Experimental animator Dan G. joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about her latest short film Shalva.
Q: Much of your work deals with the female body. What was your starting point for ‘Shalva’ (‘Tranquility’) and what did you want to explore?
A: Yes, that’s true. Living inside a female body, you can’t take a break from that, but at least the character in my animation could.
So much changed in my life during the year I was creating Shalva. I moved to Valencia, a suburb of LA where the CalArts campus is, and it’s a radio silence area. Just the sound of cars. Huge landscapes. Very different to my life in New York. It was a shock for me. Adapting to so much as well as dealing with some sad negative harassment affected me in a way I couldn’t have foreseen.
My background is in Krav Maga (Israeli self defence), and the guiding instructor voice was replaced with a guiding meditation voice. I was seeking calmness in an unfamiliar world where I was alone, sleepless, and hurt. But then I realized the old rules won’t help me. I have to find a completely new method to protect myself and keep going even when things are brutal and that’s how Shalva was born. It was like showcasing my healing process; and that chaos healed me.
Q: This interesting idea of creation and change coming from destruction speaks to a lot of intense conflicts we are seeing throughout culture. How important for you is it to visualise this change-making process through your work?
A: That’s an interesting observation. One of the most exciting things for me in animation is the endless possibilities of morphing, shape shifting, and presenting a familiar reality in an unfamiliar, even bizarre way. Coming from a broken, destructive reality such as Israel, I think I have that in the back of my mind.
My hope is for a new beginning and animation allows me, as little and insignificant as I am, to have the power to create a reality that is fucked up and fix it–or give my character an unexpected amount of magic to re-exist under her own terms.
Q: Your experiences in Los Angeles and Israel are both present in the film. I find it fascinating that Los Angeles is reflected through the film’s synthetic, pristine setting. What impact has living in L.A has on you as an artist and a person?
A: Moving to LA has had an intense impact on me, yes. That perfect looking, evergreen setting, when it’s so hot- it’s burning! Like a sci fi world. I wanted to capture that in some way. It’s like suffocating, being trapped. I have a bicycle here, which means I’m not very mobile. I walk down the street and it’s just cars, no one else. Odd isolation. I find it scary but also inspiring, because it’s so foreign to me. I’ve used cinema 4D as a tool to create a VR like space with my hand drawn animation.
Q: I’ve had fascinating discussions recently with filmmakers Guy Nattiv (‘Skin’) and Veronica Kedar (‘Family’) about the impact of growing up in Israel on their work, particularly the inescapable role of violence. Can you speak to your experiences and the ways it has seeped into your work?
A: Yes, I think it’s a lifelong inner conflict. For better or worse. Being there, when the mall exploded as a child, going to school with gas masks at the time of war… these things affect your ability to trust reality, to never fully feel safe or calm. I think the weirdest thing is how we live with it all, in Israel, but suddenly when you are in a different country, the memories are like screams in the back of your head.
Being in Europe or the U.S. that’s when you suddenly reflect on it all in a different way. It’s just quiet over there, in a way that it never is in Israel. I think it drips into the storytelling, in a dystopian way.
Q: I was glad to see you mention Satoshi Kon’s influence on this piece because it did stir thoughts of ‘Perfect Blue’ in my mind. Can you tell us about the influence of Kon and others on ‘Shalva’?
A: Satoshi Kon is the dream master. Seeing Paprika really is what drew me in to explore all of his work. But Perfect Blue is also – very perfect. His animated cinematography as well as his ability to truly take control of the limitless tools of animation has shaped the way I work.
It made me realize everything matters and every transition can be symbolic and actually be part of the storytelling. I think he is also the first anime director, that I saw, who created profoundly complex female characters which also was really exciting to discover. Female characters in animation can be flat, due to the visualizing power.
Another huge influence on my work is Moebius by Jean Giraud. I remember reading once about how Mexico has influenced his sci fi worlds. And now that I am in this utopian LA world I understand it in a new way. I think he pushed the palette, the stories, the unimaginable worlds in a very unique and authentic way. I love to dream that way.
Q: ‘Shalva’ will screen at Slamdance Film Festival later this month. What type of reaction to do you hope to provoke with your work?
A: Energy. I hope people find it energizing. And keep fighting, creating.
Q: Can you tell us anything about your upcoming short ‘Olam’?
A: Olam (“world” in hebrew) is my thesis project at the California Institute of the Arts. It is a non-fiction project visualizing a series of personal conversations with Israeli women about experiences that shaped them to be who they are.
I’ve lived with the stereotype of an “Israeli woman” since I moved to the States (and when I lived in London for two years), so I felt like a project like this is long overdue. I’ve been called aggressive, loud, sassy, exotic, and other… words… and there is so much more then just what is seen on the surface.
The reality is militant. It’s daily struggles. It’s constant shouts, if you are on the street, at work, on the bus… everywhere. It’s loud. Sexual harassment is everywhere. But there is also good…there’s a sense of a community wherever you go. People will help you, and talk to you and you are never alone. So, its very conflicting. And I want to show that from the woman’s perspective. Something I feel doesn’t get the stage as often as the man in Israel.
Q: What are your hopes and ambitions for 2019?
I’ve been freelancing with some exciting creators and musicians, pushing my own visualizing methods, trying to imagine new ways for sound and story. I hope Olam will make people laugh and could be translated into a bigger project with women from other places. I don’t know, I really hope there will be some good destruction for this year, so 2020 will be the rebirth.