By Mónica Delgado
The great French-Peruvian filmmaker Rose Lowder was in Lima after almost sixty years to present a couple of programs and a masterclass in the latest Lima Indie Film Festival (8° Festival Internacional de Cine Lima Independiente). Her visit to Lima consisted in showing a wide panorama of her work as sort of an introduction, where her better known shorts such as Voiliers et coquilicots (2001), part of the now famous Bouquets were shown, as well as her creative procedures in paper, which she calls scores.
Rose Lowder (Lima, 1941), is a mentor of a particular universe based in camera montage, which arose from the technical possibilities of a Bolex and which linked her in some way to the so-called structural cinema, to a botanic or ecological imaginary, nomenclatures of academic nature that don’t quite capture the variety of her work, which goes beyond the patterns, variations and repetitions. She has realized more than forty 16mm films, among them, some works produced frame by frame in the same camera. She has filmed in rural areas of France, Italy and Switzerland. Her work belongs to permanent showcases at MOMA in New York and Ontario Art Gallery.
What’s the peculiarity of Lowder’s cinema? She films under a “frame by frame” technique through her Bolex, filming in even frames and in the odd ones inserting images even after a determined time (a year or two, even) and in different places, achieving the sensation that we’re watching actions in a simultaneous way, even if they’ve been shot successively. Lowder films the environments near her home, takes the camera to combine mundane or domestic aspects with the diversity of flora which she abstracts and confronts. She’s a practitioner of an essential militancy for experimental cinema, the one where men and women chooses to film as an act of life. In this interview, she talks about some aspects of her experiences in Lima and her works.
Desistfilm: Your cinema is very colorful, very lively, a celebration of color. Like a parallel world or a reverse side of what Lima is, a desert. I imagine that you found, after sixty years of absence, a Lima that is not there anymore.
Rose Lowder: I was born in Miraflores (a local upper class district in Lima). In one side, the contact with nature here, since we had crops at home, figs, and custard apples, was important to me. There were chicken, hens, even around the house. I enjoyed travelling through Peru a lot. My father wasn’t a common citizen here, since every Sunday we would go outside Lima, through the Central highway (Carretera Central) where there were little roads which would take us to haciendas. I enjoyed a lot walking and observing in these fields when I was a child, in nature. That has a lot to do with the subjects I’ve tried afterwards in my cinema. On the other side, I was very interested about people, the farmers I visited, who had a different conception of time; they were people who would walk for hours or days and said: “I’m going nearby, just over there”. I remember once we were travelling through far away small towns were they had some Coca-Cola advertising, and I wondered how this advertising reached those places of very poor people, who would never even drink that soda, but however those ads were everywhere, just to advertise the brand and product. Those kinds of things awoke my conscience about breaches and diversity.
Once, a very poor family invited us to dinner, and that marked me a lot because I was a rich girl, and it impacted me how the farmers gave the best of them despite their poverty, and so they showed me they had a lot, there was a cultural richness, they produced what they ate and even produced things which were much more useful for society that the things one would find in the city, especially useless products. All those memories from childhood helped me to value nature and people who work with them. Now, where I used to live, there’s a five-star hotel.
At San Silvestre School, in Lima, in the sixties, they didn’t teach you science courses, physics, they prioritized other activities like embroidery, knitting, things for girls. And now, of course, the school is different and has an international bachelor course, but in those times it wasn’t possible. Pedagogically it was a good school, but with those limitations, oriented to an idea where women should made some particular activities, but despite of that we had a generation of successful professionals.
Desistfilm: What awoke your interest in cinema? Was it already present when you lived in Lima?
Rose Lowder: Regarding cinema, that’s another thing, it was an interest which was born afterwards, when I was working with analogue media, as an editor, with rules of what could you do, making things that weren’t done in the industry. I was able to watch experimental films without thinking of becoming a filmmaker, and I felt that it was possible to work with the support and contribute without the necessity of making a typical story like a novel or a theater piece. There’s an influence of what I saw in those years, of what I could do on celluloid, the film itself. I started to investigate, on how this was made, out of pure liking, with no other purpose than knowing and discovering. A different way of seeing, I was curious to know how the visual system works.
Desistfilm: What motivated you to leave Peru?
Rose Lowder: I left because of my studies. When I was nine, I was studying with a Peruvian painter, Eva Suárez, who had a workshop in Miraflores and drew still lives. Then I studied with an American painter, and then with Isabel and John Davis, in Los Pinos Street, in a place that doesn’t exist anymore, there aren’t trees there no more. They had a very beautiful home. He was a specialist in ceramics and she made also still lives, or drawings and paintings of haciendas. Then I entered the School of Fine Arts (of 1957-1958) at night, a career that lasted seven years, and since I had already studied still lives a lot since I was a child, I didn’t take that course in the first year “I know that already, I don’t want to do the same things”. I took the human figure courses of second year. In the third year, at night, I had to frame the paper and draw like in a Renaissance painting, and that discouraged me and invited me to get out of there and look to study somewhere else.
