Marc Lafia: Proliferating from What is Paradise

Marc Lafia

Marc Lafia is a prolific artist, filmmaker and information architect. His work has been exhibited internationally, including commissions for the Tate and Whitney museums and screenings at Rotterdam, the ICA Japan and Georges Pompidou. He is also founder of the award-winning Art + Lafia’s most recent three films are love and art, Paradise and Revolution of Everyday Life. Philosophical questions arise from the everyday within the films – what is narrative, art and image?, and from the ordinary blossoms surprise and spontaneity. Lafia’s films have been described as fictional documentaries, as he utilizes a collective composed of his immediate family and professional actors alike. Through his body of work comes a new kind of cinema, a cinema of the intimate.

On June 15, 2010 at 6:30pm there will be a free public screening of Lafia’s latest film, Revolution of Everyday Life, at 17 Frost Art and Performance Space in Williamsburg.

Until then we have the opportunity to get a glimpse of Marc Lafia’s work in this recorded discussion between the filmmaker and art critic, Peter Duhon. The discussion took place on April 20,2010, following a screening of Marc Lafia’s film, Paradise, at the Anthology film archives, New York.

Peter Duhon:

What made you to make Paradise?

Marc Lafia:

At the beginning I wrote an 180 page script about conditions, operation and politics. I was keen to create a platform for characters to keep reinventing themselves. And I really wanted to do something around innocence and paradise. But I didn’t want to speak in an ordinary voice – it can’t be heard. I had to create something different enough for it to be heard; that was one of the strategies of this film.  Then after meeting Lior Rosenfeld, my producer; Kristian Borysevicz, the sound man; and Marcus Burnett, the cinematographer I decided to make a film out of this material. I spent a lot of time with the actors, reading, performing, analyzing the text and planning how to make it.


Your film confronts a typical Hollywood narrative and convention. It also questions – even challenges, politics, testing borders, boundaries, the notion of excess and what encloses excess. You use, for example, the element of the bomb in the film. What were you exploring there?


Well, Paradise is a science fiction, allegorical film about controlled society. You the viewer feel captured. At some point in the film the characters go to the other side, and on the other side there in containment, propaganda, border, control – all the logic of capital. The two innocent children are the sensualists and they come to the realization that there is only one way to break through it: by getting a weapon. You can’t play around with this. All the characters in the film are doubling, proliferating from what is paradise, the public place. And the woman who articulates the film, who dreams the film, who is the film, gradually allows them to cross over to another world, or another dimension, and the other dimension allows them to speak about the world in a more allegorical way. It is sort of like Avatar, except a low budget Avatar. [laughs]


It is great that you mention that, because your film is a good example what Julia Kristieva would term ‘productive violence,’ the testing of limits and what that involves. Can you talk more about this moving into different zones, isolation and play, fantasy and real, and then the imaginary within the real?


We are trying to do a lot of different moves in the film. We are not setting up Brazil, Alphaville or 1984, which are dystopic allegories, where you are set in that world, so Paradise has to take the viewer from what is the possibility of the world.  So it starts off with a couple in the park. The woman at the center of the film, played by Irina Rogovsky, is set up in a very traditional way: she is a writer, imagining a story, which she tells to her husband. As a professor of literature and theater at NYU, she takes her students to the park and discusses with them about the real – how do we narrate, how do we speak, what is power and who has it. Then the students cross over to this film, if you like, which she is authoring.  She is authoring the film, but she is also the author of life. She is the goddess who has given them everything they could need, and so they getting on with being human. Once the characters cross to the other side, they meet Klemen Novak’s character, the propagandist, and his role is to teach people how to speak again in a way that works along the flow of capital, so capital can organize them and make them productive ‘citizens.’

The woman in the center of the film, played by Irina Rogovsky, is the universe, the earth, the becoming.  She is the goddess; she gave her students everything they could need and so they get on with being human. The children in the film, played by Aaron Schroder and Olivia Horton, represent the body of desire, of beauty, of being, of love, of becoming. Soon the world through linguistics and order and law and logic puts a certain play in play.


Your work allows the spectator to become the producer of text. It is a tough line, especially as a director and a writer. You are creating a certain narrative, certain vision and at the same time you are allowing a certain level of plurality, if you can talk about that…


Well, the film was actively produced by a collective. I have to say that we all made this film; the film kind of ‘happened.’ I moved things around with them – the film was becoming. But I am also exploring my personal life within the story. I’m a father. I have two children and am very close to my wife, which always gives me some centering. All of my work comes from a personal place, from my love of cinema, the idea of narration and then the mythic of my life. Then I cut in things from politics, from blogs, cite a number of images from art, photography, performance art. It involves a lot of writing and rewriting. And then when I meet with the actors we reinvent each role together.Honestly, it’s very hard for me to answer the question, ‘how is the film received by the audience and what are they reading,’ because I know the film.


The element of repetition seems to be a thread in your work. One thing that stood out is the scene with the student sipping from a bottle of water, and then spitting out the water over and over. Is there something you are trying to communicate through this element?


I use a lot of performative methods while directing the actors. The performance of the person is very important to me. And the sense of self pleasure. The water is the fountain of the garden, of paradise.


I really enjoyed that scene. Your characters are extremely complex in a good way. They are happy, they are sad, they are lost, but they are also experiencing what we call the free will of negativity. I noticed that, for example, in the hide-and-seek scene, and it plays out through the entire film. Your characters are losing something but at the same time gaining something else from that loss in return.


Salman Rushdie, whom I love very much–his writing and thinking,  is always talking about how we leak into one another to the point that we each become the other. We set up certain boundaries, which are often self-imposed. But these boundaries from a psycho-cosmic, psychedelic, or Buddhist point of view are very artificial.  I created this membrane in the script, and called it the ‘Wonka camp,’ a place where the characters are captured. For example, at some point in the film I position the actors around and behind a fence, so they are all forced to bridge boundaries of space – psychic boundaries, political boundaries, their own personal boundaries, boundaries in terms of language, and so on.


There is a strong coherent use of metaphors in your film. What are your sources and inspirations? You tend to use traditional and classic metaphors, but also you create some of your own and, at the same time, encourage us to create our own ones too. What is the process you are going through in order to achieve that?


The films I have done recently emerged more poetically, associatively moving along thematic registers. I do a lot of work before really I know where I am going, before going in. I am constantly reading. And now that you have the web, if I am interested in any subject I can go to the comments, get some dialogue over there, while at the same time be reading Rimbaud, Derrida and some myth book. When I meet with the actors and we start working together, it all becomes fluid. I come to a certain point where I am constantly thinking about everything, and trying not to command things; I am feeling comfortable giving the actors a free will to move along the registers. When making this film, the park set a limit for us. We had only certain time to shoot so, in the end, just the demand of time and the given circumstance forced us all to come to decisions. I always found that this is the best way to work. So the process is going through the thing, having to be logistic, realistic, centered, bounded. At the same time, I tend to surprise actors. I found out that if I gave them glasses, swimming caps, some accessories that are strange to them, they became even more inventive. And then, if you create a space for them of trust and appreciation, things can really happen. TC mark

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