#500words is an online community and critical space for discussing the art landscape across New Zealand. Stemming from the first edition of Fresh Milk‘s project Transoceanic Visual Exchange (TVE) in 2015, which we presented in collaboration with Video Art Network Lagos in Nigeria and RM in New Zealand, #500words featured an interview with our team in their WW…D? series, where they get to know people that have contributed to the creative community in New Zealand.
While in residence as a ResSupport Fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude, Katherine Kennedy interviewed former fellow of the Akademie, Ann Marie Fleming, and actress Sandra Oh about their upcoming feature length animation WINDOW HORSES. Created by Fleming and starring/co-produced by Oh, the story follows Rosie Ming – a Canadian poet of Chinese and Persian heritage – as she journeys to Iran to take part in a poetry festival. This culturally rich film celebrates the beauty of diversity, and how it can be used to bring people together and affirm communities that are often under-represented.
Katherine Kennedy: WINDOW HORSES was originally conceptualized during your fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude. What did this residency do for your creative process, and how did your stay inspire the story?
Ann Marie Fleming: When I was in Solitude, it was a difficult time for me. I felt very isolated. I was one of the only residents not to be living in Europe, and would find myself alone for days at a time in the winter. I was there as a filmmaker, but I was in the writer’s wing – I met an exiled poet from China, a film festival director who had parents from different countries that both spoke different languages, another poet who would only speak his own language; and here I was, trying desperately to learn German. I truly understood how much language is culture. It was also in Germany that I was introduced to the poetry of Rumi through adaptations by the American poet Coleman Barks.
As an immigrant to Canada, I had always felt like an outsider, but when I lived in Germany, I felt truly Canadian for the first time. Suffice to say, why people leave and why people come was heavy on my mind. [The founding director of Akademie Schloss Solitude] Herr Joly, himself, spoke of the Jewish diaspora in Germany growing, especially through the arrival of Russian, Ukrainian or Belorussian Jews. Around the time of my fellowship, there was also discussion surrounding the returning of the German Jewish diaspora. This idea of belonging had an impact on me, and I actually base a character in WINDOW HORSES on Herr Joly.
I have been working with these same themes for almost two decades since then. I did two installations in Solitude about the unspoken stories of women, particularly mixed race immigrants, and about the metaphysics of Sufi poetry juxataposed against the rituals of womanhood: woman as daughter, lover, bride, wife, ex-wife and mother. That being said, the original script forWINDOW HORSES was conceived as a live action film: a father-son relationship(!) about the German diaspora, particularly to North America after the Second World War, and the alienation of families.
I wrote the song WINDOW HORSES while at Solitude – it is in the book I also wrote during my fellowship, Breathless: the book of Anne, which is about my oldest friend who had killed herself. I performed it with my guitar out by the horses one magical candlelit night. I wish I had a picture. I spent a lot of time looking out the window at those horses. Literally.
K.K.: In addition to the intersection of cultures, Solitude can foster openness to collaboration and working with kindred spirits, even beyond the fellowship period. Can you and Sandra please tell me how you came to work together, and for Sandra, what about this particular project struck a chord with you?
A.M.F.: I first met Sandra back in the early/mid 90’s, when we were supposed to make a feature film together, Dog Days, which was a kind of ghost story about a Chinese immigrant family in the wilds of British Columbia… coincidentally, with a missing father and a dead mother. That project fell through, and I was invited to attend Akademie Schloss Solitude. It’s what I did instead of the feature, I guess. Sandra and I kept in contact over the years, but she went on to a very successful and busy career in the U.S. and, after many years of development, I reached out recently to see if she was available and interested in playing the role of Rosie Ming, and she said yes. More than that, she loved the project and wanted to come on board as a producer.
Sandra Oh: There are several reasons why I fell in love with this project – firstly, I’ve known Ann Marie for years now, and we’ve been trying to work together off and on for all that time. I love [Ann Marie’s avatar] Stickgirl and all she represents, and to voice her in such a heartfelt and deep emotional story was something I knew I had to do. WINDOW HORSES hits all the things that are important to me – it’s pro girl, pro tolerance, pro diversity and PRO ART!
K.K.: The style and animation that we have seen so far is fantastic, and I think Stickgirl is perfectly positioned as the leading lady because she has the ability to be autobiographical yet universal through her simplicity and charm. Tell me more about how Ann Marie, Sandra and Stickgirl as creator, actress and avatar will bring the film’s protagonist Rosie Ming to life.
A.M.F.: It’s a big step for me. Stickgirl (who plays Rosie Ming) has been my avatar since the 80’s and she has always had my voice. So giving her to Sandra to play is an act of trust and respect. It’s like a Bunraku, really, there are three people bringing Rosie Ming to life… me, through my words and original character, Kevin Langdale through his drawings, and Sandra Oh through her voice.
