Time for another go ’round, Indie Beat listeners. We’re back this time with filmmaker, editor, and critic Jessie Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli.
After a number of shorts, Rovinelli embarked on her first feature “Empathy.” The film follows Em (Em Cominotti), an escort and heroin addict, as she navigates life without proper healthcare. Rovinelli’s camera focuses on the mundane aspects of Em’s life (putting on makeup, brushing teeth) while handling the other parts of her life — namely the sex work and the drug use — in a decidedly non-salacious, open way.
As a narrative with strong documentary elements, Rovinelli worked closely with Cominotti to develop the script and follow her life, resulting in a rawly intimate film. Often this subject matter tends to take the shape of an exploitative, wallow-in-torment run-of-the-mill miserablist film. While this film does have its fair share of sad moments, there is also so much life present. The director shoots mostly everything in a single take (on beautiful 16mm — celluloid lives!), lingering on Em while occasionally soundtracking pop music, eradicating the dissonance (and, yes, boredom) generally associated with a static long-take. The film went on to premiere at FIDMarseilles and played Art of the Real, BAFICI, Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, and many other places.
After developing a number of follow-ups, the filmmaker ultimately decided to tackle one of her favorite books — the German “so schön” by Ronald M. Schernikau — and adapt it for the screen. The untranslated novella follows four gay men in Berlin, focusing on their romances and political life of demonstrating and organizing. Rovinelli’s film concerns visual artist Tonio, fan and orator of “so schön,” in a day-to-day observational life similar to “Empathy” while also stretching to include more of the lead character’s friends and loved ones. Eventually, Tonio and the other characters clash with the police and the characters’ similarity to those in the book they’re reading becomes more apparent.
Rovinelli plans this to be a serious, political film but also wants it to have moments of grace and fun, describing certain sections as “pop art.” Right now there’s a crowdfunding campaign for the film, so please do check it out and give if you can.
Jesse and I spoke about her new film, anarchism, the warm potential of slow cinema, generative stories instead of reactive ones, and much more! Please give it a listen and let us know what you think!