Interview with VO Producer: Pia Massie
Throughout her life, Brooklyn native Pia Massie’s openness to experience has lead her down many paths. On one, she is known as an experimental filmmaker. Video Out distributes three of Massie’s poignant cine-poem essays: Godspeed, More Home Some, and No Words Will Ever Do.
It was when she was working on No Words Will Ever Do in Geneva in the early 90s that she decided Vancouver would be her home. I came into contact with Pia within my first week on the job; she left me a voicemail to request DVD copies of her works. When I called her back and we chatted, she gasped in wonder over the beauty of the tree seed fluff dancing outside her window, and hastily hung up to go film the moment. We got together in person soon after to talk about ev- erything, anything.
In Pia’s own words:
When I was living in NYC, I ran a program at the Kitchen where I got all my heroes to teach the next generation of multi-media artists, teachers like Phillip Glass, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Bill T. Jones, Liz Streb… Last time Laurie was here to visit, she said to me, “I look at what you decided to do: you left New York and came here, to raise your child. You managed to do it all because you made this huge shift, and you’re still making art. Do you know how rare that is?”
Godspeed was the first film I made, it was after watching Tarkovsky’s The Mirror in school that I realized what film could be, and that I could make them. Non-linear, constructed out of tiny fragments of poetry, 15 layers, not just three or four, and every shot is about three minutes. There are no short cuts, every shot is a mis-en-scene. It was like having a wave hit you and knock you down, and you’re there lying in the water for the rest of your life.
And of course, I’m in love with Chris Marker, obsessed! My friend in Geneva–he works for the arts centre that funded No Words Will Ever Do–was a friend of Chris Marker’s. He showed him my films and Marker’s response was, “Oh yeah, she understands.”
I’ve been writing bits of it for 10 years, this response to Sans Soleil called A Letter Back, which is about trying to communicate to somebody who is beyond your reach. It came from making No Words Will Ever Do, which used my dad’s photographs to try to communicate to somebody who is no longer here. It was about using his form to talk about that distance between parents and children, the parents who are dead and the parents who are still alive. How do you bridge that?
It’s the funny thing about my films, each film leads to the next; in More Home Some, there’s one shot that is the diving point into the next film: it’s the one of the house through the snowy trees, where the audio is the door creaking open and footsteps, followed by the door slamming, and then the house disappears.
The way that I made those early films, I would write everything on index cards, things I had shot and thought were worth using, and I would rearrange them on the floor like cut-up poetry, and this is the part that is magical: I would see that one card should lead to another, but it needed a bridge. So, I would write down what I thought that bridge should be on a new card, and then put it back in the deck, reshuffling this deck all the time. For the two and half years I was making that film, More Home Some, anything that I took the time to write on an index card would happen in front of me, within two to three weeks while I had my super8 camera. It got to the point where I was like, “Ok, I have to be really careful about what I write in this book because… it’s going to happen.” I felt like the master of the universe! It was really scary and for many years I didn’t tell people because it’s just too weird, and then I realized it might actually be the reverse, and perfectly logical. If you focus your mind on what you want and it’s clear, of course you will see it in the world, because everything is out there all the time, you just didn’t see it before, you weren’t looking.
Artists are open to having experiences like that. That’s why I want everyone to be an artist. To see the interconnection between everything, that seeing into reality is a skill artists develop. It’s what makes life, even when it’s really difficult, magical.
Pia Massie is a filmmaker, educator, writer, activist, living in Vancouver, BC. This interview was featured in the Video Out Distribution Catalogue Sept 2017. Listen to Pia on episode 2 of Big Bright Dark Podcast here.