Photos Courtesy of “SIGNIFIED” Pictured Anna Barstan and Jesse Lavandov, Bklyn Boihood and Emanuel Xavier
“SIGNIFIED” is a web-based series multi-platformed documentary project that aims to increase visibility of queer identified individuals and organizations as well as create local, regional, and international networks for strategic community organizing and resource sharing. The project is comprised of short video profiles where the subjects present a self portrait.
“SIGNIFIED” was invited to premiere its first season in the Fall of 2011 at the Guggenheim Lab, the third season will feature Spanish language artist and activist from Latin American in the Fall of 2012. PrideIndex talked with “SIGNIFIED” co-creators Anna Barsan and Jessie Lavandov about the importance of this fascinating series, their artistic influences and what’s next.
PRIDEINDEX (PI): Tell us the background story how you and Jessie began working together.
ANNA BARSAN (AB): Jessie and I were friends long before we ever started working together. I think our first creative endeavor was a short film that we shot with a few of our friends in Brooklyn. We were in this tiny apartment shooting during the hottest week of the summer and we couldn’t use the air-conditioner due to the sound. It was one of the first projects I had ever directed and at times I was definitely a little bit lost but Jessie was the superstar DP and was my rock when things were getting stressful. After we realized we could make it through that experience I think there was an unspoken understanding that the future possibilities were endless!!
“SIGNIFIED” was started maybe a year to a year and a half later and it was born out of realizing that there was a historic and systematic invisibility of queer communities, communities of color, trans communities, gender non-conforming, and radical communities in the media. As filmmakers and visual artists, we recognized that we had a responsibility and a need to provide a platform for all of the amazing organizations, artists, thinkers and dreamers that we had the privilege of learning from, knowing, collaborating with, and/or being inspired by. We knew that we were on the same page politically in what our goals and objectives were for the series so from there it was really just refining the structure and the form and getting down to business.
PI: “SIGNIFIED” is a multi-platformed documentary, what do you by “multi-platformed?”
AB: Multi-platform is really another way of saying multi-media. It means that people can access the information in a variety of ways – through watching our web series, visiting our website, sharing resources, as well as through community gatherings and discussions.
PI: Why did you call it “SIGNIFIED?”
AB: The name SIGNIFIED comes from a few different concepts – if you look at the word, the root of the word and possible variations of the word you have things like sign, signify, signifier, significant, even signal.
We can think about ourselves (as a community) or the individuals that are interviewed as “signs” that mark our location in time, our development as a community, as a people, and we realize that we are signifying our own existence. When we think that few other media outlets except for the ones we make ourselves choose to depict or give voice to our communities we realize how necessary, how significant this work is. We signify our existence through interviews, through voice, and through a collaborative process of sharing stories that document our struggles, dreams, accomplishments, and hopes in creating collective and mutually-beneficial futures.
PI: How many episodes do you have in the can thus far?
AB: We have ten episodes from Season 1, seven from Season 2 and we will be releasing our third season this fall that will feature artists, activists and academics from Latin America. The whole series will be in Spanish (English subtitles will be included) and we are super excited about it!
PI: “SIGNIFIED” hosted a party at Guggenheim’s Lab, how did that come about?
AB: We had the amazing opportunity of launching our series at the Guggenheim Lab last fall. This came about through meeting and discussing with one of the curators of the Lab. They were interested in our project and so we wrote up a proposal and were fortunate enough to be selected to screen our work and host a panel discussion. The space was absolutely beautiful and we felt extremely lucky to be able to kick off things at a free community-centered space!
PI: Are there any plans to host a “traveling exhibit” (E.g… future episodes’ premier in Chicago, Los Angeles or Atlanta, etc?
AB: We definitely have plans to travel with “SIGNIFIED.” We’ve done a little bit of touring in the U.S. but mostly along the east coast for screenings and discussions. However, we would ideally like to go on a 2-3 month road trip of the United States that would include screenings, workshops, and organizing community events/dinners. We really want to make the series accessible to as many folks as possible in as many different places as possible. Even though anyone can technically access the series because it’s online, we know that cities like New York, L.A., and San Francisco get most of the attention when it comes to LGBTQ organizations, events, and arts projects so we understand the importance of taking the series to the Midwest, the South, rural communities, the Southwest, etc. – places where amazing things are happening and amazing activists are working but maybe they don’t get as much publicity because of their geographic location.
We recently finished some international traveling in Colombia, Argentina and Cuba and will be releasing interviews from some incredible activists and organizations that we had the privilege of speaking with during our travels. We are extremely excited about being able to share some of the work that is happening in LGBTQ movements in Latin America and fostering cross-cultural dialogue as well as community spaces for resource exchange and discussion.
PI: I enjoyed watching the episode entitled “Bklyn Boihood,” how do you decide which personalities to cover?
