Interview with artist and filmmaker Matteo Norzi

Arianna Carossa: I cannot but combine your work as an artist to that as a director. What are the threads – if any – that unite your past work with this film?

Matteo Norzi: This film has been written, produced and directed by a group of artists each one with a personal history of collaborative practice. We tried to bring forward the principles of continuous artistic experimentation in every phase of this very adventurous production as well as included references to our previous work, almost as emotional memory. I’m thinking at the video-art by caraballo-farman that appears as an interference in a swirling hallucination of one of the ayahuasca ceremonies but also the underwater scenes that feature the Inia Geoffrensis – the Amazon river dolphins – and reference my own previous work about the underwater as a mental space. However since the beginning of the screenplay, the film has been intended as alternative to my gallery work and my previous life in general; as a way out from the frustrations of the art world, its cult for the self and its self-referenced dynamics. There was a moment in which everything of this film was nothing but an intuition, a dream of freedom and a promise that my dearest friend and co-director Leonor Caraballo and I shared while traveling across Peru; a promise to shift direction with our destiny and accomplish something together that was worth our lives; a promise that kept us going also during the most challenging time.

 

Icaros, Tribeca Film Festival, Leonor Caraballo, Matteo Norzi

Icaros: A Vision’s directors Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi

 

MN: On another level, my approach as an artist always starts from the context itself, either in the case of a site-specific installation or of a storyline that aims to rediscover the imaginary and the mythology of the jungle culture. Although after the experience of working on Icaros, I realized to be more confortable on the media of cinema than the others I played with before. I enjoy the eclecticism required in the process of filmmaking.

AC: Ethics and aesthetics were always connected in art. Today, it seems like ethics are no longer part of the picture. Do you think there is such a connection? If so, how can it be applied to cinema?

MN: I’m not inclined to express myself morally when I judge a work of art. I somehow believe that if the piece of work is good everything should be forgiven. However every output that reaches an audience has to be driven by some sort of artistic responsibility. Moreover a film is such a long-term commitment that – at least for me – would not be possible to keep it fed by any other energy if not the one of the good intentions. Having the opportunity of directing a film is literarily like speaking your ideas loud through a megaphone. Whatever you think and say will create another world and have a political consequence. Even when my co-director Leonor Caraballo was diagnosed with a terminal disease few months before going into production, she and we never backed up on the project, because of a superior degree of urgency. The film was driven by the conviction that acknowledging the power of plants is the only way to change the jeopardized future of the Amazon – itself like a dying patient. During the very first trip, we met and bonded with some of the great Shipibo-Conibo people in a very critical moment of their history. The exploitation of the lands of the Indigenous communities by oil and timber companies continues. Over the next 20 years, massive tracts of their lands will be destroyed to produce only enough oil to satiate U.S. demand for, at the most, two weeks. The men and women who have the knowledge of plant medicine are finding few in the younger generation who will cultivate their practices. Thus, even if through a visionary experience that aims to reinvent the aesthetic of psychedelics, the goal of the film is to bring attention to the work, life and knowledge of the Shipibo Conibo people.

 

Filippo Timi, Tribeca Film Festival, Leonor Caraballo, Matteo Norzi

Filippo Timi as Pasajero Leonardo in Icaros: A Vision
Courtesy Conibo Productions © 2016

 

AC: I lost track of you since the last time I saw you. How do absence and silence act in you and your work, and in this film made of many silences and retreat?

MN: First of all, I apologize to you and many other good friends for disappearing! The simple explanation is that we dived into the project of the film completely. We embarked into an adventure that was bigger than everything else we had ever attempted so we had to dedicate all our energies to it. Then, yes, the story is very much about isolation and the silence of the jungle – feelings that we experienced first hand when we were ourselves guests of the retreat. The film begins with the question “If you try and listen to all the sounds of the jungle, what do you hear?” Not only you hear a multitude of different animals and insects, and the hums of mind-altering plants. The complete answer from the words of Amazonian poet César Calvo includes the voices of your own consciousness: “You can hear it all inside you, in the memory of all you’ve heard over a lifetime. Dances and fights, and promises and lies, and fears and confessions, and war cries and love moans… Because all that you will ever hear already echoes in the middle of the night of the jungle.”

