birch Grove: according to media theorist Marshall McLuhan there is a 'sense bias' that affects Western societies favoring visual logic, a shift that occurred with the advent of the alphabet as the eye became more essential than ear. How do you see the relationship between sound and moving images?
Music and sound have always been a crucial and loved element in my work. The music for The Birch Grove, by composer Joel Pickard, was composed after the film was edited. During rehearsal, the performers improvised and created movement in silence. It was only when we choreographed the individual scenes that “temp” music was added to give the performers emotional support and specific timing while rehearsing. After the film was edited the composer created a score that underlined and supported the emotional elements
The interplay between the various locations for the film, the 1930’s time period for the story, and the summer weather influenced the color palette of the film. The beautiful “floor” that was painted by our production designer, Dean Taucher, was a poetic gesture to create an actual birch grove and also a metaphor for the younger brother’s emotional journey: he is simultaneously living and coming to terms with his own death. I knew that we wanted to shoot many of the scenes on the “floor” from above with a crane. While planning the shoot I was also conscious of wanting to capture the dancer’s full bodies while they were moving in wide shots and getting close-ups of individual gestures and faces.
in the dances and realistic scenes. Music and sound were also crucial to creating seamless transitions between scenes: always an interplay between music, image and story. Editing the film was also another form of choreography for me: I was making a dance with images and sound. Many artists express the ideas that they explore through representations of the body and by using their own bodies in their creative process. German visual artist Gerhard Richter once remarked that "it is always only a matter of seeing: the physical act is unavoidable": as a multidisciplinary artist involved both in Photographer and Dance how would you consider the relation between the abstract nature of the ideas you explore and the physical act of producing your artworks?
My process to develop work is long and very collaborative. I usually begin with a piece of literature that I want to adapt. I spend time analyzing the work and deciding which themes I want to explore in rehearsal with the performers. The next step of the process is to develop the choreography. I work in collaboration with my performers to create the dance and movement. In the rehearsal studio each performer will create movement that embodies their characterâ€™s emotional journey through a guided improvisation process. Each performer investigates their character and then writes a long list of active verbs that capture their emotional arc in the narrative. Then, they choreograph gestures and movements that evoke these verbs: mining their own psyches and emotions to create a character. It becomes a very personal intersection between the performer and the character they are playing.
The Birch Grove, and many of my other films is the synthesis of a collaboration between performers, designers, composers, cinematographers, editors, and writers. I do have a very strong vision for what I want to create, but I am in constant dialogue with all my collaborators and open to suggestion. Over the years your works have been showcased in several occasions and The Birch Grove has been screened at the prestigious Cannes Short Film Corner: one of the hallmarks of your work is the capability to create direct involvement with the viewers, who are provided with of the the opportunity to become active participants and are urged to evolve from a condition of mere spectatorship. So before leaving this conversation we would like to pose a question about the nature of the relationship of your art with your audience. Do you consider the issue of audience
We daresay that your practice aims to push the boundaries of what dance can be: it's no doubt that interdisciplinary collaborations as the gabrielle lansner & company, a critically acclaimed dance/theater company based in New York City are today ever growing forces in Contemporary Art and that the most exciting things happen when creative minds from different fields of practice meet and collaborate on a project... could you tell us something about this effective synergy? By the way, Peter Tabor once stated that "collaboration is working together with another to create something as a synthesis of two practices, that alone one could not": what's your point about this? Can you explain how your work demonstrates communication between two artists?
reception as being a crucial component of your decision-making process, in terms of what type of language is used in a particular context?
I do want my work to be accessible and to have an emotional impact on the viewer. With my more “narrative” films, The Stronger and The Birch Grove, I did strive to tell the story as clearly as possible. I considered using text in The Stronger, but in the end I knew that the story was clear and did not need another layer that was literal. While making The Birch Grove, I did realize early on that I would want to use language to clarify the story. These decisions usually come in the editing and post-production phase of the process. I am not ruled by the thought of audience reception, but aware. And, aware that the work can’t resonate with everybody since some viewers are not used to seeing a film without language. Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Gabrielle. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving?
I have written my first feature-length narrative film, STILL LIFE. It is a fully scripted drama about an American widow who returns to France to reconcile her past. I am in the early stages of development for this film, which I will direct. This is a huge departure for me, but in retrospect a natural outgrowth of how my work has evolved. So going forward, I am not sure if I will continue in a more traditional way or continue exploring the intersection of dance and film and story.
Fremdina Bianco Fremdina Bianco works in audiovisual contents, directing and producing, but also she dedicates to literature. As a feminist, she always works under a gender perspective. Her stories are carried out by women and relates problems with regard to sexuality, religion and social mandate. Her work is also impregnated of the local identity of Misiones and the logic of small towns. Fremdina doesn’t believe in the boundaries between fiction and documentary. She is sure that there are other ways of telling stories and she bets on a cinema that generates more questions than answers. Fremdina Bianco was born in Misiones in 1990. She studied Filmmaking and Producing at the University of Cinema (FUC) in Buenos Aires. She also studied Management with Gender Perspective and Identification, Approach and Treatment of Gender Violence at the Institute of Historical Research Eva Perón. She is part of “La Mujer y el Cine”. She was selected to participate in the Workshop Filming in Cuba with Abbas Kiarostami at the EICTV. At the age of 20, she directed her feature film, No land without evil (Fiction/S16mm), selected in numerous festivals around the world. She also shoot more than five shortfilms. The Honorable Chamber of Deputies of the Nation gave her a recognition because of her young professional trajectory. She won the prize Raymundo Gleyzer, from the National Institute of Film and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA), with her feature film Northern Winds. In this days, she is writting her first novel.
Fremdina Bianco An interview by Francis Quettier and Dora Tennant Hello Fremdina and welcome to this special edition of Women Cinemakers: before starting to elaborate about your artistic production would you like to tell us something about your background? Are there any experiences that did influence your evolution as a filmmaker and a creative?
Each experience that I live, however small and insignificant that is, influences my work and my creative processes. I think every work, at some point, is autobiographical. In this sense I like to use images from my childhood in Misiones (the place where I was born) and my condition of being a woman in society, take small elements that I know and take them to other contexts and
extremes, in the end fictionalize them. At the age of seventeen years old I moved to Buenos Aires to study cinema and started with directing and production careers at the ‘Universidad del Cine’. I also went to workshops with professionals such as Martín Rejtman, Natalia Forcada, María Laura Berch and Abbas Kiarostami. On the other hand, I am also part of a writing workshop by renowned Argentine writer Diego Paszkowski, from whom I learn a lot. Literature allows me to be free and find the tone of the characters that I take later to the movies. A while ago I trained in gender studies and feminisms and that has marked a before and after in my way of seeing the cinema and cultural industries in general. I deeply realized that cinema is a political tool and that stories also build and legitimize violence and therefore it is urgent and necessary to generate new content with a gender perspective.
have selected the
we , an interesting
documentary portrait of a women living in a town in Cuba, that our readers have already started to admire in the introductory pages of this article. What has at once captured our attention of your film is the way you provided the visual results of your : while walking
analysis with our readers through
would you tell us how did you develope the initial idea?
Xiomara Simple was to me an exercise. This short film had begun in a Workshop held in Cuba by the master Abbas Kiarostami, which consisted in the production and integral realization of a short film in less than ten days. He gave us then, the assignment “Cuba simple” (Simple Cuba), he wanted us to film simple people, to find those characters that make Cuba a place out of time and wonderful place. He wanted us to forget the great stories, the extraordinary stories, turning points and instead we had to focus in the details and intimacy of another way of life. I came up with an idea for a fiction and on the second day of workshop i told Abbas about it, he asked me instantly “what are you doing here in class? why aren’t you gathering your things and going to film?”, but at that time I
For this special edition of
Escaping from traditional narrative form, features a brilliant storytelling: how did you develop the script and the structure of the film?
When I met Xiomara i fell in love with her. She reminded me a lot of my grandmother and there is no doubt she treated me as if I was her granddaughter. From that moment, I began to take images to Kiarostami, who also offered to join me at the shooting and proposed me a challenge: it was the right moment and space to put pressure on the side and try new and different ways of telling. On each encounter with Abbas I showed him a preliminary edition of the material and he gave me feedback with new assignments to go to film. In ten days I had filmed at least three completely different ideas: I documented, set up the stage, let It flow, I focused on Xiomara, I
hadnâ€™t directed anything for a period of five years and It seemed to me that my script was really difficult to record with the production conditions we had, so I went back to Abbas and told him terrified, that I couldnâ€™t film. The master recommended me that I should forget all my fears and the eagerness to make great movie. He told me, we were on a workshop to learn, that i just had to follow my intuition and that I should not stop until Iâ€™ve founded a character that moved me, because without this character there is no movie.
was shoot with the supervision of accomplished film director Abbas Kiarostami: could you tell us something about this experience? In particular, what kind of teaching you received from the Iranian master?
Kiarostami taught me one of the most important things about making films: â€œfilming is an exerciseâ€?. Maybe he saw in me, a helpless and frightened filmmaker, and so, before looking at anything I had brought, he spoke me how a father speaks to his daughter and that became in one of the biggest lessons I had ever received. With humility and affection he told me: "Filming is a job and it is practise, with more films the better youâ€™ll do it". He told me a little anecdote about a supposed friend of his who made portraits of tourists on the beach, his working season lasted three months and the remaining nine months of the year was engaged in something else, then, the first period on the beach his friend started sketches insecure and sloppy lines, but as the days passed his drawings became more and more accurate and clear, and
filmed her family and neighbours, I made them act, I infiltrated in their daily life, I turned of the camera, I shared and I lived with them. Xiomara Simple is the result of that exercise.
He also told me that filming is an exercise for which we have to think about the world we have within our reach, and finished his idea like this: "Start shooting now, because when you finish this workshop and you have managed to do this short film, you will ask yourself why you didn’t film it before”. At that time, Abbas had no idea that after my first film ('No land without evil') I had dedicated my efforts to produce, a little bit because I liked it and a little bit -stronger- because I didn’t had the courage to direct. The experience with him in Cuba was warm and it achieved that after landing in Argentina I immediately started to organize my next shooting film. Flat images, meticulously composed are a landmark of your shooting style, especially in : what
did you use to
throughout your film? And what was your approach to
Mombyry's cinematography was made by Constanza Sandoval who has a rare sensitivity
so, on the last day of the season, he made a perfect portrait.
when it comes to lighting, and that also achieves through the light to transmit the mood of the characters and stories. Mombyry was shoot with a 50mm lens and we worked from a low key, with warm and desaturated colors, and natural light sources, with the aim of always prioritize the intimacy of the character and the world in which lives. Your stories are carried out by women and relates problems with regard to the themes of sexuality, religion and social mandate: in particular, we have appreciated the way NO LAND WITHOUT EVIL explores the wakening of a woman's sexuality. Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco once stated, "the artist’s role differs depending on which part of the world you’re in. It depends on the political system you’re living under". Not to mention that almost everything, ranging from Caravaggio's Inspiration of Saint Matthew to Joep van Lieshout's works, could be considered political, do you think that your work could be considered political in a certain sense? Moreover, what could be in your opinion the role of Art in the contemporary age?
My feature film was 'No land without evil'. I started working at it when I was nineteen years old while studying film at the University. At that time I was not aware of what it meant to make a movie and much less I knew how or where to put the camera.
In this sense, work was almost intuitive.. I had the strong need to tell that story and go back to the place where I was born and raised. Of course, the odyssey of filming â€˜No land without evilâ€™ in S16mm was possible thanks to the support of a lot of people and the impulse given me by my classmates. My little filmography is crossed by stories of women and in some way, all of them occurred or are linked to the region Littoral at the northeast of my country. I believe that these characteristics are transversal to any story I make, because all of them, directly or indirectly, are impregnated with local identity and problematize the role of women in society. Undoubtedly, everything depends on where you look, and it is impossible to escape from yourself. I canâ€™t speak beyond what I know and feel. I am a fervent advocate of honest stories. I think it is more important a movie with a soul than a perfect film and I believe, above all, that cinema is political, as it is any artistic expression. That the stories, inevitably, reproduce and establish social pacts. They transmit us codes on how to organize and teach us what is right and what is wrong. That is why, as I said before, I argue that stories build and legitimize violence, and that is why those who work in the media and cultural industries have the obligation and responsibility to generate new content with a
gender perspective that legitimize other configurations of life, love and happiness possible. I think that history can’t always be told by the same and that art should not be driven by spectacle and capitalism. It is urgent and necessary that other voices take their turn to speak. I believe that the role of art in these times is to assume the challenge of giving birth to new forms that are more egalitarian, plural, popular and inclusive. The film’s striking use of colors and lights depicts emotions and feelings in places where dialogue could not even scratch the surface: what were your main
of composition and shooting?
I have a certain affinity for open planes that allow me to compose from various elements such as light, art, the disposition of the characters, the internal movements of the plane and, above all, the temporality. I try to convey a state of things, I like more how the storm is formed than the storm itself. I think the word is important, but I also believe that the cinema has multiple elements of staging that can reflect what one wants without the need to resort to the text.
The sound of the ambience plays an important role in
: according to media
theorist Marshall McLuhan there is a '
that affects contemporary societies favoring , a shift that occurred with the advent of the alphabet as the eye became more essential than ear: how do you see ?
The sound design of Xiomara Simple, which I worked with Eloy Brollo, was aimed at generating an atmosphere. The portrait of Xiomara is a simple, small and intimate story. To achieve this intimacy, we thought it was best to mark the sounds that made up her world. Therefore, keeping the direct sound was fundamental, the environments couldn’t be replaced because they are part of the portrait, do context, and the sounds that can be heard can’t be heard elsewhere. With this basis, we seek to incorporate or emphasize elements that allow the viewer to enter into the silence and intimacy of the day of Xiomara. I think through the sound it builds the tension of the scenes and the climate of the film. What escapes the camera can always be heard. I like to think that sound is the beating of images.
As a feminist, she always works under a gender
that your being a woman provides your artistic
perspective: so we want to catch this occasion
research with some special value?
to ask you to express your view on the future of women in cinema. For more than half a century women have been discouraged from getting behind the camera, however in the last decades there are signs that something is changing. What's your view on the future of women in cinema? In particular, do you think
I believe that in the history of cinema, and the world in general, we have more than one ancestress to whom to refer and to admire, I am of those people who think that to build a future we must have memory. I also feel that we are currently living the collective awakening of a gender consciousness. It is
true that today we can find many women who work in front and behind the camera and that there are some terrains that we have begun to conquer, nevertheless, women in the cinema and the media don’t stop being part of the exception's speech. Some studies claim that women behind camera account for only 19% audiovisual productions made in Hollywood and Argentine, according to a report by ‘Un Pastiche, Género y Comunicación’, for every
4.3 men there is only one woman working behind camera. So we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Here in Argentina we have an Association, of which I am a member, called The Woman and the Cinema, which in 2018 turns thirty years of its foundation and whose main goal is to spread and stimulate the work done by women. This current year, was also created in Buenos Aires, the group of Women Audiovisuals, which had the particularity of
spreading the need for action in women throughout the country, which is something wonderful for me because it is also necessary to decentralize production. However, practice shows us that there are a lot of women who study and are trained in the audiovisual but who later are unable to earn a living of this. It is also remarkable that in schools and universities (in general) when it comes to matters of national cinema history it isn’t studied the case of female filmmakers like Maria Luisa Bemberg that are relevant when thinking about our cinematography, or that they are merely named and passed. On the other hand, in my country, a woman is killed every nineteen hours. In this sense, it is urgent not only to discuss and make visible the problems of women in the audiovisual industry, but also to begin to dispute the speech. It is necessary to generate new stories with a gender perspective that take women out of the discourse of subalternity and place them as an example of other models of possible life. We have a duty to legitimize new speeches. It is urgent and necessary that new voices ingress, that we stop being narrated by others and that we narrate ourselves.
Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Fremdina. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving?
I am currently developing the full-length film project ‘Northern winds’ (Viento norte), which has won the Raymundo Gleyzer Contest of the Argentinean Film and Audiovisual Arts Institute (INCAA). It’s a fictional film that tells how Marilí’s dreams break after the death of her mother, when she must return to her hometown to take care of her younger sister and the family business, the town poulterer's shop. ‘Northern Winds” is inspired by a theatrical production by the dramatist Ana Luz Kallsten and is intended to be filmed entirely in the province of Misiones under Luciano Pensa and Vecinas Company’s production. In addition, I find myself discovering new artistic expressions that allow me to play with the construction of characters and pour out in a story those things that appeal to me to but cannot be filmed. This is how I began to write ‘This is what happens to me’ (Esto que me pasa) my first literary novel.
