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gerardelson Joined: 9th December 2010
Last seen: 25th March 2011

Animals Distract Me & Green Porno

If you thought Jean Painlevé and Mark Lewis had cornered the market on oddball nature documentary-making, wait ‘til you get a load of Isabella Rossellini’s Animals Distract Me and Green Porno. The actress – long a favourite of idiosyncratic auteurs David Lynch and Guy Maddin – writes, directs and stars in these playful, eclectic investigations of zoological matters ranging from Darwinism to the sex lives of spiders.


Animals Distract Me finds Rossellini narrating a typical day in her life, digressing every time animals monopolise her attention as she considers the difficulties of living an ethical existence in a modern day consumerist metropolis. In the two-minute Green Porno shorts, meanwhile, she dons colourful DIY costumes to enact the extravagant – and always downright bizarre – mating rituals of miscellaneous animals, insects and birds. Viewer be warned: you may come away with a newfound desire to be a dragonfly...

 

“I don’t know where she dreams these things up!” laughs Jody Shapiro, Rossellini’s producer and co-director. The pair have known one another since collaborating on Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music In The World in 2003. “[Guy and I] got the script in shape and started to figure out who to cast. The idea of Isabella Rossellini came up. And we thought, ‘Ah, we’ll never get her! There’s no way she’ll even answer the phone call from her agent telling her that a script came in. She’ll know there’s a stink of Canada on this and just avoid it all costs!’” Shapiro jokes.

 

On the contrary. So impressed was Rossellini by Maddin’s short film, The Heart Of The World, which Shapiro had also produced, that she braved the bitter climes of a Winnipeg winter to meet the pair of filmmakers who would ultimately change the shape of her career. “We got a call. Isabella wasn’t sure she wanted to do the film, but she did say, ‘I want to go meet this filmmaker. I want to fly to Winnipeg and spent two days with him.’ And we were like, ‘…There’s something wrong with her,’” Shaprio deadpans. “There is no way someone in their right mind wants to go in early January from New York City to Winnipeg just to meet with somebody. Especially when it’s minus 40 degrees there! We were kind of all freaked out by that.”

 

The pair needn’t have worried: it was the beginning of what would become a fruitful relationship for all three parties. Shapiro recalls of the making of The Saddest Music In The World: “Isabella wouldn’t hang out in her dressing room – she’d hang out on set. We’d give her a camera, so she could do some filming. She really enjoyed it. She was at a time when she was starting to think about new ways to creatively tell stories. That’s the best thing about her: she’s a very creative person who likes to keep very busy. I think she was really seeing this as a sense of learning about filmmaking. She’s worked with so many great people. I think we were the last stop on that list of techniques that she was bringing into her life.”

 

Rossellini has appeared in most of Maddin’s subsequent films. She even enlisted Shapiro and Maddin to create a 16-minute tribute film to mark the centennial of her father, bastion of Italian neorealismo Roberto Rossellini (Germany, Year Zero; The Flowers Of St. Francis), in which she played every part, including Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Federico Fellini, and her mother, Ingrid Bergman.

 

Based on these successes, it was Shapiro whom Rossellini hand-picked as her key collaborator for the Green Porno series. “She was commissioned by Robert Redford for the Sundance Channel,” says Shapiro of the series’ inception. “There was this whole talk about media, about content, about watching TV on your phone. Redford thought that the small screen of the phone could be a perfect device for delivering short films – he felt there was no home for short films anymore. So he had the idea to have the Sundance TV station commission a bunch of different artists and filmmakers to create short films specifically for mobile content.”

 

Rossellini had long been infatuated with animals, so it was simply a matter of narrowing her focus for the series. “She’s serious about this stuff,” Shapiro asserts. “She’s constantly talking to scientists and travelling the world, researching. Then [we asked], ‘What do people actually like to watch online nowadays?’ Well, porno. So why not Green Porno?”

 

Aside from her utter lack of inhibition, Shapiro thinks Rossellini’s strength as the presenter of these films is her down-to-Earth mode of address. “She’s very non-preachy,” he says. “I don’t think she sees herself as an activist. But she’s definitely somebody that questions. But she likes to raise the issues. She likes to address them. But she’s able to do them as herself, in the context of telling a story, taking people on a journey.”

 

“I don’t see these things as shocking anymore,” he continues. “But people are still shocked by them, and I kind of love it. You forget that people out there really think these things are bizarre, yet they’re still taking away a message from them. That’s the best thing about them. [That’s] part of her charm and brilliance.”

 

The First Look season of Animals Distract Me and Green Porno screens at ACMI from Thursday January 5 – Sunday January 8. For program information and tickets please visit acmi.net.au