Featured Artist #16: Isabel Sadurni

Isabel Sadurni

Tu Me Souviens

Isabel Sadurni is one of the creative directors of 100 People: A World Portrait, an amazing project that seeks to promote world understanding by identifying, and creating documentary videos of 100 people who can serve as a representative sample of the 6.5 billion humans that populate our planet. Given the outcome of the recent presidential election, the message of inclusivity at the center of President-elect Obama’s message, and the worldwide surge of hope it has inspired, Sadurni’s project is particularly timely. We are also pleased to feature “Tu Me Souviens,” Sadurni’s cinematic homage to French filmmaking icon Chris Marker. Below, Sadurni reveals some of the motives and interests behind her work.


“Tu Me Souviens” and the 100 People project are quite different in terms of the way they utilize video. You obviously feel connected to both cinematic and documentary traditions of narrative and storytelling. Can you talk about your interests in these genres, why you work in both, and whether you feel any conflicts or synergies between the two?

I like to work very personally and intimately with a small crew, a process that comes very organically to documentary work or verite-style shooting. My style is to work simply focusing on behavior and expression of actors and their relationship with other characters or their environment and compose interesting shots to tell a story rather than impose lighting or rely a ton of equipment. I'm able to focus on the humanist aspects of the story that way. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I grew up as an only child in a quiet household of terse Midwesterners, but I'm most comfortable in a fairly minimalistic working environment. Somehow I feel like I can stay in touch with the truth more easily that way. When I'm working with an actor or non-professional, I'll stay with them near the camera, and check the monitor later in playback. I think the reason I make films or need to watch films is similar to the reason we go to the theater, which is catharsis, to confront ourselves. Beyond my belief that we seek out good storytelling to remind us of how best to tune our spiritual or moral compass at a particular moment, there's something primal we seek to stimulate or satisfy in film or any art, something that can be read through behavior, color, movement and the energy or something that a rhythmic editing or specific juxtaposition of images can create. I want to stay close to that personal experience, so I like to stay intimate with minimal crew. It's a way of focusing for me.

What drew you to working with film and video in the first place?

I've always explained how the world works to myself through images and sounds. I was a philosophy major in college and film seemed like the perfect canvas upon which to paint my beliefs and feelings about the way things worked or didn't work. It's my blackboard for drawing out equations for how to bring order out of chaos.

What influences, if any, do you see in “Tu Me Souviens”? Have you been influenced at all by literary work?

I was living in Paris when I made, “Tu Me Souviens” and a friend had given me the remarkable experience of meeting Chris Marker. I think I was still inspired by that encounter when the opportunity came to collaborate with a photographer friend. Because I've watched many of his films several times, after meeting him I immediately started replaying his films in my head, especially Sans Soleil and La Jetée. “Tu Me Souviens” is an homage of sorts to his work and to the complications of love. The woman who provided the voice-over for the central character in the longer version of “Tu Me Souviens” suggested I read Maguerite Duras' “La Maladie de la Mort,” which had passages that spoke to the piece. I've always subscribed to a do-it-yourself method of filmmaking where the set was the street, or your friend’s apartment, which was heralded by the neo-realists and the French New Wave.

What are the origins of the 100 People project? What makes you passionate about it? What are your ambitions, both present and future?

I have four half-brothers and one half-sister that were born in three different countries outside of the U.S., so I feel as if my family exists intercontinentally. I wanted to find a way to meet the world in a way that was larger than a personal quest film, which I often find can become toursitic and this project fulfills that goal. We're currently wrapping on a New York feature doc version of 100 People in which you'll meet 100 people that statisically represent the world population, all of whom were born in a foreign country of origin but currently live within the five boroughs of New York City. We're looking at a February premiere of the New York version and are in development for the global version in which we'd travel to meet the families of each subject . . . pretty exciting and looking forward to it all.

This project is partially supported by the Illinois Arts Council

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