Solène Guichard An interview by Francis Quettier and Dora Tennant 5W is a captivating video by writer, director and photographer Solène Guichard that initiates her audience into an unconventional and heightened visual experience, drawing them through a dreamlike dimension, when contemporarily addressing them to investigate about the limit of the questions What, When, Where, Who and Why. We are particularly pleased to introduce our readers to her captivating work. Hello Solène and welcome to WomenCinemakers: you are a versatile video artist: would tell us something about your background? In particular, how did your studies of Cinema and Philosophy influence your trajectory as a creative? First of all, thank you for this interview; it is such an honour to be able to discuss my work with you and to highlight the female voice in the film/video industry!
I was born in 1993 in France. My first dream was to be a ballet dancer. I started ballet at the age of six but then stopped at 16 which was also the age at which I started to study film. It was an option available in the school I was attending in Reims, France. That's how I learnt how to make a film. The course was both theoretical and practical. So I graduated with my baccalaureat which is the equivalent of A-levels and then I didn't really know what to do. I knew I loved the cinema but I didn't know if I should try to have a career in the film industry. So I moved to Nancy and for a year I followed a specialised course in order to try to pass national exams, still with Film studies as an option. However, I didn't do the second year as I kind of realised that I was not interested in the National exams. So I just went to university straight into second year in Philosophy, which is a subject I have also always loved. What I really liked about my background in philosophy is that, because this subject is so wide and deep at the same time, I was allowed to go deeper in my thoughts to be able to explain them better. In third year, however, I realised I was missing film studies as it was the first time in four years I didn't have it at least as an option. So I learned about at film school called Institut Europeen du Cinema Audiovisuel (IECA) which you could start in the third year. So I decided to do this school at the same time as I was finishing my Bachelor in philosophy… and it worked! I had a very busy year but it was 100% worth it. The same year, to finish my bachelor in film studies, I had to do a two-months work placement. I didn't want to spend two months in
So now I can talk in even more detail about 5W in order to show the link between philosophy and film. The film itself is about Philosophy and would not have come across my mind if I didn't study philosophy. It seemed perfect to make this film as my Master’s final project is it kind of shows a defining moment in my studies. Because this film was made for my masters, I had to show that I was not only able to make a film but also to give the reflection about it; what is a film? I was able to experiment a bit with the story and the filmmaking process. And I think my philosophical background helped me a lot, even in writing the script itself as I was able to speculate on irrefutable questions such as ‘what’ or ‘why’. I also refreshed my philosophical knowledge during the second year of the Masters. Indeed, the course entitled ‘Cinema, History and Memory’ questioned these three words and, to answer, I read the notes I wrote back in France during my Bachelor in philosophy. I think 5W finds its inspiration in the works of older philosopher’s like Plato’s two worlds theory, i.e. the world of reality and the metaphysical world which can be neither accessed nor known. By suggesting that sometimes answers cannot be found, 5W also presents a sceptical approach to the world, just like in scepticism, i.e the philosophical position that one should refrain from making truth claims and avoid the postulation of final truths. However, answers can be found through the existence of God. Studying some philosophers who believed or proved the existence of God made me realise that religion has its place in the meaning of life. As a consequence, I included religious symbols in 5W in the last draft such as the necklace or Adam’s bleeding stigmas when Julia is away. Adam is also a name taken from the Bible.
Paris so I decided to try to find a work placement in an English speaking country. And that's how I ended up in Belfast! I fell in love with the city and the country. While I was completing this very good placement I was hearing a lot about Queen’s University and its masters in film studies. I applied and I was successful. Now I have completed my part-time Master's at Queen’s University Belfast.
Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production, would you like to tell our readers something about the evolution of your style? In particular, do you think that there is a central idea that connects all your works? I try not to think about style really because I think it might put me in a state of mind in which I would not feel free to create. To me, each project is different. The important evolution through my projects is just to get better at it. I just make films that feel right to me, at that right moment, with the right people at the right time, with no special thoughts about my evolution as an artist. Maybe if I were to make a trilogy or series, I would think of keeping it consistent. Usually, the audience actually says to me that my work is, maybe not chaotic, but at least pleasantly inconsistent. It can be seen as a good thing to be able to switch style, to experiment with different genres. I hope for me it isn't a weakness! However, I think I would feel bored or restricted just sticking to a particular genre. I would not say that I have a central idea because as I said each film will mean something different to me. However, the more films I make, the more common subjects, symbols or objects I found I was using repeatedly. Putting into perspective 5Wâ€™s story to my previous work, Lady Angel, the main common point between Lady Angel and 5W
To me, even if you don't make an abstract or an experimental film, a film has to convey a message, a philosophical message. It could be about love, passion, work, religion, justice, which are actually real matters in philosophy. It could be about anything really, as long as it has a deeper meaning as it makes the audience understand or realise something important. That's why I think every screenwriter or filmmaker should be able to think about abstract subjects, and a film should have its own answer and its own voice. Philosophy is a starting point in every project and is what can sometimes drive me to create films.
For this special edition of WomenCinemakers, we have selected 5W, a captivating work that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article. What has at once captured our attention of your insightful inquiry into the intrinsic limits to the five w questions is the way you have provided the visual results of your analysis with a coherent combination between autonomous aesthetics and visual consistency. While walking our readers through the genesis of 5W, would you tell what did draw you to focus on this theme? The w questions occurred to me when I was writing this script because I had really to wonder why my main character was running and I just I just went deeper into reflection. To write the story I had to ask myself where the story took place, when and who was my character and what was he doing. So that's also when I realised that to me, either way, I had to contain the other four questions. The why question explains the circumstances, that are dealt with who what where and when. And these are questions we just use every day. For example, for an appointment or just for a meeting, we need to know where and when to go to. When you go to the dentist, you know that you need to go there on Monday at 11 am. You also know who you're going to see and what it is for. I know this is maybe a trivial example but it just shows that these are the questions that we use on a regular basis without thinking of them. Of course, an appointment with the dentist is a pretty simple situation. But what
regarding symbolism is the use of religious objects or ideas in both films. Lady Angel is about a bad angel driving an innocent girl to madness. I used a necklace that symbolises Juliaâ€™s faith, just as I used a necklace with an angel. I like symbolism and using it is usually a strong part of my stories. For instance, I've noticed that the idea of the dream comes back often. There is a short film I made me the BBC called Surrealistic Self which is really about a character who has a dream. The short film before that called How do I know? uses flashbacks with a dreamy look, just like in 5W. I just think I wasnâ€™t aware of that until someone pointed it out to me. I prefer the audience to do the thinking, or I guess it's something I will notice when I will have more films done.
It was pretty interesting to make the flashbacks correspond to one of the five questions (or are there four questions as the why is the final scene) and to the story. Maybe it is a constraint but, in the end, I think each flashback shows the W question well. It also shows that in certain situations some W questions are intertwined and respond to each other. The what question corresponds to what happened, which is a pretty simple question but again in such an extreme situation is just takes a whole new dramatical dimension. The where question is associated with the sentimental breakup; where did she go? The who is put in an extreme situation as well by wondering who kidnapped her? The where is also included in this scene; it was hard not to! When in the film is linked to the wait and the pain. The when also shows in this scene that something important can happen at an impromptu time. Finally, the why, as I said earlier, is the result of all the flashback scenes because it is to me the results of all the other questions. And to mean the answer to that question why is that the main character saw a murder they shouldn't have seen and again captured his ex-girlfriend in order to get revenge, as they think he is the murderer. Escaping from linear narrative form, 5W features unique and nonlinear storytelling, capable of addressing the viewers to a multilayered visual experience: how did you develop the script and the structure of the film?
about more complex situations such as crime, murder, theft and suicide? And by asking myself this question that sounds very simple, you actually realise that the answer is far from being simple. In a car accident, for example, you don't really know who the driver is or what he was doing but those circumstances combine at the at the wrong time and an accident happens. Then that's why the posters for the film say that it's just so hard to wonder why. Even asking why is too hard. The question itself hurts and then the answer will hurt as well.
The screenwriting course I attended at Queen’s was the starting point for this project. Beforehand, I did not know about story structure. The screenwriting classes I took in France were only about writing stories that were liked by the teachers. I never heard about author's theory like Robert McKee’s before coming to Queen’s. This was an eye-opener. I discovered a new tool I could play with. That’s how I started to write stories and to reorder them. The first draft of 5W, entitled Run, was written around March 2015. It was entitled Run as it was already about someone running. From the start, the concept was for the audience to learn flashback by flashback why the main character was running. After spending a few days
on the development, I left Run in a drawer for a few months to write Lady Angel instead, which is the script I worked on for the screenwriting course. After my semester had finished, I decided to keep this concept for later in my career. Then, when the opportunity of doing my final project came, I thought it was time for me to adapt this concept to my Masters’ requirements. Between Run and 5W, there were not that many changes. Indeed, the aim of this film in both versions is not only wondering why the man is running but also to open a reflection on what the W questions are: what, where, who, when, why. Even if these questions can be put to good use in order to write or at least start a story, I
wanted to write a film that shows that they can be harder than they sound. To do so, I had to change Run: indeed, by writing down Run in a script template, I realised that the audience might be confused. The idea of Run was to find plausible explanations for his running by giving the right answer only at the end. For example, the main character would have run to train for a marathon, or because he is late for work, etc. However, the non-coherence between each plausible explanation was too distracting and inefficient. I thought that a story was needed for the flashbacks to make sense. The flashbacks actually needed to have happened rather than maybe have happened. That’s the reason why I decided to lay the emphasis on the coherence of the story and to add some criminals in 5W. I also had a few references in mind: the most famous film to mention regarding the nonlinearity in 5W is Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941). Considered by many critics, filmmakers, and fans to be the greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane was voted as such in five consecutive ‘Sight & Sound’ polls of critics, until it was displaced by Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958) in the 2012 poll. Citizen Kane eschews the traditional chronological narrative and tells Kane's story entirely in flashback. Citizen Kane also keeps the answer hidden from the audience until the last shot of the film. In 5W the audience wants to know why the main character is running, and similarly, the viewer of Citizen Kane only understands the meaning of ‘Rosebud’ at the end with a close-up, like on the necklace in 5W. Another reference to mention regarding nonlinear storytelling is the film Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2001). In this film, the flashbacks are shown backwards, in black and white. It is during the final revelation, in which the two timelines merge, that the film finds its meaning. It inspired me to create the twist in the story ending in which the audience finally understands the whole story. Moreover, this film belongs to the so-called neo-noir genre which I
thought was very efficient in this type of storytelling. The film noir is a genre originally described by the French critic Nino Frank in 1946 as he noticed how dark the settings and themes of these Hollywood films were. Many of the neo-noir films correspond to films with the same mood made after the classical Hollywood period. I made the same choice of genre in writing the backstory of 5W as it deals with murder and revenge. We have appreciated your peculiar use of low angle shots: what were your aesthetic decisions when shooting? In particular, what was your approach to lighting?
To answer this question, I’m going to quote my ‘mentor’ in lighting: Gordon Willis. Watching Gordon Willis’ last interview was very helpful in making this film. I learned that: ‘There are no formulas. Formulas come from you.’ Hearing from someone who made the most famous shots in film history that the lights’ most important job is to create meaning to the scene, no matter how you do it, comforted me in my choice of avoiding the copying of images or looking for ‘formulas’ to think of the cinematography. I think that most of the credit on this aspect of 5W goes to Rik Gordon, who helped me on this project and agreed to be the DP. He is also a very good film director based in Northern Ireland. However, I will try to answer this questions with the thoughts I had in preproduction of 5W. I went for a cold look for most of the film as that's how the main character is for some scenes. For example, in the breakup scene, it's only after a few hours that he decides to run after his love. In this scene, I wanted to represent a relationship like in Her (Spike Jonze, 2013). In addition to representing a plausible living
room, this scene was about having a big bay window to represent the coldness and the lucidity of the break-up. The audience is not sure of where the scene takes place. It symbolises the two charactersâ€™ relationship: they do not know either where they are or where they are going to. Most of the film sticks to this cold feeling: blue is to me a beautiful colour, one of my favourites, but it also brings a sort of sadness. I chose warmer colours for the gang scenes, with more shadows and only one spotlight to make the scene look uncomfortable. I wanted to make a reference to The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) and a similar atmosphere to present the criminals for the first time, with a warm light although I still wanted to use one light source. The aim was to make the audience assimilate more easily the criminals of 5W to a mafia because The Godfather is a famous piece of cinematographic art. Even if I think in the end the reference is not very obvious, I think the cinematography of this gang scene still stands out from the rest of 5W. Also, the film starts with warm colours to imply that the gang will have an important role; that indeed it is because of it that the main character has to run. The warm spotlights in the streets represent each member of the gang looking at him, or even just the pressure that the character is under from the gang. For the most part of the shoot, we had no choice but to do with what we had and what we could do. We didn't have a huge amount of equipment so I guess we were pretty much relying on the weather. For the ending, I wanted a pink sunrise but it's the rain that got the last wordâ€Ś! It actually brings a heavier atmosphere and makes the ending look very dramatic, but I will let you decide which weather would have been best because, in the end, I couldn't change it!
Finally, in terms of shots, I have to say that I am a big fan of shots that only the audience can see, that is to say, shots showing details that characters can't see. I use close-ups because it allows the camera to focus on details. When a close-up is used on an actor, its shows and emphasises his or her emotions. When being used on an object, it tells something in particular to the audience, depending on the context and situation. For example, the shot showing the cross attached to the bag implies that this object will become important, even if it is something that Adam cannot see. As you noticed, I like to film feet running or walking; it's maybe a little strange but, to me, it's the perfect way to show movement and implying mystery by hiding the rest of the character, their body, clothes, face â€Ś I think that the low angles make the world of 5W pretty small in order to bring an uncomfortable feeling. It makes my character feel very heavy and down to earth. That's also why, in the end, the scene takes place on the bridge as if the characters understand the pain of the why question, at a little higher level from the ground. We like the way 5W also speaks to the subconscious sphere of the spectatorship: as you have remarked once, one of the aims of this film is also to show as less as possible in order for every single person to have a different understanding of the same images: what are you hoping 5W will trigger in the viewers? In particular, are you interested in addressing your audience to elaborate personal interpretations?
You have just pointed out a very important aspect of my work. The audience needs to have its own perspective on a film. Of course, the film itself needs to be good, i.e. needs to have a good storyline, good characters, etc. But, in my opinion, the film isn't only good for the film itself, it needs to be good for the audience to be able to appreciate it and to put into its own words. It needs to talk to the audience, basically. But what I'm really interested in is not only to deliver a message as a whole, not only to consider the audience as a whole but to consider each individual mind that makes up the audience. I'm looking at several interpretations of the
same thing because that's what makes us individually. We can I apply this idea to anything, to any piece of art; a painting, a book, a song. Even if I know that probably one day I will just make the film for maybe the sake of its story, just to tell a story to the audience, 5W is a good example of my will to create something that the audience makes too, in their own way, by deconstructing or reconstructing it. The audience can effectively fill in the holes the way they want, thanks to the flashbacks and the structure of 5W. I hope to be able to show that everybody has their own experience of the world. I would like to
encourage people not to go to the cinema just to watch the film, just for emotions but for the overall experience it will provide. I don't mean just watching this big screen with good quality sounds and images with crunchy pop corns but through the emotional experience and for their thoughts it will create, like an earthquake in their mind. Furthermore, regarding 5W, as I said earlier, I wanted to point out the five W questions and open a new perspective on this to the audience. When I first wrote this story, when it was still entitled Run, I considered this concept as a philosophical drama. I wanted to bring a little philosophy in video form. In order to
include some philosophy in my film, one of my inspirations is Woody Allen, who does this job with perfection, in a different genre from 5W of course. I definitely can say that I would like 5W to be an introduction to philosophy for people who don't know anything about it because I believe philosophy is asking questions people donâ€™t really think of. It is to go deeper than expected and I guess that can be useful in a film, depending on what style you're going for. Each flash-back of 5W is filmed in slow-motion to get a dreamy look: how did you balance the equilibrium between the real and the imagined when conceiving your film?
