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Jessica Dunn Rovinelli


We remember Empathy (FID 2016) and So Pretty (FID 2019), in which Jessica Dunn Rovinelli has portrayed other people’s lives in a broad, fair and delicate way free from clichés. With Life Story she draws a portrait not of but with McKenzie Wark, philosopher and author of the Hacker Manifesto. This film, which combines cinematographic, human and political intimacy, unfolds in an equally short and dense form in order to celebrate all the splendour of a trans body shown in full majesty. The means are as simple as they are singular. As we listen to McKenzie read a text written especially for the occasion, an address in the form of a reflection on her life, the political struggles she has undertaken and the theoretical issues at stake, Jessica films her in the intimacy of her private space, paying close attention to the body from which her voice flows, taken on as a life’s work in its own right. Her nudity is presented at its most private, and therefore most political: a body that belongs to her and has been shaped, a surface and a story, the result of what we are given as of our own will. The challenge is to provide an exercise in viewpoint: shifting frames and vantage points, questioning centrality. A way of putting back into motion what would be the heart of the image in its very principle. The meeting, which is also a political meditation, is punctuated by unpredictable outbursts of colours (the film, after Marriage Story, now forms part of a coloured series). The pure chromatic qualities, which provide visual pleasure, interfere with and magnify the film, transcending it. Life Story, singular and generous, thereby suggests the possibility of a fresh look, a possible echo of the transition portrayed within it. But perhaps, first and foremost, the possibility of a film as a loving gesture.

Nicolas Feodoroff

Life Story is the second film in a series you have called “color films”, which began in 2020 with your previous film, Marriage Story, which centered on the color red and your personal life. Could you tell us a little about this serial project?

Marriage Story was originally conceived as a standalone film, but I found it so refreshing to work in a cheap and fast way while trying to secure funding on larger projects, that I decided to expand it into a series, and that gave me a sort of simple intellectual and formal framework into which I slotted a variety of ideas I was working on. So in a way the series is something that I’ve allowed myself to be a little almost ‘selfish’ about: making works about those I love, letting my obsession with color from my work as a film colorist come to the foreground, letting my little personal aesthetic fixations come to the fore. Which is also maybe why I’ve decided that these films won’t be available online — I like that you come to them and meet the people in them face-to-face, as it were. It’s about a dialogue of love between myself and the subjects and between the screen and viewer.

Life Story is focused on the philosopher McKenzie Wark. How did your complicity come about and how did you collaborate to make the film?

McKenzie and I became friends in 2019, and we sort of grew closer and closer from there. At one point she told me that ‘[her] body was now the most beautiful it would ever be,’ as she’d gone a ways into her gender transition later in life. I found that sentiment so beautiful, so we decide to use that as the basis of the project — to simply document her body as beautiful. The rest sort of came out from there, thinking about how to situate that body in time and place, within her body of work and the world that birthed her body and to which she responds.

The film exposes Wark’s body, laid bare before the camera, showing the signs of her gender transition. How did you establish this intimacy and gain her trust?

Again, McKenzie and I spent years as friends. She’s seen my at my worst and I’ve helped her navigate some difficult times. And we’ve spent a lot of time dancing together. We already had an intellectual rapport, and I’d already shot photos of her a few times, so this was a pretty natural extension of a pre-existing relationship.

Could you tell us more about the text written and read out by McKenzie Wark? Was it specially conceived for the film?

Wark’s text is original for the film, based on a prompt by me. It was also expanded into a short book that is being published concurrently by Hanuman Editions, and is also called Life Story. It contains a short afterward by me and a little flip book of a shot from the film. But yes, the concept for the text was for one that was always intended to be in conversation with the film and situated within it. She then extrapolated the film text into her own piece.

In this film we again find domestic space as a decorum. What motivated this recurring choice?

At this point it’s almost a joke. I’m obsessed with personal and domestic space, in how it reflects and encloses the lives within it. It’s so confining and yet the space where we are allowed to stretch out our bodies a little. All the films start from this sort of zero of the body and the home and make grasps outside of that.

The entire film is punctuated by the flickering of the color orange. What is the reason behind this formal choice and why did you choose this particular color?

Wark picked the color orange. I told her she could choose any color besides red, because I’d already used red in Marriage Story. Both Marriage Story and Life Story were concerned with taking the aesthetics of raves and bringing them into a radically different material and formal context. I’d referred to Marriage Story as “the world’s slowest rave,” with its slowly fading red. This one is a bit more intrusive, letting the orange strobe a bit quickly, enough to jar the viewer but not enough to disorient completely. It’s about seeing what the possibility of light to reframe a space and its context is, what new perspectives open up by importing these sorts of repetitive lighting sequences. I like how, for me, repetitive colored light create a space that is at once comfortingly consistent and refreshingly alien to daily life, and it’s interesting and exciting to do that over very mundane spaces, and over a beautiful body and words that are open to the world, and to let that play out however it might.

Like Marriage Story, this film was also shot digitally and then transposed to 35mm. What led you to make this decision?

I like the exclusivity and materiality of 35mm, and it’s also shocking how even coming from a lo-res digital source, the texture of 35mm brings the final product to a place that is, to me, sort of achingly piercing and moving. I think a lot about how 35mm film is the result of a century’s worth of thousands of people’s effort to make colors that we find beautiful, and I think it’s important to keep playing around to see what new uses we can find for it. And yes, I like that screening on 35mm is something that can pretty much only happen with others in a specific place at a specific time. I like the determinacy of the connection it forces. And it’s just so beautiful.

The text in the film also talks about the death of idols and futures that didn’t happen, but it incites not to despair. Do you believe that new futures are still possible?

I would say that new futures exist in every moment. A new future exists in the moment the film exists. The question is how long those futures can exist or allowed to exist, and the work for us politically is to extend the better futures as long as possible. It’s about finding what’s decent and how to extrapolate it. I think a lot about a term Wark uses frequently: “ongoingness.” Her question is how to make a life possible where the things worth living for and within can last.

Do you already know what the next film in the series will be?

Yes. If all goes well it will be a sequel to my debut feature Empathy, tentatively titled Empathy 2: Love Story. The color in that film is white.

Interview by Marco Cipollini

  • Flash Competition
16:3026 June 2024Cinéma Artplexe 3
14:0028 June 2024Cinéma Artplexe 3
09:3029 June 2024Vidéodrome 2

Technical sheet

United States / 2024 / Colour / 10'

Original version: English
Subtitles: French
Script: McKenzie Wark, Jessica Dunn Rovinelli
Photography: Silas Perry, Jessica Dunn Rovinelli
Editing: Jessica Dunn Rovinelli
Music: Kenny Kusiak, Ne/Re/A
Sound: Kenny Kusiak
Cast: McKenzie Wark, Julie Wernersbach

Production: Jessica Dunn Rovinelli (100 Year Films)
Contact: Jessica Dunn Rovinelli (100 Year Films)

MARRIAGE STORY (2020) 9 min
SO PRETTY (2019) 83 min
EMPATHY (2016) 83 min
FUCK WORK (2015) 13 min
WE’VE LOVED YOU SO MUCH (2010) 10 min