My mother awoke in me the fascination to work on oil painting, and even at the Fine Arts School I won some contests, and I have a photo that was taken of me when I won the cup for the painting of the fountain inside the school, where I’m in a school uniform. So I left, I was in America for a while but then went to study in England. I had to work to pay for my studies, since my father didn’t have enough money to help me with the life there, so I worked selling milk, working in the mail or cleaning buildings. Even to afford buying the plane ticket, I had to work a year as a teacher in Lima, with primary school teachers.
Desistfilm: And in London, how was your approach to the world of cinema, beyond your work as an editor?
Rose Lowder: In the works I made in the film industry, I worked a lot with 16mm and 35mm and I edited several documentaries, feature films, even advertising, and then I worked for a year at BBC, in the best period of Ken Loach there. And in that moment I could watch experimental films, since there was a poet there who had a small book store in the neighborhood and he projected films in his place, in a corner which doesn’t exist anymore. The audience was a group plastic artists, among them Malcolm Le Griece, who was my friend. He started to teach cinema in the local art school, and in my times there were cinema courses. But when I worked at the BBC in London, I remember that one day Malcolm Le Griece started to make his interventions, exposing the films in the walls, sticking them there, the celluloid, for the public to see.
Desistfilm: That reminds me of the first works of Peter Kubelka, where he would expose the film in reels, but of course, he argued that it was because of a money issue.
Rose Lowder: Kubelka still doesn’t accept that his films can be seen in digital. A couple of months ago I saw a really complete showcase of him at Pompidou Center, in Paris, that allowed me to see a panorama of his work. I remember that he invited us to his place, to see a four-hour film that has been made about him, but we had to go because we were going to miss the train (I live in Avignon). It was wonderful to visit his place in that context, sharing with him, seeing his watch collection and his vision of space and time which he develops in his films. I also must say that he’s a good cook and a great diner.
Desistfilm: And what do you think about the nomenclature of structural cinema that has been stowed upon your films? I’ve even read that you’re referred as a botanic or ecological structural filmmaker… I remember once Michael Snow said that he didn’t made structural cinema, for example.
Rose Lowder: That’s a virtue of all academics, since they want to name everything. Michael Snow is a very intelligent man. Once I heard him in a Parisian radio, and he talked about the difference between analog film and digital film, and this was the first time someone talked about that difference in a clear way. Since it’s not the same, it’s not the same image. His descriptions were very precise, and his French accent was very good. I was very lucky because I lived in Canada, and that’s a country that subsidized or helps its own experimental filmmakers, but beyond that, he has a lot of talents, as a musician and composer. He plays the piano in a magnificent way. His work in cinema is very good and also in digital, but I don’t like it very much. I was recently teaching in a photography school near Avignon when he called me and I went to visit him. He arrived and I saw him in the backyard very quiet, without working much, because when one is famous, one stops working a lot (laughs). We’ve enjoyed moments talking; he told me he was very lucky because he has to teach less and less each time to survive because someone would buy his works once in a while. I’m not lucky like that (laughs). When I saw him at the Pompidou Center, he told me he visited Peru, and I was astonished to know he knew I was Peruvian.
Desistfilm: Don’t you like to work in black and white?
Rose Lowder: It depends on the subject, because in Roulement, rouerie, aubage (1978) I worked in black and white, though in the last film I used that kind of film but I decided against it because I didn’t like it. With black and white one must do more practical things.
Desistfilm: You achieve an effect of simultaneity in your works, there’s a use of the flicker, those blinkings which allow uniting universes in the same matter.
Rose Lowder: The flicker isn’t a good thing for me, I would like to dispense with it, but it’s a part of the process of working with film. There are some works that have flicker in them, but I don’t want to tire the audience. I know there are flicker films that change the perception of the light, which work much better than in other films.
Desistfilm: Talk to us about your scores as a support of your creative activity.
Rose Lowder: It’s a very long thing to tell, I’d prefer that the readers approach this part of my work from the e-book that we’ve published with Light Cone, called Rose by Rose Lowder, which we edited in 2015. There I describe those scores with some fragments of the films themselves, and all the stages that this labor implies. Working with that is difficult, since the way I had to write while filming was very uncomfortable (I placed the paper over my leg while I was shooting with the Bolex). And in the e-book there are illustrations of my six notebooks, where we have scanned each stage, because I started drawing frame by frame and each time I added data, words. And that way of annotating was becoming more complex. And I couldn’t take long because the technicians there with me had to do other things, go to lunch, and I had to employ other methods to do this more quickly. I’ve experimented everything in these scores, even some with details of places, places to develop films, number of reels, dates, hours, etc. There’s a publication being made about my Bouquets 11-20 (2005) and for them I’m working in a new score, or refining what I have already.
Desistfilm: Are you still filming?
Rose Lowder: I’m working in a new film which is still in the lab, which I shot in 2015. It needs to be scored, but the composer I usually work with is sick and I think the film will go out without sound. It’s a pity. This film will be called Turbulence, a name that reflects the world we live today, I don’t know how it will continue, since there are a lot of things that aren’t working anymore, and people still act in the same way, without caring much. This work took a long time because I wanted to film a waterfall, visually very interesting, in an ecologic hacienda, not far away from home. I’ve been there for thirteen days and only once I had some sun, every day was a rainy day. I went for several years and nothing, the weather would betray me. But then I was lucky enough to shoot in a sunny day and I think it will be a small but interesting work.