This question was pretty important to me as I was first thinking about 5W not in terms of scriptwriting but also in terms of directing. How to make the audience understand these two levels in the story? I knew I wanted a different look but it took a while to come up with what I really did in the end. I always try to avoid black-and-white for the flashbacks and colour for the present time as I think it can look very, I would say, cheap or unoriginal, even if it was done brilliantly in Memento. That is how I came up with this idea of slowmotion; first of all, just because I love slow-motion as it creates a very good atmosphere, as if time stopped. Secondly, because it seemed appropriate for 5W. Slow-
motion is a good way of exploring the flashbacks because it implied that these scenes were memories and not fixed in present time as the footage is not normal speed. However, slow-motion in itself was not enough. Here are also the other tricks I chose to use: the little lower contrast during the flashback is also intentional. It emphasises that it is a memory in which colours are fading away. Since I wanted to show that these flashbacks were subjective I had to use more artefacts than slow-motion and colour correction. Some scenes are sharply edited, for example, the scene of the murder,: to emphasise the fact that the flashbacks are seen through my main character’s mind;, the dead body is discovered via quick shots, almost like flashes to show the trauma and distress caused by the situation. The other tool I used was sound. At first sight, the sound appeared like a problem for me to resolve as I wondered how to portray the dialogue in slow-motion, how to make my characters speak during the flashbacks if they are in slow-motion. I was thinking about deleting all dialogue or slowing it down to sync the images, but then I realised that I could use this problem as a great advantage. The sound is intentionally not synced for the flashbacks again to accentuate the same idea of a moment captured in an instant and quite vague in the lead character’s mind. It looks/ sounds like the dialogue is actually coming from his mind, that the dialogue is actually only the words he remembers. Furthermore, there is sound design in each flashback. I found some creative common tracks on the internet that I felt appropriate for the scene. It is actually interesting to remember that we were shooting those flashback scenes as an actual scene, I mean live action footage, and to realise how much it changed in the edit and how you can transform reality with a few artefacts!
So overall: slow-motion, colour correction, sound and editing are used altogether to show some memories through the main character’s mind. Flashbacks are not only about giving meaning to the story but also to show that memories are bits and pieces put together; you can sometimes only remember a detail or a word but never the overall situation. That's why I didn't want to shoot these flashbacks using a third person point of view. Also, the main character is so emotionally involved that I wanted this dreamy look for the audience to actually wonder if the scenes really happened or not, because I guess, when people go through a trauma, they tend to lose their grip on reality. The combination between footage and sound provides 5W with such captivating uncanny atmosphere: the ending sequence of your film reminds us of À nos amours by French cinematographer Maurice Pialat, for your brilliant use of opera singing: how did you select the music for your film? Moreover, how do you see the relationship between sound and moving images? I had no budget for this film. I would have loved to have had a composer on board, which I did at the start but he had to cancel his participation due to health issues. So I ended up using creative common soundtracks. It is pretty amazing to have so many soundtracks online; you just need to be patient to spend a good few hours to research and to listen on the audio web jungle! Some good tracks can be found and that's why I invite readers to check out the credits and the soundtracks (but not only!) And spend a little time on the artists’ SoundCloud. As I said in the previous answer, I used some soundtracks to highlight the dreamy effect of the flashbacks. Each sound design represents the
To me, there is a religious aspect in 5W. It is shown with blue Christian cross in the film but I guess I need to go back to the idea of the W questions. This whole religious direction came across my mind a little after writing the script. I realised that one of the plausible answer to the question “why” could be religion. If you accept the fact that everything happens for a reason, that there is a God, then all the answers to the W questions in whatever circumstances will be automatically there. This brings us back to the beginning of this interview with the link between Philosophy and Metaphysics and 5W. This idea about religion explains the use of an Ave Maria at the end of the film. Despite the religious aspects, I think Schubert’s Ave Maria is one of the most beautiful songs of all time; it makes me shiver every time I listen to it! I think it's a song that creates a very graceful and peaceful atmosphere to contrast with what happens on screen. I actually obtained a version locally recorded by a music producer in Northern Ireland, Declan Legge, who kindly let me use his track for the version I made for Queen’s University. However, because I wasn’t sure I had the right to use the piano part, I found a creative common version in order to put it online and apply to a few things. In the script, in the final scene, Adam was talking to the audience, explaining what the film was about and saying that sometimes it's hard to answer the W questions. However, I deleted this voice-over at the very end because I considered that the final score was enough to end the film. This soundtrack has its importance to me as it is a religious song and works with the atmosphere. However, I had to add some reverberation to soften the sound as the song originally sounded overpowering compared to the images. We want to catch this occasion to ask you to express your view on the future of women in new media art. For more than half a century women have been discouraged from getting behind the camera, however, in the last decades, there are signs that something is changing. What's your
emotions of the scene, how Adam feels when these things happen. However, there is more to say regarding the soundtrack of 5W, especially for the ending. I will have to deviate a little from the question in order to fully explain the opera track.
view on the future of women in Art and especially in video making? I'm so glad you asked this question and I’m honoured to talk about this topic, as it is something important that helped me too, in a way! Even if my experience is centred around the film industry, I guess it's the same in the arts. As you said, there is a form of inequality in the film industry. Since the 1930s, female workers in the film industry have had roles like screenwriters, scripts, makeup artists… The film industry tends to be a conservative place, in which everybody had their place and things may move on screen but not really behind the camera. I guess only a few female directors are worldwide renowned compared to their male colleagues. Only a few females directors made it in Hollywood. It is hard to realise on an individual scale but I was very shocked when I learnt that fifty percent of entrants to films schools are women, but only about 10% of UK films are directed by women… and the number drops to 2% for blockbusters. Females are underrepresented in the industry as a whole, even if they have the same potential or interest in films as their male colleagues! The dream would be to say that the gender of an artist doesn’t really matter as long as the work is good. Unfortunately, as long as the inequalities will be there, it can’t be ignored and it needs to be fixed! The numbers are there. By trying to explain them we can maybe fix this but for now, I think that more opportunities targeted towards women are a fair solution. I was recently lucky enough to benefit from an opportunity for female directors organised by the BBC. It happened earlier this year and was called ‘BBC Two Minute Masterpiece’. Five films were made. I was fortunate to be one of the six filmmakers. I wrote and directed a two-minute film with some funding from the BBC entitled Surrealistic Self. It was broadcast in May on BBC2 Northern Ireland, in the Arts Show. It is available on BBC iPlayer with the other five films; I think if you just Google it you would be able to watch it! Anyway, it was a very good opportunity for emerging female directors and producers to get a film made with a very good mentorship and some funding!
Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, SolĂ¨ne. Finally, would you like to tell us, readers, something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving? My plan is just to keep going, basically! I have a few other stories to tell on which I am working on. So Iâ€™m writing short scripts in order to make them. I think that will keep me busy for a good couple of years, at least!. However, my plan in the long term will be to stop writing and to focus on directing only, as I don't want to be a writer because I am sure there are some unique voices out there to write stories. My interest is in bringing the script to the screen. I think I would like to stick to dramas and fictional stories but I guess this is might change as my work evolves. My interests will probably stay in experimental films as well: there are so many visuals or cinematic techniques I have to try! I also know that I am not ready yet to make feature films but again if I come across a good story then I would love to tell it on screen in the future. I also have a keen interest in animation. I don't really know anything about it in detail but I think this will be something I will investigate for the future in order to make, perhaps, animation short films or even cartoon series, why not! As long as I keep on making videos and films in the years to come that speak to people, I will be happy! Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to talk about my work. As I am an emerging artist, it is sometimes tricky to get my voice heard so that was a real pleasure to share my thoughts with you. If you are interested in checking out my blog it is thaliiafilms.wordpress.com and I also have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, loads of things for your readers to check out!
I think this shows that, as you said, mentalities are changing. People are aware of the gap and that's the first step! We need more womenâ€™s perspectives in the world and as long as opportunities like the BBC Two Minute Masterpiece exist, I have faith!
Hannah Ford Lives and works in Vancouver, BC, Canada
Hannah Ford is a filmmaker whose work is often minimalist and satirical; her short film “Terry’s Last Intern” (2014) won Underwire's Best Under 25 Award, was nominated for Best Woman Director at London Short Film Festival and selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries, alongside “The Menu.” She has also made work especially for Daata Editions, Opening Titles, Transition Gallery and recently completed post production for a short film funded by Institute of Contemporary Arts, as part of their STOP PLAY RECORD programme. However “turtleneck” was an entirely independent production and is her most narrative work to date. The film is an ode to anyone stuck in an entry-level existence and first screened publicly at Doomed Gallery at the end of 2016, followed by its online release supported by DISPATCH in the spring. hannahfordfilm.com turtleneckthefilm.com
Hannah Ford An interview by Francis Quettier and Dora Tennant Elegantly shot and featuring unconventional , is a film still effective storytelling, by Hannah Ford, that we are pleased to introduce to our readers. Hello Hannah and welcome to this special edition of : before starting to elaborate about your artistic production would you like to tell us something about your background? You have a solid formal training and after having earned your BA from the Rhode Island School of Desing you nurtured your education with a Bachelor's Degree of Communication Design and Illustration, that you received from the Glasgow School of Art. How did these experiences influence your evolution as a filmmaker and a creative?
Thanks so much for inviting me to take part. I actually only went to RISD for one semester but being able to study film there, especially 16mm, definitely helped me have more conviction in my work. John Terry was my tutor
there and he was so encouraging of these short comedies I was making. The rest of the time I was studying Communication Design/Illustration in Glasgow but I always struggled to get all of my ideas across in my work, plus to be in a design department, there’s always that element of problem solving that I just don’t think really motivates me. I’m much more led by small observations - satire, synchronicities and bringing those to light. I don’t really solve any problems in my work, I’m just trying to vocalise and share the uneasiness and hoping that’s enough for people to relate to. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production, we would suggest to our readers to visit http://hannahfordfilm.com in order to get a synoptic view of your work. In the meanwhile, would you like to tell to our readers something about your process and set up?
My writing process is pretty slow and steady journalling is so integral but I’m mostly just writing small things here and there and after a while, some patterns start to emerge or I can’t stop coming back to a phrase that I keep rewording or a drawing that I keep sketching. Before naming the project turtleneck, I had been
Then things tend to pick up speed but as I’m writing in more of a script form, I still switch to drawing whenever I get stuck, then it becomes a process of figuring out how to lead the narrative to those images. As for my logistical set-up I’m so minimal but filmmaking can be a really dull process for anyone just waiting around, so I feel like a small crew is actually way more beneficial in a lot of ways. It’s so much more collaborative. After filming the whole process goes back to the beginning again with just me editing and thankfully I was lucky enough to have Rachael Grant (Cracked Hands) be the sound designer and Vlad Barin as the colourist. They definitely elevated the whole project and helped me make turtleneck my most refined film. For this special edition of we have selected , an interesting film that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article. What has at once captured our attention of your inquiry into the consequences of living in an era of over-analysing is the way you provided the visual results of your analysis with : while walking our readers through of , would you tell us what did you address to this topic?
writing a lot of phrases that all seemed linked but I didn’t know what I was going to do with them. Then I kept drawing the image of a character with a turtleneck jumper pulled right over their face and that connected all the words I was writing.
Escaping from traditional narrative form, features a brilliant storytelling, reminding us of Chantal Ackerman's early work: how did you of the film?
I think I’ve always felt kind of daunted by the idea that you have to tell a story in a specific way especially with short film, there’s this expectation to have a punch-line and that was just the antithesis of what I was feeling at the time. turtleneck is really about not knowing all the answers, pretty much all of the characters are keeping something to themselves, or at least that was the intention. When it came to structuring the film I just had all of these scenarios written out on separate pieces of paper, along with some sketches I’d drawn and started moving them around. Once I started doing that some of the characters started swapping places and then after filming, the river sequences became these moments to breathe and hopefully allow the audience to just steep and see if any lines or moments were resonating with them. Those sequences were originally going to involve so much more action but I’m so glad they ended up as these quiet meditations, especially with Mt. Judge’s music. That was the first
Not gonna lie, I just googled autonomous aesthetics. I’m not really someone who begins a project with a lot of theory, I’m mostly working intuitively. In art school I pressured myself into making work with this overly analytical frame of mind but it just led me to shut down a lot of my ideas and interrupted the natural flow of working. It’s hard for me to think of my work in an academic way, I’m too close to it and although I do like reading theory, I prefer when it just becomes subconscious.
features elegantly shot temps mort and we have appreciated the film’s rigorous and expressive compositions: what were your when shooting? In particular, what was your approach to lighting?
In the mood boards for turtleneck I sent out, there was a lot of photography by Jessica Williams, particularly a series she produced called Sympathetic Objects. She has this really beautiful way of capturing emotion in these mass produced, everyday things. I’d also been taking a lot of photographs in the area which ended up in the zine I made for the film but those were all taken without preempting a series, one of my favourite spreads is of this detached, drooping orchid and on the other side Slosi (who plays Jules) in a posture really similar. So there’s a lot of cases where plant life mirrors that of the characters, trying to thrive in environments that aren’t giving them all they need. The whole film was storyboarded, even the shots of objects or just scenery but that was really more to assure me that I had a plan since I was the Producer too. In the entire film we only really used lighting for the nighttime scenes, the rest was making use of an overcast London summer. I think my favourite example of lighting is the scene where Turtleneck is sitting with a beer, Matt Mead (the Cinematographer) chose to set up something super simple but the warmth of that light makes it feel so
day of filming and originally I wanted this summer blue sky but when it ended up overcast and raining that helped set the tone so much better.
http://www.jessicawilliams.info/ http://www.phasesmag.com/jessicawilliams/sympathetic-objects/#s-1 : however Dialogue play a crucial aspect in your film’s striking use of colors and light depicts emotions and feelings in places where dialogue could not even scratch the surface: how did you balance the equilibrium between dialogue and the messages conveyed by images? In particular, how would you consider the relationship between sound and moving images in your work?
Colour palette was something I was really wary of, a few people have said that turtleneck feels like a mumblecore movie and I’m influenced by a lot of filmmakers that came out of that “movement” of just using DSLRs and not waiting for permission to make something. However, a lot of those films aren’t stylised in a visual sense and I guess I wanted people to be able to look at the film stills and to recognise it as part of one entity. In the film there’s a lot of pastel blue and green which was a way to create these echoes between characters but the palette was really dictated by my surroundings, which was the industrial estate I was living in at the time. When I was looking for people to cast, I sent them mood boards and reels, as well as the script, it just helps fill in the blanks. I think that balance between dialogue and images only really becomes clear in the editing process for me. There’s a lot of passive aggressive lines in the script and those tend to be followed up by quieter
much more intimate and it’s a nice contrast to the blue light from phones or laptops in similar shots.
scenes, where we get a more accurate glimpse into the characters’ mindsets. Sound is really where the whole thing begins to feel real to me though, maybe because when I’m writing at the beginning, I’m usually listening to music that resonates with the mood I’m trying to conjure up. Then when the film’s almost done, music is usually one of the final elements. With its characteristically clever attention to detail, addresses the viewers to such immersive visual experience: what are you hoping your film will trigger in the spectatorship?
turtleneck is in no way a thriller, it’s subtle and attempting to critique the things we allow to get in the way of connecting with each other. I think there’s been a bit of a shift within the last couple of years though, of people being more open to vulnerability yet dating apps and or competitive work environments with pressure to be perceived as successful, can easily undo a lot of that progress. It’s interesting to me that a lot of what would have been labelled “over-sharing” a couple of years ago, is now getting vocalised on a regular basis through instagram, I guess as a reaction against portraying a perfectly curated lifestyle. I’m all for the next paradigm. What was your preparation with actors in terms of reharsal? Did you address your actor to act instinctively or did you methodically structure the process? In particular, do you like ?
Despite being super controlling when it comes to things like colour, I love spontaneity. All my favourite moments in turtleneck are where the actors are working with something that went “wrong” or when I kept the direction really loose and they all just figured out something
instinctively. Near the beginning of the film there’s a wideshot of Clara Pluton and Caro Luttringer where they’re pushing Luccia Rennie along on this office chair. They lined up everything so perfectly in the very first take, so that she appears and reappears behind a little tree and it was just a real indication of how in sync they all were. They didn’t even know they’d done it but it just worked. As for all the scenes with dialogue, those were rehearsed but those rehearsals were really just to get people comfortable with each other. The conversations between practice takes are probably way more important. There was only one scene I didn’t do rehearsals for and to me that scene sticks out a little. turtleneck didn’t really change much from script to film, apart from the actual order of the scenes with some cut out here and there. However, I think I’d like to try something where the dialogue can have elements of improvisation too, along with less storyboarding. We can recognize such subtle socio political criticism in your words, when depicting our unstable contemporary age:
. Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco once stated, "
". Not to mention that almost everything, ranging from Caravaggio's Inspiration of Saint Matthew to Joep van Lieshout's works, could be , what could be in your opinion considered the role of filmmakers in the contemporary age?