AC: What weight should the story and the script have in a film? Masterpieces have been made, where the subject doesn’t seem to be relevant, because communication happens through the film’s aesthetic structure.

MN: At first you dream a film. Then you start to work on the script, and as you add on all the elements, the characters, the scenes, the sequences – even when you are opting for a certain level of abstraction – it’s fundamental to orchestrate a convincing emplotment . This is particularly true because the script, the treatment, and perhaps few images are the only tools you have to convince everybody else to get on board. The actors, the crew but also the money people need be able to get what you are envisioning through a storyline. The script then becomes a shooting script and a calendar. However, as your question points out correctly, it’s not the script that matters; it’s not even the destiny of the production with its changes of plan and its improvisations; nor the footage itself that you are actually bringing back home; not even the endless amount of work done in the edit room to explore the infinite possibilities of a cut. The only thing that matters in the end is the initial dream.

 

Icaros, Tribeca Film Festival, Leonor Caraballo, Matteo Norzi

Planta con Madre. Film still, Icaros: A Vision
Courtesy Conibo Productions © 2016.

 

AC: Lacan argues that the unconscious is dynamic, and one needs to learn how to ride it without giving it direction, because it already has one – pointing towards what we deeply desire. The question is whether you’re going to keep a tight rein on it or not, and how tight. In this view, do you allow chance to be a part of your work – and to what extent?

MN: I agree with Lacan, but I need to answer contradictorily: nothing is left to chance. As a director you have to be on top of everybody and every situation. You need to do everybody’s job and control every single detail of every phase of everything. However especially in a film like ours, which is shaped like a shamanic journey, you need to be able to ride the energies of the moment and play along. You have to keep up with your intuition and keep on pointing towards your own unique intention – even when is not always clear to you – and never ever look back.

AC: One of the points that mostly impressed me in the script was when the main character puts herself in relation to her fears, but her degenerative disease is already too advanced. Is there a boundary between mind and body? In your opinion, is it possible to extinguish physical degeneration through a more intimate relationship with ourselves?

MN: Body and mind are obviously connected way more than we are able to control. Especially through the course of a lifetime the problems of the mind can affect the body and the other way around. Ayahuasca shamanism is a very powerful tool, unarguably, at least to gain awareness of these dynamics. On another level although consciousness is the software; the body is just the hardware. It’s by far the best support that is currently available, however it’s not impossible to imagine a future in which consciousness could be run by a different platform after the body ages. Yes this is just sci-fi now, however, when Leonor was close to the end and her body was failing, her will, her ideas, her precision or, more largely, her spirit or personality were appearing unaltered through the text messages sent on the screen on my phone. Even now that she passed, if all I had of her was just this kind of digital relationship perpetuated by a machine, still I could think her as alive. From a different prospective ayahuasca itself is another technology that acts with a similar potential. It can give you access to all the memories you have of a person and compose them back together in such a vivid way that you could address a question to this person and hear back an original answer. To go back to the core of your query, however, I don’t think the solution is to chase ways to extinguish physical degeneration. The secret is to learn to cope with mortality so that we can finally enjoy the journey.

Icaros: A Vision (2016) by Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival 2016 in New York

 

Sara Gunnarsdóttir, Tribeca Film Festival, Leonor Caraballo, Matteo Norzi

Mariposa. Otorongo. Gallinazo. Anaconda. Film still, Sara Gunnarsdóttir ‘s colorblind test animation, from Icaros: A Vision
Courtesy Conibo Productions © 2016

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by Arianna Carossa
in Focus on the East Coast

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