An interview with filmmaker and artist,
"Vivian Vivas is a visual artist whose work fuses experimental film, performance, sound, video, and photography. Her work opens a door to the unconscious mind for a full-bodied, conceptual experience that challenges boundaries in contemporary issues. Through her practice, Vivian invites the audience to participate in a conversation, engaging them in the transformation of reality within a constructed world. Vivian works with allusions to a symbolism that can be rediscovered in multiple contexts, allowing both emerging concepts and the greater structure to direct her selection of media.
She is currently co-chair of the film selection committee for the 2020 UN Women Film Festival San Francisco Chapter. She recently received the Best Experimental Film Award at the 2019 ARFF Barcelona Film Festival and the 2018 Kodak Award from the San Francisco Art Institute. Vivian studied Art Photography at the Andy Goldstein School of Creative Photography in Buenos Aires, Argentina, before receiving her BFA with a double major in Film and Photography from the San Francisco Art Institute. She has exhibited artwork in Buenos Aires, Cali, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Barcelona, among others."
Poster of Sankofa, 2018.
How is the role of the filmmaker and artist changing today?
Today’s young filmmakers and artists base much of their work off of feelings, but in contemporary practice, we use research to go beyond those feelings. Thus, the dialogue about the art, as well as an active audience, become part of the work. Ideally, I would show my films on billboards, so that instead of publicity, people could experience the art in a sort of public forum and not only engage with the film and filmmaker, but also with each other.
You said you don’t give popcorn to your viewers. What does this mean?
I don’t give the viewer a traditional narrative - my films don’t have specific openings and closings - or a clear thread to follow - I ask the viewer to actively participate, to help construct the meaning of the film they’re watching.
Is there anything you would like to say to people before they watch your films?
In an art environment, you have to have the disposition to actively engage. The meaning isn’t one-way from filmmaker to viewer, it is a meeting of two minds. Without the desire to engage, you won’t get anything out of it.
When I watched your films, I could feel my body as a woman being compelled by the use of powerful, visceral language. How is your own sense of identity as a woman reflected in your films?
In my films there is never a straight point of view. It is a zigzag communication between the subject, my initial viewpoint, which includes my history, thoughts, feelings and experiences, and how that viewpoint changes as I respond to the subject, and of course how the subject responds to me, and all of this embodies my identity as a woman, who I am at my core and how I relate to the world. I am glad to hear that as a woman, your body physically reacted to my cinematic language.
Many of your films are inspired by people who have made an impact in your life. How have their stories become a vital source in, for example, your performatic experimental film Absentia?
When I recognize someone with a deep soul, something makes me want to know more about them. Absentia came from a relationship I developed with my cousin Alejandra, who I met one summer when traveling to Germany and Spain to meet new family. As I got to know her I learned that she was born in prison, and together we began to explore what that meant in her life, in terms of what home is and can be. I wanted to know how growing up the first years of her life in prison affected and influenced who she would become. And then of course the movie became something totally different, because in reality, as an adult, she speaks multiple languages and travels around the world. But the motor of the film is still based and comes from that initial understanding, leading to a film that explores isolation through the poetics of absence.
Is there a specific reason that you prefer to film with 16mm?
It’s an aesthetic choice. I enjoy the relationship with the material - to be able to develop the film - to process the celluloid - to touch it - to feel it - to have it in my hands. Also, the fact that I can’t see what I am shooting strengthens my relation to the camera. I have to look through it, making it an extension of myself. It’s just more intimate. The moment when you see the picture start to appear on the film - it’s so beautiful.
How has your style developed through time and over the course of the films that you’ve made?
I started as an art photographer, working with still images. Then, with time, I felt the urge to use movement, so my photos began to include more blur, as well as elements of dance, and then I wanted sound too, so I started making films. But I felt that making films wasn’t enough. So I took the subjects from the films and placed them in the same space as the projections. In this manner, the experience could go beyond one channel of expression.
My background is in narrative storytelling where you always have a destination in mind. What is it like crafting a film where you don’t know where you are going to end up?
It’s an adventure. It’s one of my favorite parts. When it's already storyboarded, I don’t get excited about shooting it. Of course, I research before filming, but the fact that it's not planned or determined means there’s an opportunity to constantly be surprised, to recreate, to reimagine, that’s what’s fascinating to me. It’s like I’m finding ways to let the film have its own expression and I communicate with it. And together we find the essence. It’s challenging, but I love it.
What is your relationship with your movies?
I hate this metaphor, but it’s true for me - the process is like a gestation period - affected by my thoughts, my hormones, my actions - all combining inside of me - but afterward we shoot it becomes its own thing - taking on its own language - and in the edit, it separates from me and I no longer own it.
What are you currently working on?
I was recently hired to direct a feature documentary that looks at traditional crafts in four geographical regions in Africa. It’s exciting because I have the freedom to include experimental aspects. At the same time, I feel a responsibility to form a diverse crew of mostly women from around the world, because there are so many talented women in the industry that don’t get these opportunities.
Thank you for your time Vivian!
Published on May 2020
by Magdalena Fraga Lauhirat