It’s so easy now to make something look and appear “cool”, to create these really refined images. The more money you have, the more you can control those images and of course that’s true of politics too. Ego and aesthetics will probably always dominate any art form that I think as long as your motivation isn’t just to add to that noise, you might be surprised at how many people are willing to listen. Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Hannah. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving?
Thank you for such thoughtful questions, at the moment a short film I made called Nosophoros is touring England until the spring of 2018 as part of a larger exhibition called Playback. The film was supported by the Institute of Contemporary Arts’ STOP PLAY RECORD scheme and was my first time working on something where the score was completely original, thanks to Loner Muaka (who also goes by Lones, he was the main sound recordist for turtleneck too) and Ahmad Taqiudin. It’ll be released at some point online soon (I update all that kind of stuff@hannahfordfilm). Other than that I would love to work towards making a feature film. At the moment I’m just writing and waiting for the pieces to present themselves as part of the same thread but I’m trying to take a bit of a breather too. I recently moved from London in the UK to Vancouver so it feels good to be looking at things through a slightly different lens.
Aislínn Clarke An interview by Francis Quettier and Dora Tennant Hello Aislinn and welcome to WomenCinemakers: to start this interview we would ask you a couple of questions regarding your background. Are there any experiences that particularly influence the way you currently conceive and produce your works? Moreover, how does your cultural substratum inform your career? Anybody who makes anything, who you are, your cultural background, how you got to where you are now completely informs everything that you do. I come from a working-class background, in a rural Irish village. That has, undoubtedly, had an influence on my work. I was also the first person on my father's side of the family to go to university, which itself has had an influence on how I approach things – there is a combination of very different experiences there. Also, as a woman, I definitely incorporate my experiences into my work. In particular, I went through a traumatic and complicated birth with my son, which was almost twenty years ago now. I was only seventeen at the time. That is something that certainly of comes up in everything I make, in some way or another, of which I must admit Childer is an
example. But, even if I didn't have experiences like that, I would still have been drawn to dark stories and emotions, I always have been. I was always reading dark stories. At a very young age, it was Grimm fairytales, then later, my uncle always use to tell us folktales that he'd learned and picked up. This was my uncle Mickey who then went on to kill himself. He had never finished telling us The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs. I think I then just imagined a lot of different possible endings to The Monkey's Paw over the years. In fact, I only actually learned the real ending just before I took a version of it to the Edinburgh Fringe, because I avoided it that whole time. It was like he was never going to come back to tell me the end of the story. Once I found out what happened, then he was definitely dead. But in the intervening years, I came up with all kinds of endings for that story. Him telling us stories; my da showing us horror films on the sly, when my mother wasn't looking; me reading Grimm fairytales and Greek legends. I wasn't a popular child, I didn't have many friends, I only had my sister and we were invested in our world, a shared world. We shared a lot of these things, we still do: making up stories. I think as a woman – an Irish woman – where you're taught to watch and listen and smile and nod and facilitate other people's brilliance or other people's skills and talents and not to hog the limelight, I learned how to be watchful and how to be observant and I'm very empathetic. I think another thing that comes out of my work is just that sense of quiet
observation. I don't like an active camera necessarily. I like the camera to be an observer, like I am, and I don't like to have an awful lot of fast paced editing either. I like to know what I'm going to shoot, everything, the mis-en-scene is already in my head before I go anywhere near the set. Then the camera is just my eye as I saw it already in my head and it translates it into a reality. I used to make a lot of home movies as a kid, walking around with the camera. I suppose it was a little bit of power maybe, but also the things that you would do – I always had this feeling of being a ghost, of being insubstantial and invisible, like my mother used to say “little girls should be seen and not heard”, I think my father probably said it too, my grandfather definitely said it and I really felt like I wasn't seen or heard – I felt like a ghost. I didn't have any friends in school, nobody was playing with me, I was playing by myself and with my sister, and there was something about if you record something you can watch it back and it really happened, you had an impact, you did something that exists, it's tangible. For this special edition of WomenCinemakers we have selected Childer, an extremely interesting film that our readers have already staterd to get to know in the introductory pages of this article. Escaping from traditional narrative form, your film features a brilliant storytelling: how did you develop the script and the structure of the film? The seeds of the scripts were something that I'd had in my head for a number of years. I used to live, just me and my son, in this big old house that had that wasn't connected to another house – detached – it had land around it, a big garden, and there were children who lived in the house next door and they had a massive garden too. We never saw their parents, but I imagine the parents had issues with alcohol or drugs or something. The children were always unwashed, barefoot, unattended, they roamed in a pack. They started to fixate on me because I was someone's mother and maybe I could be their mother too. They
actually said that to me once or twice, that they wished that I was their mother, that I could be their mother because my house was more or less clean and I was there whereas I don't know what was going on with their parents. They came round to my house one time with a frog and said we found this frog at the bottom of your garden and if you kiss him he will be a prince and the other girl said our sister kissed a frog once but she's dead now. That's all they said. It felt almost like a threat and it felt like a Grimm fairytale, it felt like the things that happened in the books I grew up reading. And I just thought that's really good. I didn't kiss the frog. They said that to me
because they knew I didn't have a boyfriend. I thought they were nice kids â€“ really wayward â€“ I felt bad for them. I used to think sometimes that there aren't parents at all, I never saw the parents at home and maybe they're just organic creatures that have grown up out of the ground. The garden was overgrown and difficult to manage and I started to fantasise that maybe they were nature spirits: Childer. Childer is a colloquial Irish word for children. People in rural areas wouldn't say children, they'd say childer, particularly if they're talking about a group of children that are badly behaviour or threatening in some way. Urchins would be childer,
scallywags are childer. Childer are not neat, well-behaved children, there is something sinister about childer. That was was the genesis of the idea and it was developed with Northern Ireland Screen, via the NI Screen/BFI Shorts to Features scheme, and with Margaret McGoldrick at Causeway Pictures. I had a feature script in development with Northern Ireland Screen and the scheme allowed me to develop some of the aesthetic qualities of what that would be via a short.
In Childer you have combined clever attention to details and accurate attention to close up shots: what were your main aesthetic decisions in terms of composition and shooting? I don't like to shoot things that just do one thing, that just drive the story, or just look good, or that just impart a sense of atmosphere. I like shots to earn their place and do several things at once, so, if I can, I will put in more than just the information that's driving the story forward, there
will always be some symbol of the theme, something like that. I did some bifocal shots, I would have done more, but it was a really tight shoot, time-wise, and some things had to be sacrificed. There's a definite point to the bifocal shots: when Mary and Mark are in the frame together, I always wanted to feel like they were in each others space. There's a lot of land around this house, it's in an expansive forest, there's an open garden, but their relationship with each other is very claustrophobic, so the mother and son are
Meticulously composed close up shots are a landmark of your shooting style. The thing I'm most interested in is, which I suppose most film-makers are, is driving at the emotional truth of the thing and those are the scenes that I love to shoot the most, that's when I do a very intimate close-up where I can... the actor can... we can really communicate some truthfulness about this scenario, this character, something that feels honest and real and those are generally the shots where that will be the only thing in it, the face.
always present, even when one thinks their alone: when Mary is in the bath, you can hear Mark singing in the other room. They're just always in each other's space, even when Mark's dead he's still there. It's a techinque that Brian de Palma used in the 70s, in Carrie. I always like to take my aesthetic cues from things in the past, I don't like to make films like people make them today, I like to experiment with techniques that people used in the past and have stopped using. I don't want to make a film that looks like everybody else's, y'know, slick and modern. It doesn't suit my worldview or how I live, so that was just one thing that
When I was a film student, which I fell into sideways, I thought I was going to become an English teacher because I had to do something practical, but I just fell in love with my elective module, film studies, and being in that dark room all day and not knowing what they were going to show us. They showed us these films I'd never heard of as a working-class woman with just two TV channels at home. My film education to that point was very limited: my dad liked Westerns, my mother might like the odd musical, we watched horror films at the weekend. The range of films I saw as a film student was a revelation to me and I totally fell in love with them, but I think, in particular, I fell in love with the close-up, because I was watching these films in the cinema and I had a really great professor â€“ Sam Rohdie who only ever showed us great films. The experience is totally different watching a film in the cinema, in the magical space that is a cinema, than it is watching it at home on a bad television, which is the only place I ever really saw films before that. I'd only been to the cinema a handful of times before that in my life, so when he showed us Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc and those close-ups, that massive face, it's like the people on-screen are gods, the whole thing takes place in this hyperreality and its impossible to watch Jeanne d'Arc in the cinema and not be really moved because
I picked up from films in the past that I thought looks good, works well, and works well for my purposes.
that's the most naked human interaction, looking at someone's face. You can't look at someone's face in the real world either, if they're crying or having a moment of emotional honesty, if someone is nakedly being human and you are looking at their face you cannot help but empathise with them and what that film does, it refuses to let you gloss over her feelings. It is a spectacle, but it is a spectacle in a small-focused way, which is expanded into this huge image. The spectacle of the fire doesn't matter we don't need to see them lighting it. We see the smoke, but what matters is her face and what she's going through. It doesn't give people the opportunity to be vicarious, they're refused the opportunity to be ghoulish, they have to engage with the humanity of the situation and that's what's brilliant about it. And then we watched Vivre Sa Vie in which Anna Karina has the same moment, we're watching her watch Jeanne D'Arc and I'm in the cinema watching her watching Jeanne D'arc and it's this triptych, this communication that was open-ended. There was RenĂŠe Jeanne Falconetti in the 20s, then Anna Karina 1962, and me in 2000 and we were all speaking to each other and not just the communication of their emotions to me and understanding how they feel, but also of cinema communicating with itself. What was your preparation with actors in terms of rehearsal? Did you address your actor to act instinctively or did you methodically structure the process? In particular, how did you develop the characters of Mary and Mark? We didn't really have rehearsal. The day before the shoot, a couple of hours. Dorothy, who plays Mary, was living in Donegal at the time, just home from London, and we were shooting just outside Belfast. I spoke to her on the phone before she was cast and we talked about the character then and I could tell that we were going to get along for this, that she got it, and then I didn't see her again until the shoot. I didn't need to, I knew we were on the same wavelength. Luke would have got more to grips with his character, because he read in for all the other Mary auditions, but we didn't really rehearse. For all Luke's age... he is an
accomplished wee actor. He is intelligent and insightful. He gets things. He can read subtext. He's easy to communicate and work with in that respect. Even very complex things he understands, so he was no harder to work with than many adults I've worked with. He's focused and diligent and professional and he cares about creating good work. I rehearsed with Dorothy the night before the shoot â€“ we stayed over in the location, a deerkeeper's lodge in the country - but there was no Luke. Then we rehearsed while we set-up. There wasn't really a lot of time,
but I spoke to them all in a good deal of depth in advance:
embodiment of her dilemma; he is, at once, entirely of her,
who the character was, what I wanted to get from it, and
from her, an extension of her being, but he is not hers to
Dorothy, Charlie, Luke â€“ Charlie who I had worked with
control, just as we are all part of Nature, but separate from it
before â€“ are people I can communicate with very easily.
and from each other. He is a constant reminder that she lost
They understood what I was trying to get.
control of her body in his conception, in her pregnancy, and
Mary is a complicated character with a fragile mind. Her desire to order and control life becomes so great that she
through his whole young life. Even once she has exerted her will over the child, she has achieved nothing.
loses control of herself, committing an act of pure animal
The Mother's Dilemma is rarely explored, but, when it is, it is
fury: the murder of her child. The child is the ultimate
done so through horror. The Babadook foregrounded a
mother's psychosis from grief and the toll it takes on her relationship with her young son. The first series of True Detective introduced antinatalist themes to the public with references to the philosophy of Emil Cioran and the horror writing of Thomas Ligotti. In David Lynch's Eraserhead, Harry is forced to care for an infant he cannot love and whose very presence repulses him. And, yet, representations of motherhood tend to play to the notion of innate love and innate nurturing: Rosemary still loves her baby, even though he is Satan's offspring; Katherine still loves Damian in The
Omen; Christine Penmark will do anything to protect and coddle her daughter, even though Rhoda is The Bad Seed. The darker horror – or the hardest for us to believe – is not the evils that parents excuse out of love for a supernaturally wicked child, but that a parent – a mother especially – may not be able to love – in fact, may destroy – a naturally innocent child. It is a harsh truth that we are not all capable of giving up our lives for others.
That complexity is contrasted with the simple innocence of Mark: he's just a little boy who wants his mother to be happy and to love him, but he also wants to do the things that little boys want to do: play and get dirty and live. It's not his fault that he's a source of Mary's fear and anxiety about the world, but yet he is. Childer is pervaded with images rich with symbolic values: how much importance does play the use of metaphors in your work?
An example of this would be the scene where Mark is drowned in the bath where the camera, rather than staying there and watching that happen it does what we don't expect it to do, which is back off down the stairs and focus on a bowl of bobbing apples – it's Hallowe'en, apples in a bowl, but it's also a visual metaphor for what just happened upstairs. It's a euphemism and, indeed, there is much around motherhood that is euphemistic, that is talked around but is avoided, so in this darkest moment of her time as mother we avoid the thing itself and yet it is intimated by the distant sounds of struggle, then illustrated starkly with the apples bobbing like a lifeless body in the water. Apples are of the earth, like the cabbages, like we've already suggested children are. I think it's pretty hard to analysis your work in that way. Plenty of things like that I work out afterwards, I've intuited it during the process. For me, with that shot, I was mostly bored to think of shooting him actually being drowned. I didn't choose not to shoot that struggle that because I thought it was ghoulish – I don't mind ghoulishness – I didn't want to shoot it because it was boring, we've seen it, it would be a nothing moment. I didn't want to have a moment where people – even if they thought it looked good – to disengage.
I like to make all the images work for their space on the screen. I'm very economical about what I shoot. I don't shoot stuff that I'm not going to use. I don't shoot reams of stuff. There was only one thing shot for Childer that didn't make it in and I wasn't sure that I should have been doing it in the first place and that's a scene where she's chopping up red cabbage... at the beginning of the film she explains that children from a cabbage patch at the bottom of the garden. It was fine, but I don't think it did enough for the story and the world and the film, so it didn't make it in, but, for the most part, I shoot what I need to shoot, because I see the film in my head before I get on the set.
I wanted to take that moment, which is the climax of the film and have people be surprised, to be forced to engage because I surprised them. There'd be no point in making the film at all if my only aim was to film it competently. That's just telling a story, that's not communicating an emotional truth. It is about making... asking the audience... coercing the audience to feel a certain way or to invite them to them think about it, really think about it. Women drown children in the bath all the time, it's not uncommon, but we don't really like to think about and when we do think about it we cast those women as complete villains. I don't think that will solve the problem that women sometimes kill their children. So the camera walks away and we do too, but, in contrast to that, the audience don't want to walk away, they want to see the grisly thing happen, so, when the camera moves away, they have to think about it – Why is that happening? And then, later, the drowning is mirrored by Mary submerging herself in the bath. She is under the water, testing herself, she is completely out of shot and then she returns to the shot gasping – that is what David Lynch would call a 'happy accident.' I wanted to get Mary coming out of the water and, just to cover myself, I decided to shoot her before she goes into the water, then coming out. We did that several times and that was the one that Dorothy thought wouldn't make it because she inhaled some water. I didn't call cut and she was expecting me – I called cut much sooner in earlier takes – but I didn't and she kept going and I knew instantly that that was the one to use. My only worry was that her moment under the water wasn't long enough, so what I did in the edit room was just cut into that and freeze-frame so it looks like she was under there longer than she actually was and I wanted to make it uncomfortably long. I wanted the audience to think is she going to... she is at least attempting to feel what it is like to drown, but then she couldn't and she comes up gasping.
