For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed writer-director-editor-producer Bat-Sheva Guez. She has directed more than a dozen short films and screened them in festivals worldwide including the Hamptons International Film Festival, the Rhode Island International Film Festival and the HollyShorts Film Festival. To Learn more about Bat-Sheva click here.
Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.
Right now, I am finishing up the festival tour for my short film Behind the Wall, which has screened at 20 festivals worldwide, picking up many awards along the way; and I am also in the financing stages of a magical realism film called And How She … This is an art world drama seasoned with magic, experimental sequences and a dash of whimsy. It’s a story about a young artist named Asha who embarks on a collaboration with an established artist in the midst of his own creative crisis. But the balance of power is skewed and Asha’s creative identity, not-yet-formed, becomes swallowed up by his. She must decide whether to be an invisible part of someone else’s work or to start over, anonymous and alone. So she seeks advice from her neighbors: eccentric, elderly folk with their own kind of street magic.
Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?
I wanted to tell a tale that followed different magical encounters in a Brooklyn neighborhood, one where the neighborhood itself plays a role in the story. And I was inspired to retell a tale I had seen of young artists in my own life, friends of mine, who found themselves laboring as the invisible part of someone else’s work, an invisible part of a larger ego or artist’s brand.
I was so curious about this dynamic. What would make a young artist stick around in a situation like this? What were they receiving from this sort of a relationship? The more I looked, the more stories like these that I found, stories of invisible artists who were an unknown part of a famous artist’s – or filmmaker’s or musician’s – work. In my mind, an image formed of a small fish swimming in the belly of a massive fish, alive and safe and traveling fast, but alone in the dark – like a Gepetto or a Jonah.
Q: What films have had an impact on you and your work?
I really love Julie Taymor’s Frida, Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. I’ve also been influenced by Amelie, Velvet Goldmine, Strictly Ballroom, Tideland, Y Tu Mama Tambien as well as Israeli films like Jellyfish, The Farewell Party, and Zero Motivation. I think when it comes down to it, I respond strongly to films that are beautiful, films that incorporate a strand of magic in the narrative and weave subtle humor into everyday tragedies.
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?
I really love directing. So when I am on set, even if it’s a work-for-hire project or directing practice scenes with actors in a Director’s Collective, I’m reminded why I chose this line of work. That’s when I feel like my most complete self. It keeps me fired up to keep doing this.
Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?
I’ve just finished a dance film featuring a dreamy and nostalgic pole-dance set in outer space. It was a collaboration with the talented performer Jessi Jamz Colon.
Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?
I was recently hired to direct a video about an experimental theater company. On the day of the location scout, I felt that familiar thrill of curiosity. I love the rare moments of my career where I get to actively participate in the world and experience a tiny taste of someone else’s life. In my line of work, you can just as easily find me in a power plant as you would in a musty costume room of an old theater or in the living room of a concert violinist. I love the variety of functions/duties that a director performs in her daily life, like taking the train to a previously unvisited street in Manhattan at an unorthodox time in the afternoon to ask a stranger how best to capture his life on film.
Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?
I would be shooting my feature film right now. No question.
Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?
At the moment? I need the funds to shoot this feature film. I feel like the man from the musical Gypsy who sings: “Got my tweed pressed, /got my best vest. /All I need now is the girl. / Got my striped tie, / got my hopes high / got the time and the place and I got rhythm / Now all I need is the girl to go with ‘em.”
Only replace the word “girl” with “dough” and that’s pretty much where I am!
Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?
I try to play and experiment when I can. It helps to just be making things all the time.
Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?
Fear and self-doubt.
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
I find it ridiculously soothing to watch sitcoms where friends hang out. Lately, the show New Girl has been my guilty pleasure of choice.
Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?
I don’t know actually. I feel like any advice I would give myself of 15 years ago might be the wrong advice. The life of a filmmaker is not an easy one. There’s a lot of obstacles, a lot of rejection, long stretches of poverty and a lot of work that doesn’t look anything like directing. Fifteen years ago, I was so ready to embark on that life, open and enthusiastic, and convinced I had something new to contribute to the art form. But now I have a lot of battle wounds from this lifestyle. If you catch me at the wrong moment, I might tell my younger self that she may have been happier in a different line of work.
Or if you catch me at a different time, I might tell her, “just go and shoot your feature, don’t worry about writing the perfect script.” But I’m not sure that’s the best advice either. I think the years I have spent practicing this craft, getting better at directing and better at writing, though while delaying the release of my first feature, will have helped to make it a better one.
Q: Where would you most like to live?
For most of my life, this answer has been the same: Brooklyn! It’s where I’ve wanted to live ever since I was a little girl when my grandmother took me to NYC for a visit in first grade. And happily, this is where I do live today. But the cost of living has become so prohibitive here, that many of my friends have been forced out and it’s possible that the cost will force me out eventually too. It’s very sad. To feel rejected by a place that I love so much, in a region that was once so welcoming to people of all socio-economic backgrounds, is very unfortunate. This feeling tends to run through all of my work of late.
Q: What is your idea of success?
My vision of success is to have a career where I am able to direct films, video and tv for a living, and still have enough occasional free time to have a healthy lifestyle, see my friends and family, exercise regularly, eat healthily. Sometimes in this industry, creative success comes at a high cost to every other aspect of one’s life and health. And I’m always fighting to find a way to balance these – even if it means doing the healthy things after production ends. I’d also really like to write a book one day. And in a perfect world, some of the things I make would live after I’m gone, leaving some mark of beauty or inspiration for others who come after me.
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
Happiness for me is having the freedom and ability to create on a regular basis, the freedom to spend time with the people I love, access to people to collaborate with and be inspired by, the freedom and ability to have an active life with dance and running and swimming and hiking – and plenty of easy access to trees.
That’s it. Thank you!