AB: Choosing our SIGNIFIED interviewees comes from a lot of research, attending various social and artistic events, talking to folks in the communities as well as the process of curating our seasons. We like to touch on a variety of different themes, issues, and movements and we place emphasis on interviewing women, communities of color, trans communities, immigrant communities, and others that are systematically rendered invisible in mainstream media.
PI: You’re photographers and visual artists; does that mean your filmmaking style gravitates towards art-house? If not, describe your filmmaking style.
JESSIE LAVANDOV (JL): What’s so beautiful about working so closely with a creative partner in any particular artistic setting is that you are inherently converging really distinct artistic backgrounds, personal styles and influences to create a unified vision that is birthed from both of you and thus a wild, organic combination of everything we are both arriving with… which ultimately takes on a life of its own. I think something that Anna and I have in common is that we love making all different kinds of films and have been influenced by so many different kinds of artists and filmmakers who engage with the medium in a lot of different ways. We both love to experiment and push ourselves to try and think about things in new ways and working together has been wonderful because I think we help each other grow and I really appreciate the things that she sees that I don’t and vice versa.
I like your question – because while I would hesitate to categorize myself or the things that I make into one genre, it’s definitely true that working with all different kinds of mediums has absolutely influenced the kinds of films that I make. I love most of all to work with my hands – to tell little stories with organic / found / collected / discarded things and so even in digital formats an organic, tactile approach to everything I do is inescapable. I think at times I get frustrated working with digital mediums, I miss shooting film and super 8 and the way I am able to capture light, grain, shadows…but it’s so expensive and inaccessible. Instead of resenting and resisting change I’m trying to embrace all of the freedom that working in a digital format has to offer…and trying to always be creative and grow and push myself to layer and collage and push my own boundaries. But regardless of format or form, I think in filmmaking something that is always true is that I’m fascinated and moved by quiet, organic, simple moments that pay testament to the overwhelming joy, sadness, magic and resilience of what it is to be alive.
PI: Name three people that have had the most influence over your artistic style.
JL: I can’t possibly choose three. At risk of being long winded, can I give you a short list of folks that come to mind?
For me (Jessie):
– Maya Deren
– Ana Mendieta
– Sally Mann
-Wong Kar Wai
– The poet Aracelis Girmay
– And most of all so many of the treasured people I am so blessed to call my friends – my dear friend Nina Reyes Rosenberg has influenced me in so many ways.
AB: Yea, for me I would have to say that a lot of writers have influenced me particularly:
Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, Alice Walker, Gloria Anzaldua, Adrienne Riche, Octavia Butler and although she’s not a writer, Maya Deren, absolutely.
Another huge influence on me, though not a person, is the land where I grew up. I’m from the Midwest, born and raised, and the landscape has been imprinted on me – the colors, the small hills, the openness, the trees, the dramatic seasons… I find myself continually returning to a simple form or structure that mimics a familiar landscape and I’ve found that sound, especially moments of silence, have become a necessity.
Finally, I would have to credit the community of folks that I am surround by that are endlessly inspiring, supportive, creative, visionary, and courageous. Whether through conversations, visits to museums, sharing books, collective cooking, or music making – my artistic life would be barren without them.
PI: What was the name of the last good movie you saw? What made it so great?
JL: Pina, the documentary / dance film about and featuring the works of the late Pina Bausch directed by Wim Wenders. It is breathtaking and lovely and poignant and magical and a brilliant use of 3D film… (which most of the time just makes me nauseous). It brought her work to life in this whole new way … the only time I saw her work live was at BAM a few years ago in the nose bleeds seats… and then a few months ago I saw this film at BAM and I felt like I was there, inside of her work. It was such a beautiful way of blending dance and film… which is something I’ve always been interested in and inspired by. I always say if I weren’t what I am I’d have wanted to be a dancer. Film and dance have so much to offer each other. I love the use of body and physical expression as a means of storytelling.
PI: The filmmaking industry is a male dominated industry; do you ever see that changing?
JL: I think that when we say “the filmmaking industry” it refers, in the public imagination, to a specific kind of filmmaking. A kind of filmmaking that values profit over content and certain stories and lives and means of production over others. But that is changing, and that has ALWAYS been changing… And now filmmaking is becoming more accessible to folks who traditionally didn’t have the capital resources to make films. Women have always been making films; beautiful, powerful films. And I hope all different kinds of films will continue to become more accessible to a broader audience as the means of distribution and production continues to evolve, shift and expand. In order for things to change, we have to imagine them to be different and actively work for it.
PI: What advice would you offer to aspiring filmmakers?
JL: Tell stories that you believe in and have conviction in their telling. Try to pay attention to everything around you. Try not to doubt that your stories matter, even if you’ve been given every reason to think otherwise…they do. Storytelling can be such a powerful act of love.
PI: Can we expect to see a feature film from you in the future? If so when?
JL: Yes! We’re working on it (both individually, I think, and definitely together, with SIGNIFIED). There are things actively in the works and always things in the imagination . . . we won’t say more. But stay tuned. Visit thisissignified.com