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INTERVIEWS

AN INTERVIEW WITH VANESSA FERLE AND ANNA GRADOU, DIRECTORS OF "FIGHT OR FLIGHT"

Best 360° Film - August 2021 Edition


INTERVIEW



Hello Vanessa and Anna, thank you for your compelling piece. How did you two meet?


We met as fellow-students during our master diploma studies. We both joined the french-greek master program on new media arts, at Athens School of Fine Arts and at Arts et technologies de l’image at Université Paris 8.


What was the trail of discussion and reflection that led you to decide and make this film?


When we left for Paris as “academic immigrants”, the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean was at its peak. Facing the difficulties of moving to a different country even for study purposes, made us identify ourselves in the faces of the refugee women - especially those who were carrying their baby children under such difficult circumstances to Europe; in a quest for a better future, similar in a way to ours.


This realization gave birth to a very deep feeling of solidarity and empathy for these women, who all also gave us a back a tremendous sense of a unique feminine strength. The strength of the mother, who can make the impossible possible for the sake of her child. It reminded us how strong women can be, how much they can endure when they have a powerful cause.


Studying abroad was our cause and although the difficulties are incomparable, however coming from a poor country to study in an unknown and wealthier city as Paris is a shifting experience that gives a different perspective and changes one’s reference frames in society. To be a stranger and belong to a minority is a challenge in whichever social framework, because you find yourself surrounded by the unknown. Which is always exciting and inspiring, but deeply scary as well.


This comparison also reminded us how much migration is a natural phenomenon, a deep innate tendency, an instinct, of all living beings, animals and plants. We all, without exception, tend to migrate to places that offer better living conditions, better prospects for our future, better possibilities of survival.




A combination of an artistic expression, and the use of technological skills and tools, can birth a strong political message and yet leave the viewer with questions. Would you like to expand on this proposition?


Having an academic and artistic background, our main interest was research, and not creating a commercial or popular project. We aimed to investigate and experiment with the possibilities of the technological mediums of our studies per se and with their artistic capacities. One of the mediums tested was virtual reality (VR). During this research we realized that VR can have a very strong emotional impact on the viewer, possibly through the sensory deprivation of exterior stimuli that the VR headset imposes. We realized that VR projected material creates emotions that have a much more intense impact, as compared to a 2D projection of the same material.


This led us to the conclusion that inside the virtual space, people are more open to the emergence of empathetic feelings towards a subject. From this perspective, the virtual space could be a great humanitarian tool, where someone can address issues of social inequality or abuse and impact society in a sentimental way, as opposed to the cognitive way of a political talk or reading. In our case, using VR to assist the viewer in feeling how immigrants that run for their life feel.





Why, as White European women, did you choose James Baldwin's and June Jordan's words to underline your message?


We deliberately chose African American writers to be the voice of this project so as to underline that migration and racism are a universal phenomenon. It is not a matter of color or ethnicity or of a specific point of time in history, but a mere matter of power and majority.

This applies in the animal and plant kingdoms, as well as to humans. For this reason, the work also starts with the quote of Walter Bradford Cannon, an American physiologist, who first described the Fight-or-Flight Response, commonly known as the stress response, a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival throughout the animal kingdom.


Τhis “collage” of words was an attempt to propose that to engage in racism is at least naive. Because engaging in racism means that you ignore the evolution of humankind and the evolution of the whole world. We all come from the same ancestor, we are all equal, and throughout the history of the human species there have been many growths and decays of different civilizations at different places on earth. The reality of white people being more powerful now in America was not the case some thousand years ago during the prosperity of Aztecs or Native Indians, just as Syria has not always been an attacked and bombarded country, and Greece has not always been a country under economic crisis. We believe it’s so important to always remember this and so sad that it’s constantly forgotten.


Would you say that the University of Vincennes Paris 8 still is, as it once was, a hub that welcomes daring, innovative projects? What was/is your experience with the French education system, what differences or similarities with the Greek one?


History is the starting point in every attempt to make the world a better place. If you want to go forward, you can never ignore the past. At the same time, as the interesting slogan “Forget your past” says -written on the entrance of Buzludzha monument in Bulgaria- , we should also forget our past. In a sense that the past is not our actual reality. It is dead, it is gone, and should stay in the past. It can only help us learn and evolve. Not to be misunderstood, we should remember! But we cannot get stuck to what has already happened and cannot change.


As such, the history of Paris 8 University Vincennes-Saint-Denis was a definite inspiration; especially in regards to its political and humanitarian sensitivity. It is a place where inspiring artists, intellectuals and activists shared a beautiful revolutionary vision and most importantly, acted passionately on it. This is something that always fills you with hope and strength.