Cinema has been for more than half a century the reign of collective memory: nonetheless, only the most courageous filmmakers have tried to get under the skin of film like psychologists investigates the subconscious dimension. How much importance does play the subconscious level in your work? I have a lot of faith in happy accidents and the subconscious. Sometimes I make decisions about things and I don't realise why until it becomes obvious why and that happens to me a lot, where I will just feel that something is right for a character to say or feel or do or wear or something and then it will turn
out to be resonant, like it should always have been like
Dorothy doesn't live in our world, I didn't want it to be
that, and that's my subconscious.
our world. It's a different world where things are a little
That's true of the characters too: the subconscious is always playing its part. For example, it feels like the childer are a manifestion of some subconscious part of Mary. I think that my one regret in Childer is that I didn't make it obvious that Mark doesn't see the childer until he finally does and that's shortly toward the end of his life.
bit different. It's like an adult transplanted into a children's fairytale. If you just had pictures it would look really nice â€“ it's a nice house, Mary is a nice, wellpresented mother or appears to be, Mark is well-fed and his clothes are clean, but actually modern adult life is not like that, so it's a heightened world, it's other, it's a world where children come from a cabbage patch at the bottom of the garden, which is something Irish
parents tell their children to avoid talking about sex â€“ euphemism again. It is a world of gross euphemism. The thing about Mary's personal struggle, it's not against motherhood as such or femininity or anything like that, it's against nature as a total thing. Werner Herzog said: "Nature here is vile and base. I see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. The trees here are in misery and the birds are in misery. I donâ€™t think they sing. They just screech in pain.â€? That's Mary. On the one hand, all of us as human beings are cognisant, logical, rational, we like to think of ourselves like
that, but we are inextricable from our organic mess, from nature, from our blood and guts, from dirt, we are a product of that, in a primordial way. So Mary is so, so clean, but you can never be clean really. She has an inherent disgust at nature and what it did to her, because she, her body does things beyond her control. She conceived and had a child - she didn't want to do that. She wants to control everything but you can't control the natural functions of your body and you can't live without that, so that is her core issue. So, she had a baby, she gave birth - to her that is disgusting. She has
finds repellent becomes physical. Mary is afraid of death, but she is also appalled at life. I have a thing where I don't like to feel my blood pulsing in my veins. I can't bare to have things touch the arteries in my neck. I'm not nearly as anxiety-ridden as Mary, but that's the sense that she has. She's a human consciousness, tethered to this meat package; she can't stand it, but she doesn't want to be separated from it either, as she's afraid of death too. It's a central human conundrum, the rational mind vs the organic self.
almost sexual dreams about being in the forest at night, again that's just her body and it comes out at night when she sleeps. It can't be controlled. In this way, Childer is essentially a horror film in that its primary driving emotion is, not only the horrific act of infanticide and forcing us to contemplate infanticide, but also the experience of horror of the central character. She is not a final girl, she is not acted upon by horrific forces â€“ she is the monster, but she is a monster who is compelled by her own feeling of horror by everything around her. Everything is a manifestation of her subconscious. Everything in that world is... everything that she
The whole thing is about control, how much you are able to control, Mark is simultaneously part of her, because he has come from her body, but he is a separate thing, so there are questions of how much she can control him, how much she can control the world that he is in, because she is driven to, she does feel obliged to do what is best for him, to put him first, but part of that means turning over control of his life to him as well, which seems far too risky. The only response she can give to the unruliness of nature, to the waywardness of the world, is to exert control, but the best thing for the child, eventually, is to turn control over to him, but she can't do that because the things that he wants to do that are wrong are the things that wrest control from her. Mary does the most animal thing that she could ever do, which is kill her young, but that's the only way that she can erase the threats to her world and her control over that world and the reminder of her own base, organic body. We want to catch this occasion to ask you to express your view on the future of women in cinema. For more than half a century women have been discouraged from getting behind the camera, however in the last decades there are signs that something is changing. What's your view on the future of women in cinema? In particular, do you think that your being a woman provides your artistic research with some special value?
I think my just being a human give my artistic research special value. I think everybody has things to say, a unique perspective. Some people are better at communicating these things. Everybody feels the world in a very real way, not everybody is able to communicate that so it translates, but everybody has that. I think it's completely impossible for me to extricate the fact that I'm a woman from my work or anything or my thoughts. That's what I am. I couldn't tell you what difference it would make if I wasn't a woman. I know that my experiences were different to my male relatives and contemporaries and that was bound to influence me, but I couldn't pinpoint exactly what. Certainly in Ireland, if you're a working-class woman and you sound like you're a working-class woman people don't listen to you as much, particularly me who was a teenage mother at 17, people didn't think that I had anything interesting to say, so a lot of the time I just wouldn't say anything, I would just watch and observe and absorb. I always had thoughts, I was always thinking but people thought I didn't have anything to contribute and it was only when I was older and had more confidence that I started to share. I was always having the conversation in my head, I just wasn't included in it. You can see that in our old home videos. After my father died, my mother dug out some of the old home movies that we had. I was – aside from my mother who used the video camera a lot, I was probably next in line. We had it when I was about 9 or 10, I was totally fascinated by it. I recorded a decent amount of stuff on that – interviews with family members. Silly things. Again, it was always observing – I would walk around with the camera and surprise people and they would close the door in my face. There is just something about the camera as a mechanical eye that felt like a friend somehow. But, when my mother found the home videos, I don't think any of the ones I made were kept, I think they were all probably taped over. I would have used tape and it would have been taped over. And there was one tape in particular that was probably
15 full minutes of my brother who was 14 at the time playing his guitar, which he'd only just learned how to play, he wasn't very good, and my mother is saying “Wow, Niall! You're brilliant!” and being encouraging. On one or two occasions during that 15 minute span, you can tell I'm behind the camera because I try to speak and say something and my mother tells me to shut up. And in another video, myself and my sister try to tell my mother something while she's filming and we're told to shut up. And Tara actually tries to intervene on my behalf and says “But mammy, look at what Aislinn did”
and my mother doesn't want to know. That's something I learned from being a woman and being an Irish woman and being a working-class woman, because I was trained to allow other people to have the centre-stage to facilitate to make tea and to help and to not hog the limelight. Little girls should be seen and not heard, so I learned how to fully empathise with other people and, on the one hand, that's made me empathetic to a fault, but it also helps me create more resonate human stories.
I think that that is something that makes me as a female filmmaker different to male film-makers: so many stories have been from the perspectives of men, especially in films, from the male perspective and very often with a male protagonist, even when there are female characters who are at the forefront it's more about how that female affects the male than it is about the female herself as a three-dimensional person. So we've all spent our entire lives watching films that were led by males, told from a male perspective, generally had a male protagonist. Strangely enough, not horror films, which
are very often female – final girl or whatever – but, otherwise, we spend a whole lifetime doing that and it teaches you, you're forced to put yourself into the shoes of those characters – and they're very often the same or similar characters – again and again and again. Women have spent their lives having to do that, so it's second nature, whereas men – not all men – are very resistant, they find it hard to empathise with the film, they've never had to do that and put themselves in a completely different experience and I think that is a shame to them. It
can only enrich you if you put yourself in other people's shoes. I've spent my whole life doing that as an exercise, trying to really imagine what it is like to be someone else and I wouldn't let myself stop until I felt I really got a sense of what that felt like, so it's one of the reasons that I'm fascinated with the extremes of human behaviour – serial killers, etc. – because I find it hard to put myself there. I know that all humans are motivated, all human do things that are rational at the time, that are motivated at the time, no one acts like a cardboard villain, not even the worst people in the
everyone has their hopes and wants and dreams and memories, from the lowliest shepherd to a king, everybody has that. They are all the hero of their own story, man or woman, although I think, as a woman, I am more conscious of that, perhaps to a fault. Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Aislinn. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving? Something I'm working on now which would be very dear to my heart would be a film called The Devil's Doorway, that's my first feature film, at this moment in time in postproduction, just going though a sound mix and grade, which will hopefully be going out in some form in the next year.
world. Everyone is the hero of their own story and I find it very interesting to try and put myself in their position and try and find out how they feel like that. Everybody feels like that, always have done, always will. The concept of sonder is totally alien to me, I've been always been really aware that everyone out there has their own world that is as complete as mine. So that idea the people get surprised by that, I actually find quite scary, that people are walking around not realising that they are just one little ant in the anthill and that everyone is as important as them, everybody else has as rich a life as them,
I also have a script in development with Northern Ireland Screen and Farah Abushwesha at Rocliffe, who was nominated for a BAFTA this year, who is someone I'm very excited and interested to work with. That is a horror film that has a lot of these themes of birth and motherhood. It's a pretty Gothic tale set on an Irish island which has a lot of scope for being beautiful, because everything in the Irish countryside is beautiful, especially the coast, but there is also a darkness, there's a threat in the landscape of Ireland, it's not soft rolling green hills, its sublime: crashing waves and rocky outcrops and fox traps. It's dangerous. That builds in a lot of themes. It's essentially about motherhood and belonging and feeling like you don't. Other projects: I'm working with a company called Boudica who also worked on Carol Morley's The Falling that I have a lot of respect who have taken me on to write and direct their upcoming film The Crossing which is a thriller set on a refugee boat coming from Turkey to Greece. I'm at the writing stage with that, so the hope is that that will go into production sometime next year.
Emma Piper-Burket I have visited Iraqi Kurdistan regularly since 2009, encountering the many dramatic shifts in fortune that have swept through the region since that time. In the course of my visits, and journeys back home to Europe or North America, I became increasingly interested in the politics of what is â€œallowedâ€? to be shown from certain parts of the world. There appears to be programming and media space for only certain kinds of stories from conflict regions like Iraqi Kurdistan. Interest is focused on either commodified stories of suffering, or inspirational stories of perseverance in spite of that suffering. Everything in between, the lives and moments that cannot be glorified or pitied, is completely absent. When looking at content about women, this absence of normality is even more severe: women
are either oppressed or are strongly independent and actively fighting that oppression. This omission of normality feels dangerous; it makes us relate to entire nations and populations as symbols rather than individuals. In reality, these places we see on the news are made up of individual people with hopes and dreams remarkably similar to our own, despite widely differing external circumstances. I made Dream City to share an alternate approach to a region we hear much but actually experience little of in the news. Dream City is Iraqi Kurdistan as I have experienced it over the years. Diana is my friend, I visited her and we made a film together- this is the experience that I am sharing with you now.
Emma Piper-Burket An interview by Bonnie Curtis and Jennifer Rozt Druhn
Hello Emma and welcome to this special edition of Women Cinemakers: before starting to elaborate about your artistic production would you like to tell us something about your background? You have a solid formal training: you hold a MFA in Cinema and Digital Media from FAMU in Prague and you also nurtured your eduction with a BA in Arabic and Classical Studies, that you received from Georgetown University: how did these experiences influence your evolution as a filmmaker and a creative? Hi! Thank you. From a very young age I knew I would be a filmmaker, but I didnâ€™t feel a need to rush towards it in a professional capacity. I spent a lot of my growing up years in a rural environment and had so much freedom to explore my creative ideas. My mom is an artist also and we had a barn full of supplies to actualize basically any project, so there was a lot of experimentation and exploration. Iâ€™m
realizing now what an impact this environment, and also the natural world has had on my thought process; this idea of cycles of growth- times to gather nutrients, times to blossom, times to withdraw and hibernate- has given me an appreciation for process that I really value. My undergraduate time at Georgetown was extremely helpful in shaping my understanding of how the world works on a larger socio-political level. I studied abroad my junior year in Cairo, living in Egypt for that year was a crash course all of that as well. Privilege, class structures and how history shapes the present is all so heightened there- it gave me a new perspective and way of understanding the world that has definitely influenced my creative work as well. After some years I enrolled in the MFA program at FAMU because I did want to deepen my formal understanding of my craft. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production, we would suggest to our readers to visit http://emmapiperburket.com in order to get a synoptic view of your work. In the meanwhile, would you like to tell to our readers something about your process and set up? Filmmaking for me is a multidisciplinary process. My writing on film, the tactile objects that inspire me, the material and equipment that I use to create
You are a versatile filmmaker and your works often incorporate societal trends, ancient history, science, politics, as well as the natural world: do you think that your being a woman provides your artistic research with some special value? Itâ€™s hard to generalize between men and women because each individual is so unique, but if I think personally about how being a woman affects my work, again I go back to process and cycles and having patience for all the parts of each step along the way. As women, each month we go through a transformation: at some points we are more sensitive or more deeply affected by our emotions, at other points we are more attuned to the world around us or feel more ready to tackle whatever comes our way. There is an ability to ride the waves of emotion and external circumstances, and to understand the highs and lows of those waves without attaching to them, that I attribute to my gender. I think also as women we are expected to absorb a lot of energy from the outside. It can be attention or judgement or expectations or needs that come from people close to us, family, lovers, friends but also society
pieces all contribute to my greater filmmaking project. I really love the gathering and research phase of new work. I can get completely lost in it. Whether Iâ€™m working on a documentary or something more fictional, each piece has to involve a process of discovery and exploration. I want to learn something and collaborate with my material and subject matters, that interaction is really critical for me. I am not one of those filmmakers who envisions something and then needs to manifest that vision- I have huge respect for the mastery that that entails, but for me personally itâ€™s uncovering the elements of chance and surprise that feel the most precious.
For this special edition of Women Cinemakers we have selected the Dream City, an interesting film that our readers have already started to admire in the introductory pages of this article. What has at once captured our attention of your feminist commentary on the ways one can be dehumanized is the way you provided the visual results of your analysis with autonomous aesthetics: while walking our readers through the genesis of Dream City, would you shed light to your main sources of inspiration? I had been traveling to Iraq, mainly Iraqi Kurdistan, for many years for a larger documentary project about agriculture and the origins of wheat. Each time I would come back people would ask me with a kind of shock and awe about what it was like there. Didnâ€™t I feel unsafe? I wanted to make something that reflected my actual experience being there. A lot
as a whole. Iâ€™m not sure most men have to go through that in the same way, society gives them more room to exist in their own way, usually they are praised for it. Part of growing up for me has been learning how to silence that outside noise and focus on my own truth, to not always give what is expected, but what is authentic. This plays out in my work as well, recognizing that tension between knowing how things are supposed to be done and what feels authentic to me as an artist and human being.
of time is spent waiting, sitting with people, sharing space, it’s not dramatic. Sometimes it’s boring, sometimes it’s silly, sometimes it’s sad. From the news we don’t get to see depictions of the Middle East that are free from drama, it’s not marketable I guess. But the reality is that the whole range of human experience that exists in North America or Europe, also exists there. When I met Diana, she told me that she wanted to be an actress, for a couple of years we talked about making a film together, but we didn’t really know what it would be. When she told me that she had moved away from home to another city so that she could study to be a flight attendant I thought that was an interesting starting point. I went to film in March 2014 and the plan was to return a year later and film some fictions sequences of Diana’s hope and dreams: what would it look like if everything she wanted came true? What about if it all went terribly wrong? When I got there in March 2015, it was after ISIS had invaded, the conflict, the economic troubles in the region all made for a very different atmosphere than when I was there before. It didn’t feel right to fictionalize anything. Diana had moved back to her family’s house, she couldn’t find work, the power was out most of the time, she didn’t want to do anything so I just started filming. We filmed whatever was happening around and she talked to me about how she was feeling. The film ended up being an interplay between all of that and the optimism of the previous year. In the Dream City Diana builds a dream city in her mind: how would you consider the relationship between experience and imagination in the character of Diana?
