Experimentation will take a spotlight this weekend with the NYFF sidebar Projections, which celebrates work from an international group of artists' film and video that pushes the boundaries of what the moving image can do or be. Selections draw on a broad range of innovative modes and techniques, including experimental narratives, avant-garde poetics, crossovers into documentary and ethnographic realms, and contemporary art practices.”
FilmLinc Daily viewed a handful of pieces in this year's lineup and asked directors a few questions about their work. Projections artist Mónica Savirón gave her thoughts on her piece Broken Tongue, which will screen Sunday as part of Program 12. Savirón says that Broken Tongue is an “ode to the freedom of movement, association and expression.” The work is an homage to various waves of migration and challenges notions of the narrative. “It is a search for a renewed consciousness, for reinvention, a ‘what if,’ the formal equivalent of asking a question expressed with a broken tongue—or not so broken after all,” adds Savirón.
FilmLinc: How was the idea for this project born?
Mónica Savirón: I have always been very interested in the confluences between cinema and sound poetry. I learned of avant-garde poet and performer Tracie Morris thanks to a wonderful course I was taking on American experimental poetry through the University of Pennsylvania. Her sound poem “Afrika” blew my mind away. I could not stop wondering if it would be possible to work with images the same way that Morris uses the sound of her voice. Broken Tongue is made, above everything else, out of admiration for her work.
For me, explorations around the possibilities of sound are very important—the vocabulary content of sound, the emotionality of sound. I wanted to give weight to words at a time when they are said so loosely. The sound in Tracie’s performance enacts the thing itself: it is the “how” that matters. The images follow the sound’s pitch, duration, and intensity.
FL: With the extended opening/countdown sequence, how are you trying to shape audience expectations leading into the sound poem portion of the film?
MS: The idea of new beginnings is very important to this film. Also, the idea of film as something that speaks to us in its own materiality. For me, Broken Tongue is a dialogue of contrasting voices: analog and digital; organic and distorted; slow and fast; static and dynamic; broken and united; and past and future. These three minutes of film touch on many aspects of history and linguistics, including the cinematic language. The images are seen through a circle—the shape of the eye, the shape of the world)—a kind of peephole that emphasizes what is left outside, and adds a sense of darkness, repetition, and circularity intrinsic to this piece. Framing with a circle is a very authoritarian way of presenting images—I’m telling you what you have to look at.
On the other hand, the image-sound juxtapositions open up different connotations and interpretations outside of what we normally see, think, and hear. By breaking the common association between image and its sound, the words become more fully meaningful and real.
FL: The film utilizes archival photos and recontextualizes them with the sound poem. What was the selection process? Did you know exactly what images you wanted to pair with particular words or sections?
MS: I had no idea what kind of imagery I was going to use, [and] what kind of film Broken Tongue was going to be. I went to the New York Public Library month after month, and looked through all the January 1st issues of The New York Times, since its beginning in 1851 to 2013. For me, this was a conceptual framework that would help to create an idea of things starting over and over again, of repetition, but also of the passing of time and of how we—or others on our behalf—represent our narratives.
I was looking for images, or text that looked like an image, for each of the words that Tracie Morris repeats during her performance: “It all started when we were brought here as slaves from Africa.” There is a kind of depiction that comes to mind when we hear the word “slave” or “Africa,” and I wanted to question those clichés and assumptions. I also wanted to give visual entity to each word: what could be an image that represents the word “it,” “when,” or “we”? I looked at many scratched microfilms, which I printed out with the old printers at the library, and then shot these photocopies with black-and-white 16mm film. The resulting images show an accumulation of all these different temporalities and textures.