Also, the very place of Vincennes-Saint-Denis was an inspiration by its mainly migrational population, its vast differences from “commercial” Paris, by the fact that it is a ghetto, by the atmosphere in the streets and the look of the people’s faces, the pain and struggle that's all over the place. As Walter Benjamin says, “Only for the sake of the hopeless ones have we been given hope” (original: “Nur um der Hoffnungslosen willen ist uns die Hoffnung gegeben”). The hopelessness that we met in some people’s faces in Vincennes-Saint-Denis filled us with hope to make artwork for us and for them, with whatever means we had.


The French educational system was a surprise for us. Everything was so well organized and teachers had astonishing respect for their students. Which is rarely the case in Greek universities, where professors are more authoritarian, distant and with specific agendas regarding what a student can do, or experiment on, during their studies.


Our French professors, in particular Jean-François Jego, have generously helped us with our experiments and reviewed their outcomes. Another key difference in French professors was the trust that they show to students and how encouraging they are to every student’s personal vision. They help you find your vision and do not try and impose you their own. They’re interested in research and innovation, which they favor and respect; they work towards it themselves. They give great attention to the research process itself and the theoretical support of the artistic project, not focusing solely on the final outcome or its technical aspects.





How did you proceed in terms of filming? Did you have a storyboard? How did you organize the work with Vicky Michalopoulou?


Regarding the production process, it was basically an instinctive group-improvisation, inspired by automatic writing and poetry, street art, guerrilla filmmaking, and activism. There was no script or storyboard, only this core idea of struggle for survival, a shared feeling of what we wanted to make the viewer feel, a collection of Parisian places of interest and some aesthetics references. The movie was filmed two weeks after we had the initial idea, with no other preparations.


After the shooting and during editing, a sparse mood board with poems, songs, interviews, personal notes, evacuation instructions, war and wild life animal photographs, helped us compose the movie and finally morphed it in a very different way than what we first thought.





As young European women, scientists and artists, what do you think you can do towards the betterment of the whole migrant situation on the continent?


Sensitization is all we can do, but it is all that is necessary actually. People feel. All people feel. Even racists. We strongly believe that inequalities are mostly an issue of lack of education and psychological awareness. If people are properly educated in world history (vs nation's biased historical perspective, as it sadly happens everywhere), in evolution, and in human psychology, racism could be extinct.


The re-radicalization of art can help. It is sad to see how art is becoming more and more a dead commodity. Art needs to find its way back to the heart, where it started and where it belongs.


Short statement describing your vision of the post-covid cinema, do you think there will be notable changes?


Vanessa Ferle:

My vision for the post-covid cinema is a liberated cinema, a poetic cinema, a heartful cinema. As the greek poet Tassos Leivaditis says in his poem “Aesthetic”, “As for that story there are many versions. But the best is always the one you cry. (gr. Αισθητική: Όσο για κείνη την ιστορία υπάρχουν πολλές εκδοχές. Η καλύτερη όμως είναι πάντα αυτή που κλαις.)


For me cinema should make our heart cry, not our eyes or our brain. And emotion does not need money, expensive productions, complicated procedures to be fueled. It only needs passion. During the pandemic many directors remembered and hopefully re-appreciated experimental cinema. They remembered how it is to make a movie alone or with 2 or 3 people, with a home-camera and home-post-production. And many beautiful films were produced.


For me this is the future of experimental cinema in the digital era. An era where digital filming and processing tools are almost costlessly available to everyone. Out of institutions and grants, alone with a camera and the personal view of the world. This is what I am interested in viewing, this is what I am interested in making.


BIO


VANESSA FERLE

WRITER, PRODUCER & CO-DIRECTOR



Vanessa Ferle (left)



Vanessa FERLE, “An interdisciplinary female human, born by the sea, combining arts, design and science; through experimentations, correlations, and collisions.”

Vanessa Ferle is an artist, graphic designer and neuroscientist based in Athens, Greece.


She has studied biology and neuroscience at the School of Science of the National Kapodistrian University of Athens (GR) and at the Medical School of Athens (GR), and digital arts and new media at the Athens School of Fine Arts (GR) and at the University Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis (FR).


She is combining her interdisciplinary interests in art projects and artistic research. Her focus is on the representation of animals per se and their behavioral features in digital art, on the animal essence of automation, machines and smart technologies, which they introduce to digital art, and the distinct emotional response that this “animal effect” triggers in humans.


Filmography:


2008 > “Impunity”, short film

2018 > “Systematic Illusions”, 3-part short film collage

2019 > “Murder”, experimental short film with a praying mantis

2019 > “Crise emotionelle”, experimental short film with ants

2020 > ”Water in Black”, animated short film experience: 2D, 360, VR, AR,