K.K.: Something else I find compelling and relatable about WINDOW HORSES is that the narrative transcends specific cultures. For example, I don’t have personal ties to China, Canada or Iran, but as a multi-racial woman from the Caribbean – an intrinsically hybrid and culturally complex region – the protagonist Rosie Ming’s journey of discovery, exchange and understanding still resounds with me. Can you both share your thoughts about the cathartic effect a film like this could have across the world’s many cultures and diasporas?
A.M.F.: Omigod, Katherine. This is exactly what you are supposed to take from the story. In its specificity is its universality. This is a story that takes place in Iran, and is steeped in that culture, but is about everybody’s stories.
S.O.: My nieces are mixed race, and it’s very important to me that they see themselves represented in this society. It cannot be understated how important it is for people who do not see themselves reflected, either at all or negatively on a regular basis, to know that there is a place for them to exist, truthfully and in a whole, complex way.
A.M.F.: WINDOW HORSES speaks from the place of all people: immigrants, people who are of mixed heritage, people who know nothing about their culture, people who have never left their village and are deeply embedded in their histories. It’s about what we share, and how important it IS to share. It’s about listening to each other’s stories. In WINDOW HORSES, it is poetry that bridges those gaps between generations and cultures. It is the same moon in the Tang Dynasty poem Quiet Night Thought by Li Bai that we see when we look up at the sky and miss our own home.
K.K.: “Distances and differences keep us apart, and we forget to remind each other of our own stories.”
This is a line from the beautiful graphic memoir The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, an epic, cross-cultural tale you unearthed about your great-grandfather. This statement stood out to me in relation to WINDOW HORSES because of the emphasis on hearing the stories of others, and using memories and experiences as cultural unifiers rather than dividers. The Indiegogo campaign offers forums for us to share our stories, poetry and music, creating a sense of community among those invested in the project. How has the public reaction been to this participatory approach?
A.M.F.: The most amazing thing about the Indiegogo campaign has been the response we have received from the public… all over the world. They say exactly what you say…that the story IS them, or the story TOUCHES them. And there have been people who just want to support us, who have been doing outreach in their communities, trying to spread the word, looking forward to the film. It’s amazing. Of course, we still are trying to raise more money, that’s the goal, but we’ve been rewarded in so many ways. There is another line fromThe Magical Life of Long Tack Sam which is continued in WINDOW HORSES: “history is relatives.” You know that it’s true.
Fresh Milk‘s Founding Director, Annalee Davis sits down for a chat with recent Fresh Milk resident artist, Lauren Craig. Lauren is a London based multimedia visual artist who developed ‘floral installation” to describe her creative practice. During their conversation, Lauren spoke about some of the projects she has been working on in the UK including her work for the British museum and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. In addition, Lauren shares her collaborative work with British women of colour as they develop the Women of Colour Index and ‘X Marks the Spot’, in contribution to an archive at the library at Goldsmiths University in London. Below are photographs that Lauren produced while on her residency at Fresh Milk.
Lauren Craig and Annalee Davis In Conversation Part 1
Lauren Craig and Annalee Davis In Conversation Part 2
Lauren Craig’s Biography
Lauren Craig is a social entrepreneur and artist researcher based in London. She has designed systems and living business models that have challenged large corporations in areas of racism, minority and women’s rights. Her art and entrepreneurial activity tackle big questions around ethics, equality, sustainability and community engagement in the cut flower industry whilst delivering practical floral alternatives locally, through her organization ‘Thinking Flowers?’
As an entrepreneur, Lauren is involved with social issues such as environmental destruction, London street crime and equality, aiming to promote positive change through ethics, sustainability and engagement. She has developed therapeutic methods using photography to document and tackle street crime and runs a pioneering ethical florist. Additionally, she has founded ‘Field’ – an innovative pop-up community retail space in Brixton Village, pioneered urban green waste schemes and floral donations services whilst campaigning for human, working and women’s rights further afield. She is currently setting up the Field Foundation, which will work to reconnect people with the creative cultural industries.
Her recent work includes ‘Petal Tank’, an experimental film featuring collage of autoethnographic darkroom photography, poetry and sculpture. (Tate Modern Tanks, 2012) ; An artist residency at the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths College, University of London (2013-2014) ; Sculptural Garden, collaboration with Paul Jones, Royal Collage of Art for Space Station 65, London (2014) ; ‘Sense and Sensibilities’ at Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2014) ‘Modern Measures – Holding, Pouring, Stirring’ at The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London as part of University College London Museums & Collections (2014). Collaboration with visual arts and research collective ‘X Marks the Spot’, initiated at Studio Voltaire 2011, engages with the archive of photographer Jo Spence to explore concepts of class, race, gender and wellbeing.
