Close-Up chats to director and photographer Bianca Poletti about her short film ‘I Am Whole’ – which came in at 25th on our best short films of 2022 list.
Q: Hi Bianca, welcome to Close-Up Culture! As we’ve just entered a New Year, what are your goals for 2023? Are you planning on producing any more short films?
A: … SO many. My writing partner Allison Goldfarb and I are working on a new short film that’s tonally more similar to Radical Honesty than I Am Whole. It’s a dark comedy film, and we’re also in development for a TV series that I’m very excited about. Goal-wise, I’d love to see the show we’re working on come to life this year. It’s a story and theme I feel very strongly about and can’t wait to bring it to life. I love drawing, and I’d love to create a mini zine featuring a coming-of-age story I’ve been drawing.
Q: The short film is just under three minutes long but summarises everything amazingly in those few minutes. Did you find it challenging to create a powerful storyline in such a short space of time, or is it easier to do so than in longer films?
A: When I was in college I thought short films had to be AT LEAST 30 minutes long, which is a VERY long time to demand attention from an audience for a short. I couldn’t wrap my head around simple stories, or how to evoke emotion with just a few frames. However, since I’ve been directing commercials—and those run from 10 to maybe 60 seconds or slightly longer—that has opened my mind completely to the possibilities of telling a full story in a very short period of time. Not always easy to do, but I love the challenge of figuring out how to compact things while trying to not lose the heart of the story. For this film specifically, I always knew I wanted it to be quite short. The original poem Nikki wrote for me on this was much longer and I cut it down quite a bit. I wanted it to feel like we stepped into her dreams and then we were spat back out, so that had to be quite quick or it would get repetitive and boring.
Q: You’re a narrative director and have notable passions for dance and the human psyche. How did you get into filmmaking and expressing your storylines in such ways?
A: From a very young age, I fell in love with films, books, tv, Japanese graphic novels, and dance. I always preferred to live in my imagination and imaginary worlds. Growing up with a single mom who had to work a lot of late hours, I had a lot of alone time and I spent that time creating my own worlds with plays, and little drawing books. From there, I just keep pursuing filmmaking in one way or another. I went to film school, explored ideas there, then took a couple of years off and played with being a stylist in Seattle and focusing on photography, but I really kept missing the depth that films have. After 4 years in Seattle, I decided to move back to LA and started experimenting with short films starring friends of mine, working with a very talented DP friend of mine, Eric Smith, who luckily was always down to shoot my random ideas. This is when I was really able to play with any and all themes that interested me. They weren’t huge ideas (these were self-funded) but they covered the themes I’ve always been interested in—relationships, dance, coming-of-age stories. Since then I’ve just kept on creating, learning, and hopefully getting a little better each time.
Q: Are there any directors whose art you really take inspiration from, or are there any films that struck you when you first started filmmaking?
A: So many. I love films and admire many filmmakers. Paul Thomas Anderson has been a consistent inspiration for me. I feel like he’s a unique filmmaker. He has a signature style of storytelling, but then he can make a film like Phantom Thread which is completely different from Magnolia and Boogie Nights. He serves the story always instead of chasing a brand of storytelling. I admire that and strive to do something similar. One of my favorite films is ‘Woman under the influence’.What an insanely powerful film, the performances in that movie—mainly Gena Rowlands’s— is masterful and beautiful. Visually, I’m very inspired by Xavier Dolan’s films Mommy, Laurence Always, and Heartbeats. All so beautiful.
Q: Your passion for photography must be so beneficial for you when creating your short films. How would you say this has benefitted adapting your own directing style?
A: Yes, definitely. I’m very hands-on with the visual side of directing and that definitely comes from starting as a photographer. I think it’s helped me develop my own style visually. When working out shots for a film or commercial I’m always thinking of them in stills format, and on set I love to play with shots that weren’t planned, finding different and interesting ways to capture a simple conversation.
Q: Lastly, if you had to describe your entry into the world of film – and your journey ever since – in just three words, which would you choose and why?
A: Exciting. Challenging. Empowered.
Exciting, because I’m lucky enough to be doing what I love, and every day I’m deeply aware of how special that is. Challenging, because I’m always growing as a human and as a filmmaker. It’s never easy, but it’s always rewarding. Empowered because it took me years to have the courage to believe in myself and create films, and to share my voice. It’s a very vulnerable place to be, especially if you’re a super fan of films. Over the years, I’ve learned though that there’s serious strength in sharing your voice with others and your stories, and it’s okay if everything isn’t perfect. Nothing is perfect, humans aren’t perfect, and those imperfect characters make for the most interesting stories. I’ve learned to embrace being imperfect.