“we use sound and vision to translate our surroundings and experiences….experiences that have often been silenced or ignored. “
In the run up to our Turning The Tables event on Thursday 21st September, we spoke to one of the directors showcasing her music documentary, ‘Empress Of’, about how integral music is to the filmmaking process.
Jazmin Garcia is a cineasta based in Los Angeles. Her work explores themes of immigration and cultural assimilation, using family histories and her own experience as a second generation Mexican-Guatemalan-American. She often partners with designer-and-director Natalie Falt, and together the duo have produced a collection of exceptional work (including short film ‘She’ which was screened at Girls On Film’s launch party last month). Read on for Jazmin’s musings on the storytelling capabilities of music in film.
How did you come around the idea of making a video about Empress Of? What part of her image or music inspired you?
I had heard her song “Woman Is A Word” and found it very powerful. I had met her through friends and I’m always consciously trying to connect with other Latinas who do creative work. Luckily, the Latinx media company I work for, Mitu, was looking for an artist to work with for some sponsored content. I pitched Empress Of, and everyone was down.
It says that your video derived from Cher’s performances in the 70s and latin dance clubs – did these associations spawn from her sound or was it totally your idea? How do you think someone’s persona can influence the visual aesthetic?
I’ve just always been attracted to the way Cher presented herself on stage: the glitter, the soft lighting, and the idea of a variety show that revolved around curated music performances.
When Lorely, Empress Of, and I met to talk about the project we both vibed about who we would want the audience to be for a performance like that and loved the idea of having her mom, and other Latina moms like her, considering we never see women like our mom’s on screen. In that case I think the moms’ personas definitely influenced the visual aesthetic because they brought that sweet, yet strong and resilient energy that we feel our immigrant mom’s carry. Having their image in the video was important for us because we wanted to uplift our cultural backgrounds. Lorely had just performed at this classic salsa club in L.A. so it worked out perfectly that she suggested we shoot there. Also, I have been obsessed with Mexican Baile Folklorico for a long time and have always wanted to use those dancers with the colorful, huge skirts as untraditional back up dancers. I’m just glad Lorely was down.
Then it was obvious to bring my old friend Natalie Fält as art director because she always understands visually what I’m trying to do, but also has her own incredible archive of “moodz” floating around in her brain. I very much trust her visual aesthetic.
In your opinion, what is the difference between making a short feature and a music video?
The difference has become very clear for me as I used to focus more on music videos in the past. Now I work on more short docs meant for quick consumption on social media platforms. With music videos you get to play around and control the aesthetic, but also experiment with abstract concepts. In contrast, with these short docs you just have to make due with the hour or two you are given to spend with the protagonist or person you are interviewing. Then you have to take complicated and nuanced ideas and condense them to under 2 minutes…it’s a completely different process but it’s fun to try to take a music video approach to shooting these interviews that delve into more serious topics around Latinx identities like immigration or incarceration, for example.
How important do you think is a harmony between sound and vision?
It’s SO important. The right soundtrack is everything. That’s why working with musicians whose music you enjoy makes the process a bit easier. Music inspires the concept, the mood, the edit. When I’m working on short docs, I’m forced to use royalty free music from a database my work provides, and it’s torture looking for songs that add to the emotion of the piece, and aren’t cheesy. I can definitely be a snob about what music I choose for my videos.
Where, in your opinion, do women stand, in the attempt to merge the two?
I’ve mostly surrounded myself with women who have always had strong opinions on both music and film… we use sound and vision to translate our surroundings and experiences, experiences that have often been silenced or ignored.
I guess we stand as dope, bad ass mujeres who can hopefully inspire other women, young women, to have pride in what they believe in, and in who they are in this fucked up, but beautiful world.