On September 3, 2014, former Akademie Schloss Solitude resident Achille Brice and fellow filmmaker Eka Christa Assam presented the German premiere of three film shorts – I.C.U., I-BEMSI and Beleh – at Generationshaus, Stuttgart. Barbadian artist and writer Katherine Kennedy, who is currently in residence at the Akademie acting as a correspondent between the Caribbean and the community here, spoke with them after the screening. The conversation provided an opportunity to discuss not only the works themselves, but the larger context in which they function in Cameroonian society. Through a series of questions, observations and personal anecdotes, cultural exchanges occurred, emphasizing the importance of perspective in both the telling and appreciation of a story.
Read the interview originally conducted for the Akademie Schloss Solitude Blog below:
Katherine Kennedy: Can you begin by telling me about your background in acting/filmmaking, and the context you are working out of in Cameroon; is there already an industry you are situating yourself in, or is it now emerging?
Eka Christa Assam: I actually studied accounting after high school, but I always wanted to act. At some point I dropped out, and after a year or two I got my first movie role in 2006. After being in a couple of films, I realized I wasn’t interested in the kind of scripts that came my way. In Cameroon, the film industry is still trying to find its feet, especially the English speaking section. Many filmmakers try to copy what Nollywood – the Nigerian film industry – is doing, which is mostly home videos for entertainment that don’t follow cinematic techniques, and I wanted more from the genre. I felt that film was tool we could use to address some of the issues we are facing in our country.
After a while I tried writing and directing my first short – but that didn’t even make it out of post. It was very hard because I hadn’t been to film school, I had no experience. I tried to read up on it but I don’t think I was quite prepared yet. I tried to get books on filmmaking, looked for information online and studied lots of Western films. Then I met Achille, who had been here at Akademie Schloss Solitude, and he was kind of like a mentor. He gave me pointers and sources for material, and he helped me with the second short, Doormat, which was 6 minutes long. With that piece I got accepted into the Durban Talent Campus 2012.
The second project we worked on was Beleh, which has been doing really well. It’s been screened at 12 festivals to date and won best short film at the ZAFAA African Film Academy Awards in London in 2013 and got a jury mention at the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) in Nigeria. It’s a slow process, but it’s picking up – the more you do, the more you improve, and because we have no formal training we learn on the job. It’s a bit of a struggle, but now that our work is getting out there and we’re getting opportunities to interact with other artists, we’re learning from them, getting inspired by their work, and approaching our own work from a different perspective.
Achille Brice: In terms of coming into the industry, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a film artist at first. I started as more of a recording artist and I was editing pictures for fun part time. A Cameroonian director had seen some of my work, and approached me in 2003 to suggest I try my hand at video editing. The first movie I ever edited was feature length; it was chaotic, but it was an amazing experience and ever since then I have been doing a lot of homework, trying to gain experience. I was lucky to be selected for the Durban Talent Campus in 2008, and in the same year selected for the Berlinale Talent Campus in Germany, so I think those were turning points in my artistic career. I got to meet professionals that have been in the industry for a long time, network and share ideas. I think that was a source of motivation.
Being able to manipulate scenarios, in a sense giving meaning to nothing, is what brought me to the industry. As Eka said, I discovered it was a platform where I could pick out relevant topics, and use video to break a barrier that other genres cannot really cross in the same way. I would say the artistic scene in Cameroon, especially in film, is slow because there are no real film institutions. If you want to become an artist you have to take the initiative in educating yourself.
KK: Given that the industry is still in its latent phases, did that lead to the founding of BinAm Studios? What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome?
AB: There is a problem with movie financing because a lot of investors don’t want to put their money into a sector where nobody has had formal training, but I think it’s a necessary risk to invest in and encourage talent. BinAm Studios was created as a platform to celebrate our own, because the general population of Cameroon tends to embrace foreign products. Sometimes when we do movies, people say that we’re copying Nigeria, but we’re trying to tell our own stories. It’s a gradual process; first we have to prove our worth, and then we can use this platform to showcase ourselves so that Cameroonians and those living in the diaspora know that things like this can happen in our own home. I founded BinAm Studios to cultivate this field while exposing our best. We have amazing actors, directors and producers who don’t get recognition because people think moviemaking is just a part time thing, but for me moviemaking is my saviour. It’s where I found my home.
ECA: Film is more than a hobby – it’s a passion and a profession, and you have to find that balance. Too many people do it for the wrong reasons. They may not even be finished editing the first draft, and they’re already starting on the promotion because they want their friends to know they will be on camera. They’re in a hurry to get it out there – but why are they doing it? The reason determines how well it is done. I feel that, as much talent as we have – and there are so many talented Cameroonians – once your attitude gets tainted, your whole art will crumble. And that is one of the biggest problems in our industry. We don’t have a market for our films yet, so the challenge is for us to be able to find our own voice and style, and make the public believe in our ability to present unique content.