Escaping from traditional narrative form, Dream City features a brilliant storytelling: how did you develop the script and the structure of the film? The structure developed organically through the editing. I knew I wanted to end the film with the power coming back on in Dianaâ€™s house, the return of the electricity is this simple thing that shifts her entire mood, and life is so often like that, right? We are most often affected by the small day to day things, not the dramatic ones. For the rest of the piece, I vaguely structured it as a continuous day, with excursions into the past, or trains of thought about different aspects
Dream City is the name of a development project in Erbil. It was a massively ambitious project of apartment buildings and restaurants and stores that began in the mid-2000s and has been left unfinished for the past several years. I think anyone who knows how to dream has big ideas that take too long to finish, or get stalled out at various points, or are left abandoned. Diana has had plans to leave Iraq for many years, occasionally she will go to Turkey or try something else, but then she returns back. It is not always easy to actualize our dreams. We all have things we hope for, things we donâ€™t want. The path to actualization is not always so clear, even if the things we hope for are quite simple. Sometimes the promise of the dream is so big that we forget the steps to actualization are usually quite small and mundane.
of Diana’s life. It was important to me to not make a film that gave audiences a feeling of authority over the world they encountered onscreen. I wanted to share the experience without creating any new “experts” on life in Iraqi Kurdistan. So often what we see from that part of world is meant to explain facts and create this monolithic truth, so I purposely avoided anything that could be used as a talking point and instead focused on the elements that were more experiential. For Dream City you have combined footage shot over several years and we have appreciated the the film’s expressive color palette, stunning widescreen compositions: why did you use three different shooting formats including the legendary Krasnogorsk-3 film camera? The idea driving much of this piece is that our reality is shaped by what we think of as much as what is happening around us in the actual world, so the different shooting formats helped destabilize the sense of any one reality. I wanted to create an exchange between reality and thought, I used the 16mm footage with her voiceover to create a different kind of distance between the actions we see on screen and Diana’s words. Often the 16mm footage is something that we have already seen (or will see) that was shot with a DSLR camera. I love the Krasnogorsk-3 because it’s so hefty, you can do anything to it— like cross a river or climb a mountain. We can recognize an effective sociopolitical criticism in the way Dream City inquiries into events that affect our unstable contemporary age. Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco once
stated, "the artist’s role differs depending on which part of the world you’re in. It depends on the political system you’re living under". Not to mention that almost everything, ranging from Caravaggio's Inspiration of Saint Matthew to Joep van Lieshout's works, could be considered political, what could be in your opinion the role of Art in the contemporary age? I strongly believe that art is a critical tool for engaging with, understanding, and synthesizing the world around us. In it’s highest form, art offers the possibility to change our perspective in the most fundamental of ways. That is the power of it. For me it feels irresponsible to create work that does not have some political aspect to it, that said, often my approach is from an angle that is not always overtly political. So I’m glad the political criticism within Dream City came through to you, because you could say it is film about friends, an actress and a filmmaker therefore it’s an apolitical film about Iraq. But an American taking a camera to a country that my country once invaded is an inherently political act, I am coming there and able to leave whenever I want, filming my friend who has limited possibilities to leave and live elsewhere. Together we can record some of her experience and my experience being there with her. We can share that experience with an audience from the outside, but there is an imbalance that will always exist. Between me and her, between me and you and between you and her- but even with that imbalance we can also recognize the elements that we all share- the feelings of being frustrated
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< or inspired by hope, the ability to keep moving forward. I hope that this film can, even subconsciously, help create an awareness about all of the layers of these things. Dream City has been screened in several occasions and one of the hallmarks of your approach is the capability to create direct involvement with the viewers, who are urged to evolve from a condition of mere spectatorship. So before leaving this conversation we would like to pose a question about the nature of the relationship of your art with your audience. Do you consider the issue of audience reception as being a crucial component of your decisionmaking process, in terms of what type of language is used in a particular context? To be very honest, I do not think about the audience very much when I am making a film. When I am shooting, I film the things that I find beautiful, or intrigue me, or make me feel something or think something. When I am editing, itâ€™s the same; I select the scenes and shots that create for me the strongest feelings and I put them together in a way that makes sense. I hope and trust that if I feel something, others will too. I made this film because I wanted to share my experience, if I shaped that experience by what I thought people would think while watching, I would no longer be creating something authentic to my experience. So much of what we see is made to conform to expectations or standards that were established a long time ago, it really limits the depth and full range of human thought and emotion. To me the most interesting
work throughout film history comes from the pieces the do not adhere to any specific guidelines- not pieces that intentionally break the rules, but the ones that never considered them in the first place. Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Emma. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving? I just finished my first feature film script, I guess it could be best described as social realist science fiction. I hope to shoot it next year in Los Angeles. I’m also editing the documentary I mentioned earlier about agriculture, archaeology and food sovereignty in Iraq, it’s very experimental, incorporating hand drawn animation, archival material and plants, I’ve structured it like an archaeological dig, each scene is another layer of this complex history of how our global food system developed and the way humans use and misuse the land that sustains us. I have a lot of small experimental documentaries I call “Curiosities” that I work on in between it all. I enjoy treading the line between both fiction and documentary filmmaking. I also frequently write about film for various publications, I really appreciate having a chance to reflect on the craft of filmmaking and how it fits into the broader socio-political climate. All of my work together: the writing, the filmmaking, photography, is an investigation of the structures that shape our world, keeping a constant eye on how those structures affect the human spirit— these structures are ever-evolving so I suppose my work can evolve right alongside it! Thanks so much for your time.
Upside Down (2014) Amira Daigle
Shira Levin Lives and works in New York City, USA
UPSIDE DOWN is the third short film of my trilogy. The lead character, Gigi, was inspired by one of the people profiled in a documentary I saw about adults coming out late in life. I was moved by her story and then based a character loosely on her. Another element in this film is my own background as a child of divorce. In that regard, UPSIDE DOWN is in part a personal film. My trilogy is about people often marginalized in our society. The films are my small way of trying to shine light on these people – to make their humanity visible to those who ignore or never notice them in the street I began making films relatively late in life, after years of writing screenplays. I was teaching screenwriting at a film school. My students all had to make short films as part of their program. I thought that if they could do it, perhaps I could too. Hence, my first short film, LAST DAY, came to be. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but that one short film morphed into a trilogy: LAST DAY, OLD JUNK, UPSIDE DOWN. Clearly the experience doing the first film was challenging and rewarding in a way that prompted me to do it again… and again…. Once the last short film was done I realized that my next challenge needed to be a feature film. I knew there would not be much money so I had to write a script that could be done on a shoe-string budget. The result is STARFISH, filmed in September 2016 and currently in postproduction. STARFISH is more personal than the other feature screenplays that I wrote. My initial impulse to write it came from the grief I experienced after the death of my father and the death of our rescue dog three years later. The script evolved over the years but loss, grief and healing remain at its core. As a writer and filmmaker, I am attracted to stories about people and that contain the humor and sadness that is part of life.
Shira Levin An interview by Francis Quettier and Dora Tennant is a captivating film by Shira Levin that initiates her audience into a highteneed still balanced visual experience. We are particularly pleased to introduce our readers to her artistic production. Hello Shira and welcome to : you are a versatile video artist: would tell us something about your background? In particular, how did your prevous experiences as actress screenplays writer influence your trajectory as a creative? Theatre was my first love. I studied acting for many years and performed since I was twelve. Ironically, it was my love of acting that brought me to writing and then to film. While performing in Summer Stock one summer, I read Anne Tyler’s first novel, which I loved. I loved one of the characters and wanted to play her. I also thought that the book would make a good film. So, I decided to option the book although I knew
absolutely nothing about writing for film or what optioning a book entailed, particularly one written by a famous author. With the help of my father, who had invested some money for me, I was able to pay for an option on the book. I then set out to write a screenplay. My only knowledge of how to do this was from books I read on the subject as well as my own vision of what I imagined the film could be. I showed my first draft to a friend who was involved in the film business and he liked it. Because he had some connections in the industry and knew more about screenwriting than I did, we joined forces to rewrite the script together. Perhaps due to my background in acting, I had a feel for character and dialogue as well as “radar” for things that did not ring true. He was much better with structure, something I knew little about. Eventually, our script was optioned by American Playhouse, a wonderful program on public TV that produced films based on the work of American writers. We were paid to develop the script further and they were gearing up to produce it. This was a thrilling thing for me although by that time, it was clear that my hopes of acting in the film were dashed. We had a director attached (Pete Masterson, who directed Trip To Bountiful) and some actors willing to commit to the lead role. Unfortunately, before we ever got into production, American Playhouse disbanded (I’m not
I continued to study acting and performed but also wrote another screenplay. That script was chosen to be part of a new screenplay reading series being done at the Writers Guild of America, East. It was read by actors in front of an audience and was received well. However, I could not find anyone to produce it. I continued to write and began to realize that I enjoyed writing very much, perhaps more than acting. Eventually after having to acknowledge that I would not likely be able to earn a living as an actress, I landed in the film industry, first as an intern for well-known producers who had an office in New York City. That job led to my working at Universal Pictures (NY) for two years. During that time I continued to work on my scripts, one of them a romantic comedy loosely based on “Much Ado About Nothing.” Reading and evaluating scripts, manuscripts and plays was part of my job and I was learning a lot. One of the books I read while working at Universal was an Irish novella that I fell in love with. I decided to option it and turn it into a screenplay. My job at Universal led to my job working for Martin Scorsese’s company as his Director of Development. I continued to learn an enormous amount and worked with writers and directors on their material while at this job. While I was working there, the screen adaptation that I wrote of the Irish novella was optioned and put into development by a small company based in Europe. I worked with the director who had been brought onto the project on the revisions but once again, for whatever
sure of the reasons behind this), and the film did not get made.
Diciamo che -parlo per me- certe cose avrei potuto gestire in maniera
Upside Down Carol Jacobanis, Amira Daigle
Upside Down Autumn Weisz, Amira Daigle
After I had been teaching a year or so, my husband suggested that I make a short film so I could see one of my written works produced for the screen. And so, after some false starts, I wrote my first short film script, “Last Day.” I wrote it very quickly and made it that summer. I had never wanted to direct but I was thrown into it, knowing next to nothing about begin a director. I suppose my sense of story and my comfort with acting and
reasons, the film did not get made. This is not an uncommon thing in the film business but certainly disappointing nonetheless. I worked for Scorsese for six years and continued my writing during that time. After I left that job, I wrote another screenplay, “Hair of the Dog,” a romantic comedy of sorts, based in part on my experience at dog grooming school and working briefly as a groomer. Then hard times hit and not being able to get another job in the film industry in New York (I did not want to go to L.A.), I went to social work school for two years and stopped all my creative work. This was not a happy time for me. I felt as if I’d cut off a crucial part of myself. While I enjoyed working with clients as a therapist, I sorely missed the arts and being creative. Fast-forward several years and several jobs later working as a therapist. I started to feel as if I needed to return to the arts and to my writing. I applied to teach screenwriting at a film school in NY and began to teach there while still working at an agency as a clinical social worker. I started to write again. A producer wanted to produce one of my earlier scripts and although that did not come to fruition, my heart was back in the arts. I eventually quit my social work job and continued to teach. I saw therapy clients in a small private practice, which I still do today. I wrote another script based on my social work experience and a TV pilot based on it as well. My work as a therapist informs my work as a writer and director.
character helped me through. So I guess you could say that it was indirectly my acting that led me down the path to writing and then filmmaking. Directing and filmmaking utilize more parts of myself then just writing did. That is a feeling I enjoy and probably why I went on to do three shorts and a feature. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production and we would like to invite our readers to visit http://www.shiralevin.com in order to get a synoptical idea about your multifaceted artistic production: in the meaniwhile, would you like to tell to our readers something about the evolution of your style? In particular, do you think that there is that connect all your works? I think there is definitely a central idea that connects my short films. They are each about people on the edges of society, marginalized in some way from the mainstream. Each film contains loneliness, isolation and the yearning for connection. My films focus on character rather than too heavily on plot. My work probably reflects my fascination with people, feelings and how we relate to each other. In terms of evolution of style, Iâ€™d have to say that Iâ€™m still working on it. we have For this special edition of selected , a captivating film that our readers have already staterd to get to know in the introductory pages of this article. What has at once captured our attention of your insightful inquiry into the friendship between a10 year-old girl and a transgender woman is way you have provided the visual results of your analysis with coherent
Upside Down Carol Jacobanis, Tim Hache
Upside Down Phoebe Leonard, Peter Buck Dettman
The inspiration for Upside Down came from two places. I first tried to write a short script about a 10 year-old girl whose parents have just gotten divorced. This was based in part on my own experience since my parents divorced when I was ten. I wrote the beginning but then got stuck and had to put it aside. By chance I watched a documentary about men and women who came out late in life. One of the people profiled in the film was a transgender woman. She was fascinating and I was impressed by her courage in the face of all she had gone through. Something clicked for me and I decided that I wanted to base a character on her. Then I thought to combine this woman with my original idea about the 10 year-old girl. Suddenly the story fell into place and the script Upside Down was born. I used facts from my own life and some from the transgender woman’s that were talked about briefly in the documentary. And of course, it then all became fiction. Escaping from traditional narrative form, features unique and nonlinear storytelling, capable of addressing the viewers to a multilayered visual experience: how did you develop the script and the structure of the film? In developing the script, I knew I wanted the characters to all live in the same building. I knew I had to set up Sunny’s life (her parents’ divorce, moving to the city, her unhappiness) and Gigi’s life (her estranged son in particular) and how some people react to her as a transgender person. Sunny’s mother was an important part of the story as was
combination between and . While walking our readers through the genesis of , would you tell us what did you inspire of this subject?
her new boyfriend. Then I tried to tell the story as succinctly as possible and to make the relationships and emotional transitions believable. The script was the longest of my short film screenplays and had the most characters and dialogue. The structure fell into place as the story elements became clearer to me. The narrative needed to cut between Sunnyâ€™s world and Gigiâ€™s. The point of view of each character had to be clear and distinct and everyone needed to be portrayed as truthfully and as multi dimensionally as possible. Emotional truth is important to me in my scripts and films. We have appreciated your particular care to details and your careful close up shots: what were your aesthetic decisions when shooting? In particular, what was your approach to lighiting? On all of my short films, I did the production design and costume design. This was out of necessity since we had very little money to pay others to do it, but I actually enjoyed doing both jobs. It became more challenging on Upside Down since we had to turn one apartment into two different ones. Also there was much more costume work to do since the cast was bigger and there were many more wardrobe changes, particularly with Sunny and Gigi. I always decide on a color palette for my films so that becomes a constant aesthetic factored in, particularly with wardrobe. In terms of lighting, we aimed for simple and realistic. Again, since money was very limited, we used minimal equipment, mainly what I could get from the school where I teach. There were some interior night scenes but we did not shoot at night. Therefore, those scenes were more difficult. My D.P. (Caroline Stucky) had to make the most out of little.
Upside Down Autumn Weisz, Muriel Mandell, Amira Daigle
Last Day (2012) Chris Behan, Keoni Patterson
Many scenes were shot outdoors so we used natural light, which made things easier in some ways. However, that poses its own challenges since we sometimes had to rush in order to beat the sun, looming shadows, etc. and your Dialogues are very important in long career as a screenplay writer informed the effective structure of your film. What is your approach to dialogues? Dialogue can be tricky. My first two short films had very little dialogue and were primarily visual. Both films had only one big dialogue scene between two characters. Dialogue ideally should come from necessity in terms of telling the story. In those two films, the characters were isolated and speaking to others was not a major part of their lives. “Upside Down” was completely different. The characters were all verbal and expressive, (except for Mrs. Sunderson who does not speak at all), so it was clear that dialogue was going to be necessary. The danger is over writing or relying too much on words rather than images. I always tell my students to first see if they can tell the story or the scene visually before resorting to spoken words. For example, in the scene where Gigi is taunted near the LGBT center, I thought it more powerful for her not to respond verbally. I wanted her to look her taunter in the eye and have her face speak rather than say anything. The scenes with Sunny and Mrs. Sunderson are silent except for one line at the end of the scene where they play Scrabble. I never thought of having dialogue in those sections. Aside from that, I try to make sure that each character has their own voice and that there is a reason for them to speak. But I still sometimes err on the side of too much dialogue so it is a constant learning process. This concept really hits home when I’m editing and discover that some lines weren’t
necessary. (This happened more frequently while editing my feature film.) We like the way also speaks to the subconscious sphere of the spectatorship: what are you hoping will trigger in the viewers? In particular, are you interested in addressing your audience to elaborate personal intepretations? As I tell my students, once you write something you have no control over what people think about it or how they react. I think that is a wonderful and important thing about art. It is open to interpretation and there is no right or wrong reaction or feeling associated with it. That being said, I did hope that audiences might be come away from the film with a different opinion or feeling about people they might have had assumptions or judgments about. I always strive to make my characters recognizably human. Nobody is all one thing. I like to look beneath the surface and ideally, in a perfect world, I’d like it if we all were able to get beyond our initial impressions, judgments, prejudices, and see a person as another human being. We are all made of the same stuff and actually have similar hopes and dreams and fears and loves. When I made my film “Old Junk” (inspired by my mother), I very much wanted people to stop and notice an old person who walks with a walker or cane or uses a wheelchair. I know that many older people in our society are invisible and/or judged negatively. If you make assumptions about people based on appearances, you miss out on a lot and don’t get to see the humanity and wonderfulness that likely exists in that person. Getting to know someone can surprise you. This is certainly one of the themes behind “Upside
Last Day Chris Behan
Old Junk (2013) Lew Gardner
Down.” However, there might be viewers who come away with something completely different and that’s ok with me. shows natural storytelling: what was your preparation process with actors in terms of reharsal? In particular how much importance do play spontaneity and improvisation in your work? Do you conceive your sequences instinctively or do you methodically elaborate each of them? I did rehearse with my actors in Upside Down but not that much. Since the biggest role was that of a 10 year-old, my main goal was to have the actress (Amira Daigle), be comfortable with the actors playing her mother and Gigi. Therefore, I had them rehearse and “play” together a bit during the pre-production period. During auditions it was important for me to see if there was a bond or chemistry between the girl and Gigi. Rehearsals were also in part to give everyone a chance to run lines and get comfortable with the script. I definitely want actors to stick to the script and not improvise lines but certainly if something spontaneous arises that works, I will use it. This happened a couple of times in Upside Down, particularly with Gigi (Autumn Weisz) and I kept those things in the film. If I realize that a line doesn’t work or if it doesn’t feel natural to an actor, I might change it, though there are times I might not and just work harder to make the actor understand why the line is there. I would say that I think about sequences and know what I want for each scene in advance, but then I respond to what the actors are doing and use that as well. I’ve found that even if you prepare in advance or think you know exactly what you want to do, invariably things happen on set that are unexpected and you must be in the moment and think on your feet. Sometimes you have to let go of things because it becomes clear that you can’t get what you want (usually due
to time, money or light). But sometimes you must work really hard to make it work the way you know it needs to be. Overall, being open to those lucky accidents on set is important and can sometimes result in gold. And, sometimes, better than you could have planned. We want to catch this occasion to ask you to express your view on the future of women in new media art. For more than half a century women have been discouraged from getting behind the camera, however in the last decades there are signs that something is changing. What's your view on the future of women in Art and especially in videomaking? When I was younger I never thought about the fact that most (if not all) of my favorite films were written and directed by men. Now I always notice how many produced films are written and directed by men and it bothers me a great deal because I know it is an indication of the vast inequality woman face in the film industry (as well as other industries) in terms of opportunity, pay, exposure, etc. Yes, there are far more films now written and directed by women, which is progress, but the norm remains male dominated products. It seems obvious to me that more chances are given to and taken on men. Although there is more awareness about this issue there is still a lot of work to be done. There is also a problem in terms of the willingness to produce films with female protagonists. Hopefully as more films with women in lead roles do well, it will be less of a struggle to get those made. The same is true in terms of roles for women, particularly
Old Junk Lew Gardner
Old Junk Lew Gardner, squirrel
women over 40 or 50, and roles for women (and men) of color. I do think that younger women starting out today in film will have more opportunities as time goes on. For older women (like me), it is likely to be harder, in part also because of ageism along with the other issues. But without a doubt, women have a lot to contribute to film. Maybe some day it will become second nature to say “she” when talking about a writer, director or filmmaker. Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Shira. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving? I’m currently in post-production on my first feature film, “Starfish.” It was the next step to take after doing three short films. Although I have written quite a few feature length screenplays, I knew that none of them would be suitable for my first feature as they would require larger budgets and are too complicated. I wrote Starfish keeping low budget and simplicity in mind. The script is the most personal one I’ve written and different in tone from my other feature screenplays. Thematically it is about grief and healing but also about friendship, family and the strong bond between dogs and humans. It is based loosely on personal experiences and relationships. The death of my father and the death of our rescue dog had profound impact on me and much of Starfish reflects this. We shot the film last September 2016 on a shoestring budget, on location in Connecticut and New York in 19 days. It is female driven and has parts for “older” women. Characters range from 14-82. The work is similar to my short films in that character and
relationships are primary. It is a “small” film – which can be a dirty word in the film industry because it usually translates to “not commercial.” However, I know there is an audience for the film and I believe it is important for viewers to have a variety to choose from aside from standard Hollywood fare. I’m glad to have done my first feature film for very little money. I learned a great deal from the experience but do not want to make another film under those circumstances again as it is too difficult and many compromises must be made. I’d love to be able to direct some of my other screenplays, which are quite different from Starfish. However, I’d only make them with more workable budgets than I had this time, so I don’t know if that will be possible. Funding is always a challenge. I’m also very open to directing other people’s scripts, providing the work speaks to me. I’m extremely hands-on and enjoy the development process and the collaborative nature of film. I’d like to continue working on finding and fine-tuning the balance between the visual and verbal in how I tell my stories. For me the goal is to ideally touch my audience and elicit some kind of feeling and visceral experience from them. It might be recognizing or understanding something in others, or awakening something in themselves. A good laugh or cry is a wonderful thing. Without the arts, whether film, theatre, music, literature, dance etc., the world and the humans who inhabit it, would be doomed. Overall, I hope my work continues to grow and evolve as I do and that I am able to be creative and expressive in one way or another as long as I’m around. Thank you for including me in your magazine.
