NEW FILMMAKERS: JENNIFER SAPARZADEH

This entry was posted on September 18th, 2017

Jennifer Saparzadeh

By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

Recently picking an honorable mention in the last Media City Film Festival, Jennifer Saparzadeh (MFA from the École Cantonale d’art de Lausanne) has been active for some years now as one of the most intriguing filmmakers dealing with the subject matter of personal exile. Her films, extracted from the film diary genre, carry a great sense of evocation: intimate yet powerful images that speak of transculturalism and the relationship between mankind and their personal and emotional borders. Being today more relevant than ever, we spoke to her about her work and experiences as a filmmaker with a foreign background, her beliefs about art and the experience of talking about exile in these times.

Jennifer’s work can be reached at  jennifersaparzadeh.com

Desistfilm: Jennifer, your images carry a lot of evocation. There’s a powerful sense of the visual and the spiritual. Thinking about a film like Nu Dem, it makes us recall that period of Jonas Mekas films where he dwelled on exile and its difficulties, something that we feel is shared with your film, something very much related to the film diary, somehow. How did you first approach the world of cinema? What was what interested you in particular in terms of identity and exile?

Jennifer Saparzadeh: When I first entered the world of cinema as a young person I was really interested in fantasy, in creating fantasy through the camera. I realized, getting older, that actually the reality is itself fantastical; symbols appear all the time, synchronicities- and also finding myself more aware of the fact that my experiences had played a part in my perception of reality, and the fantasies within it. So, they came together at some point. And I really started doing these more personal films… Actually in 2012, I had to make a self-portrait, it was a part of an application to get inside an MFA program. And it was so strange I had never turned the camera on my own, you know? on my own ideas of myself. This self-portrait was just images that I had taken on my phone, of my parents, that kind of anxiety of life… then I put old Super 8 images I had of of them as well, it just happened, I realized, there was this kind of spark, somehow in me, in doing that, and it felt really honest and true, so I kept going forward with that.

AutoPortrait (2012)

Desistfilm: What about this issue of exile which is really present in your films, does this come from a sort of personal experience that you had?

JS: Well, I was born in the United States, about a year after my family escaped from Iran. And they’ve never been back since.  Farsi was my first language, and I grew up in a totally Iranian household. Yet, this is a very common first generation experience in the United States,,, people living between two cultures… I was always aware of my family’s experience. They talked about it a lot and we lived it, because they were struggling when I was a kid. They got their citizenship when I was eight years old, they haven’t been back, and they reminisce…   And I also, even if I didn’t share this experience with them, I related to their sense of separation with something, even if I wasn’t separated from it. My experience was never theirs.

Desistfilm: This is related of course, on what we see in your films: regardless of what you want to talk about, maybe portraying the city of Porto, or talking about Philippe Jacq, you always filter those images through your own experience of what your identity means. Do you think that this transcultural thing is deeply rooted within you?

JS: Yes. I lived in Switzerland for two years, and I had a visa there, it was pretty complicated. I learned French when I was there, and when I had that experience I felt that the most. I was this person from this place (Los Angeles) with this background, which is my family… And I think, moving to Switzerland I was trying to escape that. I really wanted to be totally simple and deny these intersections, and realized that these are true for everybody… Everybody’s identity is complicated and full of intersections. You know, you can be in one town and go twenty miles away, and there’s a completely other culture there. The identities we choose as we get older also play a part in that.  And I think that a part of me has always chosen to be really connected to my Iranian identity, to my Jewish identity, to the music, to the songs, to the poetry, as well as to be totally linked to American culture and language and music, or more precisely, Southern California and Los Angeles culture. And it’s more than that, really, right? Is not really about the places, I think, and that’s the real thing, it’s really, that thing of being this on this earth and in this experience we can imagine and we’re also close to. And I think that’s the real meaning of it for me.

Desespero Magnanima (2013)

Desistfilm: Your title “Desespero Magnanima”, what does it mean, and how does it relate to your film about Fado? Why was the spirit of Fado something you wanted to explore?

