Sundance Features

January 15, 2007

Martha Colburn, Destiny Manifesto and Meet Me In Wichita

"My two new films really have much more to do with my interest in making animation as a kind of fictional documentary."

A still from Martha Colburn's installation Meet Me in Wichita

(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)

I noticed you have two titles in this year's festival. How do you get two titles at the Sundance Film Festival?

Well, one is an installation. And then I have a short.

But it's exceedingly unusual and probably pretty prestigious for one filmmaker to score two slots there though, isn't it?

Well, I've had a single short film in for a few years. And if you don’t go, it's just like any other festival. I get these films done and put the soundtrack together as much as I could -- the impression of what it would be -- without titles and credits or anything and send it to them. Now the reason I sound so distracted is that I still don't have the sound recorded. I still don’t have the master tapes made. In other words, if you're your own producer, even for something so small -- I'm a complete solo act, I do everything -- the technicalities and the demands of the business side of it all don't give you any time to sit around and reflect on the wonders of being in Sundance.

What are the backgrounds on each of these projects?

The Wild West film, Destiny Manifesto, is taking the imagery from the Wild West, kind of as portrayed through paintings and cutting it up and combining it as images from what you could call the Wild East: Eastern Iraq, Pakistan. There's not only visual parallels but of course moral parallels, psychological parallels -- this idea of conquering the frontier. The visual parallels are of such a multitude that I couldn't even put them in the film.

What about Meet Me in Wichita?

It started out with the idea of bin Laden: paralleling the search for Osama bin Laden and the demonization of one particular character with the witch trials, and kind of the fanatic idea of fear and evil. But that's really a change to where it's more about the ... [Pause.] I placed Osama bin Laden into The Wizard of Oz.

That's pretty great.

Well, I realized that I wanted to emphasize more of the kind of fantasy politics going on now.

The film guide mentions you "create distinctive and troubling worlds of sex, hell and politics in (your) short films." How did you arrive at that intersection?

"Sex, hell and politics," you said?

That's what it says here.

Yeah, that's a little flat. In my earlier work, in the '90s, there was a lot of sexuality in my films. There was actually very little sex but a lot of dealing with sexuality in a film like Spiders in Love. But my two new films really have much more to do with my interest in making animation as a kind of fictional documentary. I mean, it's a documentary of something that people can write about but there's no way to film it, really, other than animation. The same way they used animation to illustrate things in outer space, or before they had microscopes. So I'm taking these kinds of theories and forming these sorts of theories around my ideas of the subject and going with it. And yeah, they're usually political, and not the softest-edged ideas, you know? They're challenging and they're not presented in some kind of a soft way.

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