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I began this project in 2016 with an interest in investigating our relationship with animals, especially our attraction to them. At the suggestion of a colleague I started my research in a zoo. It was perhaps a natural undertaking, because where else in our urban life do we have contact with wildlife? Our bond with animals in cities exists in three forms, as John Berger says: they are pets, they are pests, or they are in the zoo.

At that time I was invited to a few international festivals with my previous film, LAS LINDAS. I took advantage of these trips to visit the zoos or aquariums in each city with my camera, stealing images to see what I could glean. Havana, Lima, Seattle, Genoa, and Berlin were some of the locations.

What gradually caught my attention, as I searched for scenes in the zoos, was how desperately people sought to be noticed by the animals. To cross glances. To be recognized. When those two gazes finally met, something magical would happen.

A question quickly emerged: what about animals without faces, without eyes, and without a returned look in which to project ourselves. Creatures like jellyfish, starfish, and many, many marine animals. What happens when there is no face? Furthermore, what is a face?

Flashback to 2015: I go out dancing with friends and come back home early in the morning. I am slightly drunk and tired, but nothing else. I jump into the elevator, press the floor button, and turn around to face the mirror. I see my reflection very close, but I’m not sure it’s me.

For a couple of minutes, time stood suspended; it was as if I were floating outside my body as it stared at a stranger in the eyes. Was that face mine? Was that me? It didn’t feel like it, and, for a couple of minutes, it wasn’t.

The next day, I felt a lightness inside like I never had before. It felt good to not have been me for those few brief minutes. One year later, this episode came to my mind when I thought about the jellyfishes. Could there be something liberating about having no face and no identity?

Making this film implied switching between different languages constantly, between opposite ways of thinking and making.

These are the elements that collided in the big bang of the film. I had in my hands several abstract, philosophical questions that exceeded me, hours of research material in zoos and a brief, mysterious experience of depersonalization. The impetus then arose to work with fiction, to try to locate the abstraction and my paradoxical feelings towards identity within a character and a script. It was also to try something I had never done before. However, I could not and would not discard the research material in zoos, especially after rediscovering photos of my mother with animals that echoed the documentary footage—an irresistible transtemporal link.

I began to explore the idea of incorporating my research and reflection into the project itself: to have the film contain its own process of thought and development—a film treated as a big work board. EL ROSTRO DE LA MEDUSA ultimately consists of a scripted narrative, fragments of pre-existing documentary material, and, finally, an essayistic dimension, which serves to envelop and comment upon these disparate elements. The essay component emerged through work with archival material, animation, and graphic elements in an approach more informed by the visual arts. Unlike the film’s scripted sequences, the form was found through the direct manipulation of the visual materials during post-production, molded by intuition and guided by the project’s foundational philosophical concerns.

Making this film implied switching between different languages constantly, between opposite ways of thinking and making. The film is constructed as a study, moving between a form of storytelling aligned with the central character and another mode operating with a reflective distance, opening to other materials and questions. This patchwork form comes from a very intuitive place, from a taste for puzzles and for kaleidoscopic narration, like the sense of one hundred open tabs in a browser.

Melisa Liebenthal

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