Jessica Mitrani, Fashion Filmmaker, Colombia, New York
Born in Colombia and now based in New York, Jessica Mitrani takes artistic crossover to a fascinating level as she explores and fuses video, theatre, sculpture, fashion and installation together into her own unique expression.
Jessica’s work is known internationally, too – she’s been exhibited at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, Jeu de Paume Museum, Paris, Hors Pistes Festival at Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, White Columns Gallery, New York, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Museum of Modern Art Bogotá, MACRO Museum in Rome etc...
As she moves from strength to strength, last month Jessica won the much-coveted ASVOFF ( Diane Pernet’s A Shaded View On Fashion Film festival ) Grand Prize, awarded by MK2, for her film ‘Headpieces for Peace’, in collaboration with the designers Three as Four.
Creative Mapping caught up with the endlessly talented Ms Mitrani to delve deeper into her creative labyrinth and find out just what makes her tick:
"I think fashion film encompasses a large spectrum and there is no one definition. A platform like ASVOFF defies the clichéd ways in which we think about a fashion film - for example, as an extension of a fashion shoot." - Jessica Mitrani
CM: Tell us briefly who you are and what you do.
My name is Jessica Mitrani; I was born in Barranquilla, Colombia and have been based in NYC for the past 13 years. I make films and objects.
CM: How did you become a professional in your field as a filmmaker and visual artist? What was the journey from finishing studies to being here today?
I went to law school in Colombia and worked as a defensora de familia for the state. At the same time I was a member of an all women experimental theatre group. Theatre took over law and I continued developing creating projects for the stage.
I shot my first film in 1999; Rita Goes To The Supermarket, a tale of irony of the everyday business of supermarket shopping. In this parody of blue detergents, soap squirts, blood dripping from bags of meat, plastic brushes, appearances of Frida Kahlo and rolls of toilet paper, Rita confronts the demons that are part of her pink and complex feminine world.
Rita Goes To The Supermarket was broadcasted in ARTE / WDR France-Germany. It was featured in numerous film festivals, including the 47 Intl Oberhausen Short Film Festival , as well as part of the permanent collection of several museums and institutions.
Initially I came to NYC to finish the postproduction of Rita Goes To The Supermarket, but fell in love with Manhattan and decided to stay. I got an MFA in theatre direction and worked for a couple of years with the New Stage Theatre company, co-directing multi-media performances. I was involved in various aspects of film, from developing a script, making videos, to costume design. Later on I started doing more videos and objects out of the context of the theatre.
Fashion has always been vital for me in telling a story and sometimes it takes precedence, like in the series in a single shoe were the shoes were the protagonists of the films.
CM: Why did you want to become a filmmaker and artist? It’s such a risky career in terms of trying to survive in many ways.
I never thought about it in terms of ‘career’. It is basically what I have been doing over the past 20 years in various mediums. The risky part for me is that I put myself out there. The only way I can survive is by caring about what I am doing.
CM: How do you know when you’re onto something good re a creative idea?
I have a lot of ideas, some of them I pursue until the end and others I don’t. Sometimes it’s only when a project is finished that I can see if it worked for me or not.
CM: How did you first meet Diane Pernet who heads up ASVOFF?
I first met Diane when I submitted my film Mary Jane to the first edition of ASVOFF. She has been a great supporter of my work from the beginning.
CM: Tell us about the film you made for that event?
Mary Jane is a two-minute film starring the single-strapped party shoe that signals a child's transition from baby to little girl or boy. The first single shoe was made for the narrator of the performance piece Some Historic - Some Hysteric in 2004. Following came the series In A Single Shoe, which includes the Mary Jane, as well as nine other shoes and five videos, in which each shoe has its own narrative.
CM: And you won the Grand Prix ASVOFF! That’s pretty amazing as you were up against some great talent.
Yes! With headpieces for peace and I am honoured!
CM: How would you define a fashion film – how does it differ from, say, a highly stylized short film? Is there narrative?
I think fashion film encompasses a large spectrum and there is no one definition. A platform like ASVOFF defies the clichéd ways in which we think about a fashion film - for example, as an extension of a fashion shoot. A fashion film is not just clothes in movement - it can be - but a fashion film also is a film that addresses fashion as its own cultural phenomena. In terms of the narrative, it depends. I’ve done fashion films to show the spirit of a collection, with a minimum or abstract narrative... and other films like headpieces for peace where there is specific story.
What is the purpose of a fashion film?
Fashion is one of the most immediate ways for each individual to express himself or herself on a daily basis and I feel that the purpose of a fashion film can be to highlight or acknowledge the power that fashion has in shaping our stories and our lives.
CM: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Now is the highlight! Always now!
CM: What are some of the challenges you face as an artist and filmmaker – both personally and professionally?
I don’t really separate the personal and the professional. As an artist and filmmaker, I work with what makes me curious at a certain time in my life. The challenge that I created for myself since I can remember is to find the coherence between my inner self and the outer world, and that is a full time occupation.
CM: Which other directors do you especially admire right now?
I love the installations of filmmaker and artist Ryan Trecartin!
When you’ve finished a film, are you ever truly satisfied with your performance? What make a film successful to you?
A successful film for me is one that has a life on its own, no matter what my personal opinion is about it. If I submit a film and it gets picked up and then from there goes somewhere else and so on...
CM: What advice would give to young artists starting out?
I don’t like giving general advice; I am more about asking questions and finding out what it is that interests others, then give an opinion.
CM: What inspires you about living and working in New York?
My friends inspire me; they are musicians, performers, visual artists, writers, fashion designers, and dancers. And to go around and see their work in the variety of venues that the city has to offer is fulfilling and so much fun!
CM: What would a dream artistic collaboration be for you?
I would love to work with Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park and the book of Mormon, in a dazzling musical about the course of the world if certain key political figures would have changed their outfits.
CM: Five favourite music tracks that help you work?
It changes, depending on what I am working on, for headpieces for peace the favourite ones are Oum Kalthoum, Enta Omri, Nina Simone -I Got Life, Hair from Hair the musical, If I Were A Rich Man from the musical Fiddler On The Roof ... and Lou Reed; Take A Walk On The Wild Side
CM: If you had to live another life entirely, what would you be doing - and why?
Oh! I feel that I’ve already lived so many lives in this one! And I am sure there are many more to come in this incarnation before I die and am re-born again...
Photography credits © Britt Kuba - Jessica Mitrani