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ATL Preview: Experimental Shorts, Q&A with Cataract

April 19, 2009


Although I ended up sick and unable to make it over to opening weekend of the festival, I decided to complete my series of Q&A’s with filmmakers. Up last was experimental filmmaker Alexis Eggertsen and her short film, “Cataract,” a breathtaking sweep of image and sound that symbolizes the visual perspective of a different way of seeing.

OFF: In 10 words, describe your movie and why someone should see it.

AE: Utilize your eyes with this sensual, visually poetic, experimental film!

OFF: Your film visually captures the concept of cataracts – what prompted this and tell us how it moves beyond the literal concept?

AE: One of my goals as a fledgling filmmaker is to try and communicate in a way that bypasses our usual modes of communication. How do I excavate this emotion residing in my gut, pure and wordless, and transport it directly into someone else’s gut? If it can be better expressed in an essay or story or some other form, then I question if it is a subject that properly yokes the power of the image. My background is in music and poetry, and I seek the direct emotive cord that ties the composer to the audience or the poet to the reader.

The ocular cataract gets its name from the way rapid water turns white in its rush.  This has always struck me as mysterious and beautiful- the sensation that within what appears to be the transplanting of the visible world with blankness and stillness, a visual hush, is this rapid rush of motion and sound. It implies catharsis and somehow myth- as if the oceanic rush of your own inwardness, of your own blood, carries with it a veiled mythic or evolutionary origin.

It is this inward motion that intrigues me. We are isolated individuals, and yet each distinct soul is its own rich, complex mystery.  The protagonist is submerged in the primordial swampland of her own sensuality.  I wanted to give the film a feeling of meditation and synesthesia, and utilize the implicit physical blindness associated with the ocular cataract to express the inevitability and will of an inward odyssey.

I personally face depression from time to time, which has been described as a tide or undertow (or cataract) that swallows your mind and body from the outside world, into its own interior cycle and momentum. This is where the film is located for me.  Emotional hardship can carry with it the benefit of self-seeking, of intimate self-knowledge.  It ripens the will to explore alternate routes to sensing, understanding, overcoming- the will to take leaps into new, thus far empty and blind spaces.  And looking inwards, where is the origin of your behavior, or is there something nested within the origins of your total self that damns you to repeat the cancerous cycle?  Can you birth a new self, and what has to be sacrificed?

I fear that getting too specific about poetic intentions is a category error.  A poem means what it means; the medium serves the message.  Many people have insisted that Cataract is psychosexual, with all the milky liquid and filling holes and the shell and phallic foot, and that it implies the idea of a woman drowning in some destructive relationship cycle.  I wasn’t thinking sexual as much as sensual, the relationship being with the self, and I do feel the feminine perspective is implicit.  Nevertheless, whether or not the intangible seeking and yearning is about a partner and/or about femininity and/or about the self doesn’t matter as much to me as translating the sensation itself.

OFF: Biggest lesson learned in getting the film made?

AE: I’m still an infant filmmaker, so my lessons are still basic!  That said I had a few epiphanies.

My first epiphany with Cataract was the full appreciation that a film is nothing but light- light detected by the camera, and ultimately light that is projected on a screen.  I started experimenting with how to bridle the reflective properties of different objects and substances, which led me to a very bad experience with ferrofluid (the stuff is possessed!), and ultimately to the metallic sea in Cataract.

My second epiphany was to approach the editing process as a composer would approach a piece of music.  An experimental film, which often lacks the familiar handholds of narrative or even a familiar filmic space, needs to find a way to introduce and carry the viewer along with the experience.  A piece of music typically introduces abstract sound entities and works them out through an arc to a conclusion.  A film has the addition of symbolic cues, as a poem might.  I tried to keep all of this in mind, and be attentive to the the rhythm of the editing.  The through-line had to be the foot’s descent, and when it landed, the piece had room for one final sigh before it ended.

Finally, you can make an elegant, decent film with fifty bucks and your own foot!

OFF: What do you do when not making films? A day job? Writer? waitress?

AE: While I’ve had a few sales jobs and dabble in freelance geek work, I will be looking for the real, full-time deal within a couple of months (along with the thousands of freshly unemployed in Seattle!).

Otherwise, I am pretty well entrenched in the creative inquiry.  As many, I am curious about and express myself through multiple mediums.  I started out with writing and songwriting, which was the defining passion of my teen years.  Since then have explored more formal and experimental approaches to composition and sound art.  I still consider words and music to be the foundation of my creative identity, and the trampoline from which I jump into and peek in at other art practices.  A couple of hours a day is devoted to playing the piano, singing, or working on my writing.  I joke that there has been an album in preproduction since I was about five years old, and I would love to finally put some of this work out in public.

I’ve also been acting occasionally in other Seattle based productions, including a particular Star Trek fan production.  I enjoy it- it’s a wonderful break from having to take care of everything, and is an interesting exercise in losing inhibition and yielding to the moment.  It’s opened my mind to being more of a performer, as well as more of a team-player.

OFF: You are at Wash U, correct? What’s your major? What’s your dream plan after you graduate?

AE: Yes, I am an undergraduate and will graduate this year in Digital Arts and Experimental Media, which I hesitate to leave due to it being such a rigorous and supportive program.

My dream plan would be to continue to work creatively in whatever way I can!

Though graduate school is definitely in my future, I have been planning on taking time off before applying.  I think there will be something at least a little freeing about taking a break from academia; it’s a chance to test my true motivations and instincts about art and why I’m doing what I’m doing.  I imagine the loss of community and equipment will give me a sense of vertigo, and finding ways to continue to produce quality work is an immediate concern.  I made Cataract for under fifty dollars, and I know such a small budget will no longer carry me, especially as I move into larger projects.  In the meantime, I’m going to absorb as much life and marinate in as much art and film as I possibly can.  There are some musical and film projects in preproduction which I’m very excited about seeing to fruition.

Keep the Home Fires Burning
Near the Egress
Pictures We Took
Poison Tree
The Beekeepers     (in competition)
The Heart is a Hidden Camera
Viola: The Traveling Rooms of a Little Giant
For the schedule of when the films will play, visit Atlanta Film Festival.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ulysses J. Biden permalink
    April 20, 2009 3:35 pm

    intriguing insight into the structure and guts of building a rich cinematic experience! reading about how the blooming of ideas came together into the epiphany of an experimental experience film in such a vibrant and versatile mind as miss eggertsen, was a discovery of discovery. she is able to pinpoint undertones and express inner characteristics–an important ability when creating–using her medium[s] as a puppeteer to the expression of complicated ideas. as miss egg has shared here, leading up to this film were years of exploration in different areas of creativity, which obviously cumulated in helping make this product into a visual encapsulation not only seen on the screen, but felt under the skin. looking forward to more beautiful work coming from this beautifully articulate artistic mind.

  2. Cody Groom permalink
    April 19, 2009 6:34 pm

    Great interview. It is nice to see so much attention to experimental artists.

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