JS: I’m so glad you asked this question. I was in Lisbon and I met a wonderful, brilliant  Fadista named Maria Joana, and she told us the mythology of Fado- a night in complete darkness and stillness in the middle of an ocean, where Fado is born. I wanted to film her. I talked to her about filming her, and it was odd, I felt I couldn’t put a camera in her face, you know? It’s a holy moment when you’re singing Fado, it’s so private, so intimate, that I really didn’t want to film it. But I found this film about Amalia Rodrigues and I just tried something. The title comes from a poem by Andrew Marvell called “The Definition of Love”, and in it he uses the phrase “magnanimous despair”. I think I can remember it:

My love is of a birth as rare
As ’tis for object strange and high;
It was begotten by Despair
Upon Impossibility.

Magnanimous Despair alone
Could show me so divine a thing
Where feeble Hope could never have flown,
But vainly flapped its tinsel wing.

I love this poem, I love Andrew Marvell’s poetry, and I loved this phrase “magnanimous despair”. It felt like the film for me. Which is Fado, this magnanimous despair, it was about this feeling, which is again related to the exile and longing for what you don’t understand.

Desistfilm: Can you talk to us a little bit about Phillipe Jacq? What drawn you to his personality and work in your film?

JS: I met him because my good friend, artist and filmmaker Maya Duverdier, wanted me to- thinking we could connect over our projects. We immediately did. His face, his expressions, and his way of moving, his cadence, and the way that he makes… we just connected immediately and I asked him if he wanted to be a part of the film and he said yes. And that’s it, I brought him over and we hung out like two times before, and each time had a great time. It was interesting working with him, because I’m not a director and he didn’t like this (laughs). I just wanted to record and he told me “you have to tell me what you want”. And I said “there’s nothing I want from you, just be yourself” and after that I realized, well, I’m not a director, that’s not me…

Desistfilm: Well, at least not in that particular way…

JS: I guess, in a way, this feels like the opposite of directing, for me, because I work with a lot of uncertainty, I don’t really know what’s going to happen, and my camera is its own beast, it’s old, I have to wind it up… and I don’t use a light meter. So every stage is really based on intuition, whether I’m going to film or not. In this way, it feels like it’s me who is being directed…

Lebanon Street (2016)

Desistfilm: Lebanon Street was a film we really liked; it’s a film about borders, not only symbolical borders (the color of the traffic lights) but the physical ones (this border that is placed surrounding the city). There’s a sense of sadness that permeates it all. Guess we’re talking about this very present issue of immigration or the refugee crisis today. How do you think this life in constant transit is affecting this people or will affect them eventually in the future?

JS: Well, it affects everyone. It’s this process of hundreds of years in the making; it’s a really old issue, one that humans commit throughout history. I can’t say anything about in a way, because my experience is one where, until now, I always had the option to move, and to stay. So, sometimes taking this privilege of showing it or trying to talk about it, it can feel… it’s complicated, because I’m not one who can speak about it directly, and I think it is important for people to access their voices in their own way. I really do believe this is important, I mean, the internet is such a great tool, and people having open access to the internet is so important for this reason. Because not only should people speak, people must also be heard.

It’s horrible, I mean, for no reason… It’s for profit, you know? For some people. And it’s strange, I don’t know, I don’t agree. Some people will have the opportunities to end up somewhere and other people won’t. It’s just awful.  I guess that’s all I can really say.

Desistfilm: What we really wanted to ask you is, if you feel like arts should have a role in the resistance, in front of this kind of phenomenon. Or maybe it shouldn’t. What do you think about it?

JS: I don’t think it should necessarily have a role. And I think what can be problematic about art is that the art market is for people who have access to it… There’s this kind of border there too, which is also problematic. And even the idea of an artist as being somebody that we exalt somehow, that’s separate from other people… this is so unfortunate because really, everybody is born with the sensibility of art and creation in them, these questions and thoughts, desires and unknowns. I’ve always wondered the way to promote one’s work into a space that it wouldn’t normally belong. Like experimental film- for me, it feels like the most natural kind of film that everyone can see and love- and I think they would if they had access to it! But it gets petitioned off. People should have access to art, and it should be able to have this place of resistance but I think this gets in the way. In making work and looking to access support, and communities between the art world, I really don’t know the answer.