Margaret Curry in Starfish (2017)
A day in Chisinau is video art/experimental documentary telling the story of 4 inhabitants of the Moldovan capital and the jobs they do that will soon disappeared due to the social, economic and political changes the country is undertaking. This video talks about the fragility the labour market contains, it is about a society in transition. In different magnitudes, the characters struggle to draw themselves professionally in an uncertain future. But it also reflects on the break that happened before in the Moldovan society in a more a-temporal approach. The characterâ€™s fight either because they belong to a minority that was almost erase, because a late technological capitalism is chasing their corner or because social costumes are adapting to the new times.
Alana Mejia Gonzalez
Alana Mejia Gonzalez
Alana Mejia Gonzalez Lives and works between London, Rome and Madrid
An interview by Bonnie Curtis and Jennifer Rozt Druhn
Hello Alana and welcome to this special edition of Women Cinemakers: before starting to elaborate about your artistic production would you like to tell us something about your background? In particular, how does your cultural substratum influence the way you conceive and produce your works? Thank you for interest in my work and for selecting my piece. I think the work I produce is a direct response of who I am and where I come from. I was born in Spain, but I don’t necessarily feel Spanish, just mainly when I’m abroad. My mother comes from a Spanish family but grew up in Belgium, and my father is Colombian. So the combination of cultures and the dialogue between them, as well as stories of migration and movement of people have always interested me, as it’s what I grew up with. I discover the cinema world by joining a youth film school, Orson the Kid, and by being cast as an actress in a small Spanish film. At that time, I
believe the main storytellers where the actors but once on set, I discover how many people make films and I became attracted by knowing more about the professions behind the camera. I continue studying acting in Corazza in madrid while combining it with my BA in Media Studies at Carlos III University (Madrid, Spain) which allowed me to take exchange programs in the American University of Beirut (Lebanon) and Bilgi University in Istanbul (Turkey). But my interest was shifting strongly to photography, and its power to transport people to many other locations and stories. During my experiences abroad, learning by other countries, cultures, languages and fields, I became sure that my main passion was visual storytelling. I worked as a documentary photographer while moving between the Eastern Mediterranean and East Europe. In Lebanon, I followed a group of Filipino maids in their only free day, publishing the photovideo reportage Sundays at the online magazine Mediterráneo Sur. Attracted by the intense activism Turkey was experiencing in 2013, I moved to Istanbul to develop a visual project about dystopia landscapes due to urban renewal policies. In 2014, I moved to Moldova where I developed a web-doc about the new generation of Transnistrians (a self- proclaimed pro-Russian
Definetely, all this background of travels, encounters and people I’ve met has shaped the way in which I look at the world and the way I’m interested in telling stories. we For this special edition of have selected , an interesting film that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article. What has at once captured our attention of your exploration of the labor market fragility is the way you provided its results with with . When walking us through the genesis of would you tell us something about your process and set up? In particular, what was your choices about lens? A day in Chisinau was shot all on locations and using natural light, moving in the city and sometimes following the characters without exactly knowing where we were going to. All of the projects follow the premise of being shot during just one day of the character’s lifes, intending not to change their routine, and exploring the city and their professions through their perspective. For that reason I decided to use a zoom lenses Canon 24 – 105mm that will allow me the flexibility of shooting in many diverse situations, adjusting myself and the frames to the most appropiate for each shot. My intention,
republic.) while working at KSA:K Center for Contemporary Art of Chisinau. Transnitrian Youth: Disputed Sovereignty is a web doc that aims to explore the doubts, anxieties and sort of “freedom” that come with the uncertainty of the youth, while narrating what is to grow up in a country that do not exist.
For some shots, especially when we were in domestic spaces I knew or that we will stay in for longer, interiors mainly, I used a 50mm f1.8 as I needed a faster lens and I wanted to be tighter on the character when the work space or the city was not surronding them. We have appreciated the coherent use of static shots: what were your aesthetic decisions when shooting? Chisinau is a bit of a strange city, a place where sometimes seems that not much is going on but when you spend some time standing and looking at its streets, from the central market corner, or from a back alley way, you realized so many details come a life and only with time you start to read into the layers of the city. Looking back at this work, I realized probably the reason why I choose to focus on some static shots was the pictorical power of them, and their subtlely narrative. I used the aesthetic shots to look at those kind of locations I was talking about before, in which the monotonous tone of the city breaks once you look more into it. is rich with images pervaded with , that you draw from everyday life's experience and our observation of the social phenomena seems
whatever the situation we were in was, was to use a framing in which the character would always be put in his contest using the enviroment elements to add into the storytelling.
Thank you, as that was one of my main challenges when developing this project. I think this pieces comes from my direct experience as a resident of Moldova. I lived there for a year, and the piece evolved and got made towards the end of my stay in the country. And probably the strengh of this film comes from having spend a lot of time in the streets of Moldova, trying to understand how was life is in one of the least privilege countries in Europe, not to label it again as the poorest country in Europe. I believe all the months of direct observation of Moldovan life allowed me to include those â€˜symbolic referencesâ€™ into A day of Chisinauâ€™s narrative, adding a more general social and cultural value to the story of individuals. Improvisation is an ambiguos term in this project, as one of my ideas was to find interesting and diverse characters that through their lifes would tell the story I wanted to tell about a major economical change and a society in transition between a Soviet pass and a struggle of social and political improvement. The approach I had on A day in Chisinau was completely documentary, but with a well thought easthetic behind, so improvisation was everything and nothing, what I portrayed was real life, not acting or interpreting behind. Just a way of looking at the city and life that has a clear, thought and care easthetic. You insightful inquiry into a society in transition as the Moldovan one is pervaded with sublte but
to be very analytical, yet strives to be full of emotion: how much importance has in your shooting process?
". Not to mention that almost everything, could be considered political. Do you think that could be considered political in this way? What could be in your opinion the role of a filmmaker in our unstable, everchanging contemporary societies? Well, I would like to believe that someone is political when aims to be a critical thinker, develop its own ideas and reflect about the conditions of the world he/she lives in. And thatâ€™s exactly what I try to do, therefore I aspire to produce work that shows it. I completely agree with Orozcoâ€™s view on the artistâ€™s role, and I would like to put myself in that wave too. Thinking in this line, the idea of this kind of films in the socio-political context of Moldova takes a new dimension that if we place it in Germany or Spain. Culture has a significant importance in Moldovan society, but mainly still under the Soviet standards, Classical music concerts, ballet or classical Russian theatre are popular events. However, more contemporary approaches to art are developing fast but still marginal, minority, and precarious. A day in Chisinau was premiere as part of the exhibition Fire is a good servant, which was my solo exhibition in one of the few spaces that shows contemporary art in Chisinau,
effective socio political criticism. Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco once stated, "
Some people have called me a traveller, but some of my friends who know me well will always say a I’m a nomad. And that’s what I fell, I don’t want to be a traveller or a tourist, but a nomad. Because I don’t just visit places, but live in them. I was living in a Moldovan house for a year, paying bills as any other citizen, buying my grosseries in the markets where I film, taking the buses in which I shot every day and even living on sort of a Moldovan salary. So, I think I managed to understand well how life unfolds in Chisinau, but at the same of course I will always be a foreigner, a privilege Spanish-passport holder, or at least someone that come from somewhere else (At this point in my life, I still don’t know from where) so I try to combine the look of an outsider with the one of a local. It comes from my love for Moldova, my gratitude with the country that hosted me and the curiosity about those fragile jobs that survive in Moldova. I try to build the narrative of the film based on the daily lifes of my characters but also in the desire to build a more complex structure talking about the city and an
Zpatiu. Fire is a good servant was showing a portraits photographic installation, the film A day in Chisinau and a series of performances. In this performances I invited a series of street musicians, who had become already part of Chisinau’s esence, to play inside the exhibition. I was aiming to break the barries between the street/public sphere and the “art institutions” that classically have decided what’s art and what’s not. As Orozco said, I believe this action makes sense and has a difference meaning in Moldova, where the Art Academy has decided in the past what’s art and what’s not, that would have in other countries or political systems.
economy in transition. Sound plays an important role in : how did you capture the sound of the ambience? In particular, how do you see the relationship between sound and moving images? Lately, I’m exploring so much the narrative power of sounds in a way I didn’t consider before. This project helped me understand the power of storytelling through sound, and how many layers a good sound design adds to the visual content. The sound in A day of Chisinau aims to go on the same line than the images, not following just a single linear narrative but being able to tell the four stories simultanously. And that was a big challenge as I couldn’t necesseraly use the same technique than with the images. I try to combine the soundscape of each story into a unique piece that will travel between the visual narrative of multiple screens. What are you hoping the film will trigger in the audience? Would you like that it addresses the viewers to a more conscious reflection about the themes of economic and social changes in the contemporary age or for you is just a matter of aesthetics? No, of course it isn’t just a matter of easthetics. I could look into an interesting images, maybe just a photograph, but I couldn’t sit and watch a film for minutes that do not want to say something a part from easthetics. This film is about the fragility that
So, with this film I would like to audience to undestand more of the live in this unknown European capital, the current political-social situation in a postsoviet context. Reflect on the evolution of labor market, its adaptation to contemporary needs and the positive and negative consequences of globalization. Will the bus service in Moldova become like any other ones you can find in Switweland or Singapur? Will the knowledge of the mechanisim of old film soviet cameras will be lost or to who will be taught, if no one ones to take on Ghenaâ€™s job? Will the jewist community have a significant relevance in the Moldovan culture as ones had? For me one of the most interesting thought process I had when doing this project, is that I kept thinking in this situation being lived in Spain not that long ago and how things can change socially in the short amount of time of just a decade or few. We want to catch this occasion to ask you to express your view on the future of women in cinema. For more than half a century women have
the labor market contains, it is about a society in transition. Here the characters, all inhabitants and workers of Chisinau, in different magnitudes struggle to draw themselves professionally in the future. But it also reflects on the break that happened before in the Moldovan society in a more a-temporal approach. The characters struggle either because they belong to a minority that was almost erase, because a late technological capitalism is chasing their professional space or because social costumes are adapting to contemporary times.
been discouraged from getting behind the camera, however in the last decades there are signs that something is changing. What's your view on the future of women in cinema? In particular, do you think that your being a woman provides your artistic research with some special value? Yes, of course there are signs of things changing... Otherwise, in which world do we life in? I believe we are facing a moment of major changes, not only in the fact that more women are filling different positions behind the camera but also in the classical structure in which films have been made. It’s a time of restructuring many aspects of our industry. Cinema is a power tool to reach vast audiences, and it needs to reflect the diverse world in which we life not only by their stories or characters, but also the people behind it making it. In my case, the percentage of female presence in the cinematography world is embarassinly low. However, something is clearly changing as I’m doing my MA in Cinematography at the National Film and TV School in the UK in a 4 women – 4 men enviroment. I can see the ground we still have to conquest at the same time as the possibility to keep going forward. We often talk about the extra fights we face as women, in this industry and in the world, but I see my generation pushing harder, getting rid of some of the ‘weight’ of being a woman, working intensively and making a difference. And this comes with more women in different positions of the filmmaking process, but also with men being more aware of unequility and wanting to fight it. I believe
Of course, being a women in this industry adds challenges that male collegues won’t have to face that often. But the lack of diversity in this industry is not just in terms of gender, but also on race, culture and economical class, and that’s one of my aims while working as a cinematographer to contribute to change that aspect by working in films that are aware and fight agains this tendency. I recently had a workshop with Charlotte Brus Christensen on of the few female DPs shooting major Hollywood films at the moment. She kept mentioning the fact of being a women in a very masculine world is not a impossible, as long as you don’t pay much attention to that fact as a difference. Being a woman provides me with a different artistic value? Well, I don’t believe that just the fact of being a woman gives you a certain vision. The value I add into my artistic research comes from being Alana, not just a woman. Comes from having lived in this and that place, growing up in a particular enviroment, having encounter given people and sum up of who I am as an individual, not just a woman. Of course, the female aspect is a section of my identity and has play positive and negative roles in my life. In the case of A day in Chisinau, it has helped me to access private homes and character’s intimacy easily that if I was a men. But It has also chosen some other paths. For example, when I met the Rabbi Daniel and he
the gender gap in the professional world won’t only be solve with women claiming more space, but with both men and women aiming a more equilitarian possition. As racisim is not only an issue of discriminated racial communities, feminisim is not only an issue of women, but of contemporary citizens, whatever gender identification they have.
agreed with me shooting his life, he had not issue with me coming and shooting in his house with his wife or at the Synagoge. But once the morning praying started, he told me I needed to go into the upper floor, the space reserved for the women. I thought that could be a good angle to shoot the praying, although I feel he didnâ€™t understand what I was asking for. When I got upstairs I realized the balcony was cover with a wooden fance that was not letting you see through much. At the end I came up with a creative solution to my restriction, but of course both extremes of what happened are contained in this story. Platforms like Women Cinemakers are great for us to make our work known by collegues in the industry. Thanks for sharing your time and thoughts, Alana. We wish you all the best with your filmmaker career! What's next for you? Thank you for this opportunity of sharing my work and expressing my ideas. In 2017, I received La Caixa scholarship to persuit my studies in Cinematography at the National Film and TV School of UK. And this amazing experience is what I am now immersed in, learning so much while working in different projects. So my plans for the future are to keep growing as a visual storyteller, becoming a better cinematographer, looking for interesting and challenging directors to collaborate with, and make significant and moving films.
