Dilcia Barrera: I’m always interested to see how filmmakers perceives their own films. Can you please summarize the plot of the film?
Paul Pescador: We are essentially watching three films that are broken up into nine parts. Each one has its own storyline that operates in a different filmic genre. 1 is Neo-Realism, 1 1/2 is the suspense thriller, 2 is the romantic comedy 3, 4, 5 and 8 are the musical and 6, 7 or 9 and 9, 7 or 6 are the family melodrama. Each film consists of one character attempting to come to terms with a single problem; whether it be his stolen bike or the broken bone in his arm. This simple story structure repeats itself over and over.
When you are developing these stories, what is the inspiration that initially begins the full journey of these films?
I start each film by making photographs. I start collecting patterned fabric and materials, arranging these materials into compositions and photographing them. Simultaneously I am also writing daily notes of things that are happening around me. I combine the photos and notes into a book, and the book becomes a script for the film. Even if they don’t have a direct relationship, the film becomes a way of merging ideas together.
When you start collecting materials and photographs, what are you attracted to? Particular colors or shapes?
In the earlier films, such as 1 and 1 1/2 the colors are much more muted. The materials were my own possessions, and they had a specific relationship with a specific person. As the films developed, I no longer felt as restricted to the materials around me and began seeking out objects and colors that I was attracted to. What ended up happening was that certain materials began to repeat themselves from film to film, almost like a stand-in for a character or a theme.
Almost like shaping a personality?
Exactly. In 3, 4, 5 and 8 I repeatedly used the colors yellow, pink and turquoise, as stand-ins for three different people. There is this sex scene where colored paint is used for bodily fluids, implying that these character’s semen is the same color as their exterior.
Speaking of relationships, do you use your own life as subject for these films? Do you find this cathartic?
I think the work begins from personal experiences, but when transformed into films, they become much more abstract and fictionalized. In the book 3, 4, 5 and 8, my arm is injured and I am incapacitated for a few months, but it eventually gets better. In the film version, the story gets more dramatic and exaggerated: my arm is amputated. By the time these stories are turned into films, they are absurdist.
They remove themselves from reality.
By pulling from personal experiences, I am trying to come to terms with these experiences. By the time I am making the film, I am removed from the actual event. It is merely a source. Similar to the fabric, it just becomes something that I can manipulate.
Is there a particular reason why you don’t use actors? Does it give you more freedom?
A few years ago I did a performance with my actual boyfriend and a friend of mine in front of a hot dog stand in San Francisco, in which they acted out getting engaged and breaking up every thirty minutes over the course of a six hour period. For me, what was interesting about that performance was the actual people and my relationship to them. Unless it was my actual boyfriend, family members, or dog, using actors wouldn’t make sense. I’ve found that I can use a cardboard box and through stop-animation get the performance I need out of it.
In terms of this project, you are a manipulator, a cinematographer, an editor, and an exhibitor, can you talk about the fact that these projects are yours alone (which is not a common way to make films)?
It is great to have complete control. It gives me a sense of freedom. Things develop organically. I can shoot, reshoot scenes as I please, while making everything in my livingroom. But I am also limited by my own skills, it becomes about the hand of a single person.
You don’t have to work out the logistics of administering and organizing large groups of people. Something as small as catering is a very filmic problem. Does putting on the artist’s hat, allow you to be more daring than the filmmaker’s hat?
I don’t think I could make this work on a film set. I did that in film school as an undergrad at USC and I hated it. When I started making 1-9, I could not help but feel insecure about the scale of my films compared to Hollywood productions. I am making a film without actors, without a screenplay, and without even a video camera. The film becomes a response against those traditional strategies.
This project started out as a set of shorts and is now being shown as a feature length film, through this process you have developed as a filmmaker. The later parts of the film feel more scripted, are they going toward more traditional filmmaking guidelines?
I remember making the first film and at the time I truly thought that the story was legible. It wasn’t until later that I realized how abstract the narrative actually was. I think the films started to become more clearly narrative in 6, 7 or 9 as I was collecting a lot of dialogue and the only way to bring it into the film was to perform it. I think that sound and dialogue has allowed me to communicate with an audience in a more direct manner, while still leaving room for abstraction.
You think of going to a theater, a cinematheque and sitting down on a Sunday afternoon with your Coca Cola and popcorn and watching a movie that has a love affair and breakup. Does that way of viewing influence your need to see this film in a theater?
There is this experiential aspect of sitting and watching a film in a movie theater. We are absorbed by it. Film is a very manipulative medium. You are forced to have these feelings. It’s entertainment. I have always struggled to make those types of films. My films will often reference these strategies and conventions, but in a more schizophrenic manner. It’s more about the idea of watching a film, then actually watching a film itself.
You mentioned that your film is schizophrenic. It’s here and there. Film and Art. What is your ideal audience then?
I want to watch different types of people react to it. I like the idea of someone watching a scene and being totally engrossed by it and the person next to them falling asleep, walking out or being interested in it for an entirely different reason. That’s the beauty of film, we are all sitting through this together and yet we have our own experience of it.
I travel around festivals. If you walk out of a film, it’s a statement! It wouldn’t bother you if that happened?
I am very intrigued to see what happens when the film is screened. I think people are more likely to stay and watch it even if they are inwardly frustrated and would rather be watching something else. The experience could be more open, the audience could come and go.
Why did you chose to not introduce the film?
Because it’s an artwork. All the information that needs to be disseminated is in this publication or in the press release. It’s up to the viewer to read it. I can talk about it at length, but then that raw experience would be lost. The artwork should be viewed on its own.
Is that why you chose to frame the films in chapters, rather than a straight cut?
I wanted to stay true to the mise-en-scene of each film, which was dictated by my interests and abilities at the particular time I made them. I was watching all of them recently and wanted to re-work or update them, but I decided not to as it was made at the best of my ability at that time and was complete.
Watching it now, do your past films remind you of that time period when you were making it?
I now can see them outside of myself. I try to remember the decisions I made while making them and in many ways I can’t. I think these films are so much about memory and change each time they are viewed.
I read the film as if it is about one character in different chapter of his life. We are watching the character’s evolution, growing from each of these experiences. The narrative is very abstract and hard to define, but there is a pleasure in watching it and not knowing. By the end there is a sense of relief, as the objects begin to come alive and become more human. We watch you as an artist change from making quite abstract films in the beginning to more formal films by the end.
I think that process is the narrative of the film. The narrative is about the artist learning how to make a movie.
-Dilcia Barrera is a senior film programmer for AFI FEST, The American Film Institute's annual celebration of international cinema from modern masters and emerging filmmakers. Additionally, she currently works as a Shorts Programmer for the Sundance Film Festival and as an Associate Programmer for The Philadelphia Film Festival.