How do we maneuver that? And yet, art is always a kind of resistance, because it’s an expression of self, which unfortunately is not often permitted, anywhere you are. I mean, there are degrees, of course: growing up in L.A. I had access to self-expression in all kinds of ways and I’m so grateful for that. I have friends living in Iran where you can’t dance in public, you can’t sing in public if you’re a woman, it’s forbidden.. so just the doing it, itself, is resistance.

Nu Dem (2017)

Desistfilm: Would you tell us which projects are you working now in?

JS: In film, I’m working on something, it’s at the beginning stages; I’m going to start recording sounds and images separately. The images will be… there’s a flower market in L.A. where they sell wholesale flowers, it’s a kind of flower district. I go into these projects seeing what I’m going to see, and what I feel okay recording in terms on sound and image. So the images I want to see are about the process of these flowers, where do they grow, how they cut them, who transports them, who buys them, what are the labor conditions…  Sometimes the retailers spray paint the flowers to make them into specific colors, they use a huge display. It’s a part of L.A. History, and now that whole area is starting to change because of the gentrification happening downtown, but for now it still remains. There’s a poem I’m working with, in relationship to the flowers, called “Apple”.. here is an excerpt:  (full poem included below)

You laughed at me and didn’t know
with what anxiety I stole the apple from the neighbor’s garden
the gardener after me quickly ran
he saw the apple in your hand
angrily he gave me a look
the apple, tooth marked, from your hands fell to dirt
and you left, and still

I can’t do it all. But it is this story and it ends with:

and I’m thinking profoundly drowning in this thought
that why, did not our small garden, have an apple tree

I don’t know, I don’t totally get it…but there’s this separating of someone, this exclusion, and I’m thinking of them, and them just resenting that. I’d like to work with this poem and  these images. I’m struggling now to tighten my focus, which I must still do. I think it is necessary to do in order to respect what is being portrayed. I want to hear this poem and to create a sound bed of this and ambient sounds related to the flower district… That’s what I’m working on. I wish I had a one-liner but I don’t know yet what it is.

+++

Seeb (Apple) by Hamid Mosadegh:

You laughed at me and didn’t know
with what anxiety I stole the apple from the neighbor’s garden
the gardener after me quickly ran
he saw the apple in your hand
angrily he gave me a look
the apple, tooth marked, from your hands fell to dirt
and you left, and still
it’s been years that in my ears I hear slowly, slowly
the repeating scratching of your step, annoying me
and I’m thinking profoundly drowning in this thought
that why, did not our small garden, have an apple tree

translated by: Jennifer Saparzadeh

The Definition of Love by Andrew Marvell:

My love is of a birth as rare
As ’tis for object strange and high;
It was begotten by Despair
Upon Impossibility.

Magnanimous Despair alone
Could show me so divine a thing
Where feeble Hope could ne’er have flown,
But vainly flapp’d its tinsel wing.

And yet I quickly might arrive
Where my extended soul is fixt,
But Fate does iron wedges drive,
And always crowds itself betwixt.

For Fate with jealous eye does see
Two perfect loves, nor lets them close;
Their union would her ruin be,
And her tyrannic pow’r depose.

And therefore her decrees of steel
Us as the distant poles have plac’d,
(Though love’s whole world on us doth wheel)
Not by themselves to be embrac’d;

Unless the giddy heaven fall,
And earth some new convulsion tear;
And, us to join, the world should all
Be cramp’d into a planisphere.

As lines, so loves oblique may well
Themselves in every angle greet;
But ours so truly parallel,
Though infinite, can never meet.

Therefore the love which us doth bind,
But Fate so enviously debars,
Is the conjunction of the mind,
And opposition of the stars.