Elena Sáenz Lives and works in London, United Kingdom
‘Tell the truth of what you know about life’, these words from a person I truly admire, have inspired me enormously for many years. I am an actress, a poet and a newbie filmmaker. Truth is what means the most to me. Beauty. Life. And I wouldn’t say that sometimes life doesn’t hurt, or that sometimes beauty has no scars. Cause it has. And it hurts. In every aspect of the work I’m doing I look for real and truthful. I look for life. For many years I thought that my words couldn’t reach more than a small familiar circle around me, that my story and the lives I wanted to live and tell about, would just touch those that personally knew me. What a limiting thought it was! Years went by, I grew up, and the time came when life got me into a very uncertain point. The need of shouting out my words, the way I see the world, the stories I had inside struggling to come out, became so urgent that with very few economic resources but loads of love and trust and a huge help from my friends, I dared to shoot my first short film: Dam to Dam. I like to address it as a poem in the form of a film. It is a small story, the kind of story I would tell about, intimate, personal, true and made with love. Inspired by traditions, family and the sea, developed with a thirst of adventure and an imagination craving for the far and the unknown. And contrary to that old thought, this poem/short film has touched the hearts of people I don’t even know, travelling all around the planet.
Elena Sáenz and Dora Tennant
Hello and thank you very much for inviting me to this edition of such an honour!
An ambitiously constructed, elegantly photographed film by Spanish born London based actress Elena Sáenz, exploring the story of a woman who goes on a trip looking for her love, DAM TO DAM initiates her audience into a poetic and highteneed visual experience that encourages a cross-pollination of the spectatorship: we are particularly pleased to introduce Sáenz's multifaceted and captivating work.
I’m a trained and vocational actress as well as a vocational and self-taught poet. I quit my career as a lawyer and joined a Drama School a bit later than the usual, to do what I really wanted to do. Then, since 2012, I’ve been training with the master of the realistic school John Strasberg, and it is from him that I’ve learnt most of what I know about my work. It was him who inspired me in telling what I truly know about life.
An interview by Francis Quettier
Hello Elena and welcome to this special edition of Women Cinemakers: before starting to elaborate about your artistic production would you like to tell us something about your background? Are there any particular experiences that influenced your trajectory as a filmmaker?
The poetry came a long time ago, I remember when I was a child at school, I used to write little stories and mostly poems but, as sometimes grown ups felt in a way uncomfortable with what I had to say when I was 8 or 10 years old, I stopped sharing my stories. Of course, I kept on writing but it wasn’t until I decided to become an actress that I started again to make my writings public. And couldn’t stop since then. I recently began exploring the area of filmmaking due to a particular situation that I was going through in life. I’ve always liked photography and the idea of
Elena Sรกenz, photo by Bryan Lim
it as a tool to tell a story. Some years ago, I got my first reflex camera and got hooked by photography then. For a while I was missing something else. Something about the movement and all the possibilities that words and images can make us feel and understand a story. I was missing the film. So, almost two years ago, after what at first appeared as a terrible disappointment -I was living temporary in Spain and wanted to go back to NYC, where I had lived for a while, but it didn’t happen-, I got to the point that I really didn’t know what my next step was going to be. For months, all my energy and wishful thinking had been directed towards the dream of going back to NYC. And then, just like that: Deep Uncertainty. It is said that when a door’s shut, a window’s open. The exact same day when I got the news that the long-awaited dream had to be postponed, I got a call to travel to Amsterdam for a few weeks. So the door had closed but the window opened. And I went to Amsterdam. I fell in love there, came back to Spain and with a story bubbling inside me and absolutely nothing to lose, I decided to do something I had never done before. I wrote a poem but now I was going further, I was going to make a film out of it. we have For this special edition of selected the , an interesting film that our readers have already started to admire in the introductory pages of this article. What has at once captured our attention of your inquiry the story of is the a way you provided the visual results of your analysis
Diciamo che -parlo per me- certe cose avrei potuto gestire in maniera
When I came back to Spain from that trip, I was very inspired and I wrote a little story, a poem. Romantic love has always lived deep inside me. But unlike a lot of films and novels that we got to watch or read, I always see the woman as the protagonist of the story, the one who leads, has the power and, in this case, is determined to go after what she wants, instead of remaining waiting for some external power –call it fate, call it the man wanting to move his arse- to bring it to her. In Dam to Dam there is a traditional inspiration as well. I was born by the sea, in a little town of working class people and fishermen. There is a particular traditional song, very well known, that describes how women, back in time, used to walk 15 kilometres along the river towards the main city, selling the fish that had been caught on the day. It was the women who carried the fish and made the journey to sell it. And they sang about it. The link between these two ideas –the trip to Amsterdam, falling in love, and the traditional song inspiration- was my grandfather, the stories he told us when he was alive, the excitement, spontaneity and modesty in the way he did it. He told us plenty of stories every week when we –his grandson and granddaughters- met him for lunch. And I never forgot that were the Dutch who built our port. To be honest, I’ve never checked if this was entirely truth or not. I don’t care. I liked the story.
with : while walking our of , would readers through you tell us how did you come up with the idea for this interesting film?
Escaping from traditional narrative form, features a brilliant storytelling: how did you develop the script and the structure of the film? It all started with what I usually do, which is writing a poem inspired by some life experience and dressed up with a bunch of imagination. The poem was easily transformed in a story and suddenly I could clearly see that story in images inside my head, so the story took the form of a script, and the challenging part, then, was to turn it into an actual film. ‘Dam to Dam’ can be divided into three parts in terms of space: Santurce –point of departure-, the travel and Amsterdam. At the same time, it can be divided in terms of time: in the first part of the film we hear a story –‘A long time ago, my grandfather told me…’-, which is told in past tense. Then there is a turning point and we see the woman of the story as witnesses, we see what happens to her after the story finishes, and this is in a present tense. There is a strong presence of travelling, of constant movement, and this idea is a submerged common thread for the whole short film. With its gorgeous widescreen compositions, succeeds in placing the audience and the protagonist on equal and ambiguous footing: what are you hoping the film will trigger in your audience? In particular, do you consider the issue of audience reception as being a crucial component of your decisionmaking process, in terms of what type of language is used in a particular context?
The personal relationships that I’ve maintained for years, both with Maite Martínez and Urko Olazabal (those behind the camera) helped us in terms of understanding each other when the shooting time came. I wanted to use an intimate language, I wanted to portray a personal world and make the audience be part of that little world. There are two separate ways of approaching this story and you can see the difference between the first part: the presentation of the woman, the story the grandfather used to tell about and the decision made by the woman to go on a trip to find who she loves. From there, the woman arrives in a whole new city/world for her and we can appreciate that the camera here is almost following the woman, and as audience we can kind of feel that we are in the journey with her, just observing the whole scene a few meters behind her. I hope the film triggers hope in the audience, real hope and courage. Whether the woman finds what she is looking for or not, she is brave enough to step out from the known towards the unknown. I hope the film touches a nerve. It is this intimacy, this getting so close to the observed object, that could make the audience feel its vulnerability. The fact that I involved my grandfather in the story, I guess that I am unconsciously looking for an emotional response from the audience, but I don’t consider the issue of audience reception as being a crucial component
As this was my first time directing a film, it was a challenging experience to transfer my ideas to the persons behind the camera, especially as the script wasn´t a usual one in its form, so we could work on the same page. The results were far beyond what I expected.
of my decision-making process. To be honest, when I was making the film I would never have thought that ‘Dam to Dam’ would travel to so many festivals around the world and moved so many different people. We have appreciated the film’s expressive color palette, stunning widescreen compositions: what were your when shooting? ‘Dam to Dam’ is not a Dogme 95 film but it actually follows some of its rules. We didn´t use any other light than the natural light and on the shooting in Amsterdam the camera was basically hand-held. These are some of the aesthetic decisions I made to settle an intimate environment, a personal world. At the same time, I wanted to establish a similarity between the two locations where we shot and the two locations in the story as well. We didn’t portray the usual Amsterdam with its beautiful canals and ancient waters, but the one that the woman would find that sailor in. We can appreciate the similarity on both of the landscapes, with the cargo ships, the cranes, the sea… On the other hand, despite of the grey tones in both Santurce and Amsterdam, there are generally brighter tones in Amsterdam, as well as a colourful, even dreamy sensation, during the transition between both locations, when we see the sun rising through the train window, greeting a new day, a new world, a new life. There is another important aesthetic decision which is the costumes: the woman is wearing the same traditional costume than those women who are referred to in the song, which gives to the film an anachronistic sensation.
In terms of the widescreen composition, there is a feeling of solitude: whether the frame shows a distant woman walking on a deserted port with her reflection on a large puddle, or a close-up of the same woman eating an apple on a boat, we barely see other people in the whole footage. Even the man she’s looking for (played by Georgi Meser) appears on screen just for a quick couple of seconds. This is a journey that has to be done alone. We have appreciated the way you have combined into coherent unity: Did you pursue such result instinctively or did you methodically structure ? the process? In particular, do you like There was a structure –specifically regarding to the moving images and statics- but this was not fixed or rigid. The process was more an instinctive one rather than methodical. I do like spontaneity. I worked with two different people with different views in terms of filming and having a space for spontaneity was inevitable. Maite, who shot all the Amsterdam part, is a professional photographer mostly focused and experienced in fashion photography. Urko, on the other hand, is a highly experienced filmmaker (and actor) with his particular vision of the craft. Fortunately, I managed to express what I wanted to show on screen, and they both did a great job. I talked to them of the emotions or feelings I wanted to get from the shot, instead of exactly ask them for a particular frame, in most of the cases. So there was a common ground where we could find each other, which made ‘Dam to Dam’ possible. Reminding us of Marguerite Duras work's, your artistic production in the field of animation is marked out with a personal style: who are, if any, some of your chief
influences from contemporary scene? In particular, how would you describe your cinematographic style? I would describe it as poetic. Which is a very broad concept... The fact that my work reminds you to Marguerite Duras’ is way more than I would’ve ever expected. But then it comes to my mind ‘Hiroshima mon amour’ and I can´t do anything but find me slightly smiling because, in spite of the apparent differences, I can have a glance of this remembrance. Regarding my influences, I grew up in the 80´s. ‘The Goonies’ was the reference film of my childhood –adventure and friendship wrapped in a pirate story are ingredients that would make any child completely excited-. And then, in my early twenties, I learnt about the Nouvelle Vague: this blew my mind. Films like ‘Les 400 coups’, ‘À bout de souffle’ and ‘Vivre sa vie’ became an absolute inspiration. Later, the combo Sam Shepard/Wim Wenders was the most majestic and wonderful one for me (‘Paris-Texas’!!!!). I could also name Jean-Pierre Jeunet, because ‘Amelie’ was my favourite movie for years, without forgetting Zhang Yimou and Lars von Trier. Yes, they are films such as ‘The broken circle breakdown’ that get my eye and my heart. I take a look to all of these inspirations and, despite having different styles and picturing diverse worlds, they all definitely have a poetic aspect. is based on a traditional The soundtrack of Basque song, that is both minimalistic and effective: according to media theorist Marshall McLuhan there is a 'sense bias' that affects Western societies favoring visual logic, a shift that occurred with the advent of the alphabet
as the eye became more essential than ear. How do you see the relationship between sound and moving images? This is very interesting. I’ve been very curious lately about the way we learn and the different brain areas we use for it, depending on whether we are illiterate or not. Marshall McLuhan was talking about the entire society but I guess we can have an example with the simple realisation that it is different the way we learn when we are kids and don´t know the alphabet yet compared to when we have gained that knowledge. And the sound becomes the protagonist here. That is why basically traditional songs keep on passing through one generation to the other. Because at an early stage the ear is the essential sense to communicate and learn, and we keep on singing them to our children, so this ancient form doesn´t get lost. Coming from the Basque Country, I would say that there is another main situation in which the ear, the sound, the traditional song becomes the protagonist as well: around food and drinks. Most of the traditional songs we learn them when we are children or when we are gathered around food and wine. Now that I moved to London, I can see the same reference with the songs in the pubs. There is still something ancient inside us that comes out in this kind of particular environment. ‘Dam to Dam’ is inspired by a traditional Basque song, like I said above, that describes how women, back in time, used to walk 15 kilometres along the river, from Santurce towards the main city -Bilbao-, selling the fish that had been caught on the day. They were singing along their way about the fresh fish they had to sell to call the attention of potential costumers –fresh sardines-. There are slight adjustments when I sing the song in the film: instead of ‘desde Santurce a Bilbao…’ (from Santurce to Bilbao), I sing ‘desde Santurce a Amsterdam’ (from Santurce to Amsterdam), relating the
traditional story with the specific one that we get to know on the film. So, I could say that we see one of these women, born and raised in a fishermen’s little town, used to walk 15km a day selling sardines and singing, who one day decides to change her direction, her path and her life. The relationship between sound and moving images is clear then. As well as the traditional song, in the first part of the film I counted with the collaboration of the American musician Will Csorba. As far as a description of the music he did for ‘Dam to dam’, it definitely falls within the realm of the guitar work he does, which often falls under the "American primitive guitar" heading, which again perfectly fits in the traditional aspect of the whole film. We want to catch this occasion to ask you to express your view on the future of women in cinema. For more than half a century women have been discouraged from getting behind the camera, however in the last decades there are signs that something is changing. What's your view on the future of women in cinema? Women have been discouraged from many things for more than enough time. We still are. But certainly this is changing, fortunately. We are still at that point in which we need the extra encouragement to balance all the discouragement, and we need cinema festivals in which women are the only protagonists –‘Dam to Dam’ was recently selected for World of Women in Tunisia-, we need magazines like Women Cinemakers, to highlight the work of women in cinema, we needed Kathryn Bigelow being the first woman director winning an Oscar so next time won’t be such a big issue being a woman and winning the best director Oscar.
My view on the future of women in cinema is full of promise. Since I moved to London I’ve been working in several films as an actress, and I must say that most of them are directed by women. I’d like to name the huge young promise Ella Kirby, who at only 21 years old has directed ‘NIÑA’, a film full of sensitivity and wisdom that surely will harvest big success. And if I turn my eyes to the Spanish scene, since I began being interested in cinema, in my early twenties, Icíar Bollaín and Isabel Coixet -both women Spanish directors- have always been a grand inspiration to me. You also collaborate internationally in different cinema and theatre projects: it's no doubt that interdisciplinary collaborations are today ever growing forces and that the most exciting things happen when creative minds from different fields of practice meet and collaborate on a project... could you tell us something about this effective synergy? By the way, Peter Tabor once stated that " ": what's your point about this? Can you explain how your work demonstrates communication between creative people from different fields? I totally agree with Mr. Tabor. I’ve collaborated with different people from diverse backgrounds and origins: from Spain to South Korea, USA, Belgium, Holland, Germany, UK, India, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Sweden… I’ve worked with actors, directors, dancers, choreographers, musicians, writers... You need to find a language in which the different disciplines can understand each other, express each other and create a reality that would never be possible without the combination of them.
I have collaborated with Nakhyun Kang, South Korean director, in several occasions and I particularly remember the shows Drive Thru and Elena-Elena: actors, dancers and musicians playing live were on stage, as well as video projections. These experiences are fully enriching and create new perceptions and therefore new realities. Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Elena. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving? I recently moved to London for a new stage on my career as an actress and I’m really focused on it. However, I want to keep on exploring this new facet of mine as a filmmaker: I have written a couple of stories that still need some work to be transformed in films. I can visualise both of them in the same style as ‘Dam to Dam’, in terms of poems in the form of a short film, although with different themes. Besides, after my first approach behind the camera, which was ‘Dam to Dam’, I’ve been working on an experimental series of film-poetry, mainly shot with a smartphone, which developed on a project I am currently working on, making micro-poem films using photography and animation. I hope I can show you some of this really soon and that we have the chance to talk again. Thank you for your time and your interest. Keep up and spread love!
Published on Sep 13, 2017
Featuring: ELENA SÁENZ ALANA MEJIA GONZALEZ SHIRA LEVIN AISLÍNN CLARKE EMMA PIPER-BURKET HANNAH FORD SOLÈNE GUICHARD FREMDINA BIANCO GABRIEL...