By Jennifer Storch
Photos by Lelo Lourenzo & Kimberly Boldrini
Strange beings inhabit a studio on the Northside in Williamsburg. Here are some of them: incredibly crafted rodents and fowl (thanks to special effects artist/prop maker Hiroe Goto); a taxidermized ferret oozing synthetic entrails; a lion of a man with an oversized ball sack; a voluptuous woman preparing dinner as her hair blows in a whirlwind of domestic ecstasy; a dying soldier and a young girl who has taken him in as her doll as she delves into an imaginative escape from reality; a boy who flutters around like a baby bird; a teenager on the brink of womanhood exploring sexuality with a younger brother, teddy bears, and Playboy; rotting food and a home brewery.
What’s all this? It’s what Stavit Allweis sees as some of the components of what will become the pages of an epic book of sequential art. Visual artist turned director Allweis’ “set” looks Fellini-esque, with its frenzy of activity: costumes are being designed, sewn and embellished; miniature sets are being constructed; and Allweis is planning the next weekly shoots. Over the course of the last months, she has been using green screen, a technique for compositing two images. This, along with the props which date back to the 1970s, inspires her in this unusual project.
What will the final product of all this be? SA: It will be a book—a graphic novel using photographs instead of illustrations. This is a genre that was widespread in Europe and South America in the 1970s, and I find it to be the perfect crossroads of novels, comics and cinema: three mediums that I’m enthralled by. It is a deeply flawed genre, which only makes it more endearing to me. It is hopeless as a novel or film or comic for that matter. But the interplay of all three can work.
What was the impetus behind choosing this medium? There’s the comics aspect, which derives from my long romance with narrative art. There’s the cinematic aspect, a medium I’ve been courting for three years now, and there’s the work with actors, which I’ve been pursuing for the past two years.
Along with those are the embarrassing memories of my sisters and me consuming pulpy fotonovellas imported from Italy, in Israel, These were sulky romantic stories printed on cheap paper. They were called cine-roman. Not having a TV at home and rarely going to movies made those magazines more influential than they probably should have been.
What can you say about the story? The story is an end game type scenario that unfolds over 24 hours in the home of the last surviving family in a post apocalyptic era. The forces are deeply carnal. There is no backdrop of culture or society to mitigate their descent. It is a little like a Greek tragedy in its decisive downward spiral, but unlike a Greek tragedy the story is peppered with humorous moments. It’s designed to tickle as it burns. Without giving away the end, I will just say that the majority of the characters do not fare very well.
I paint life in very broad strokes and from a perspective of millions of years of evolution.
I’m fascinated with the male/female predicament and the power relations I observe in even the most mundane of human relations. I have nothing but my art with which to process these absolutely bizarre forces.
Why did you choose to set the story in the post apocalyptic 1970s? For two reasons: One, because I wanted to differentiate this story from the many doomsday scenario-type narratives that are out there right now. I have no interest in threat as a tool of artistic engagement and putting the story in the past solves this. Two, growing up in the 70s before the AIDS epidemic and the political correctness backlash, I witnessed a culture that indulged in social and chemical experimentation. Promiscuity was an ideology. I grew up in bohemian circles and saw quite a bit of this. As a child I was introduced simultaneously to some of humanity’s highest aspirations such as science and art, and witnessed grownups succumb repeatedly to some of the lowliest temptations. It was at once dazzling and scarring. It was the decade that shaped my creative psyche.
The emotions felt by the children in the story are the type we often revisit and analyze as adults (i.e., our relationship to family members, sexuality, confusion in response to complexities we encounter as we grow). Would you say these characters are a composite of things you now realize you felt as a child? Yes. In a way the stifling experiences I bestow on each of the four siblings are an extreme manifestation of innocence clashing with the crude facts of life; the demands of nature for sex, violence and death. I guess I never really got over the shock of these.
Although Petro and Nanna (the parental figures) show moments of affection toward their children, they are neglectful and selfish in ignoring their children’s needs while persistently reproducing. What inspired these characters? Nanna and Petro, more than the other characters, are written in the tradition of magic realism and are endowed with super-human powers. They are debased, yet powerful creatures because they are one with their reproductive nature. They have no aspirations or interest in the human cognitive excellence that we tend to take pride in.
Can you describe how you arrived at the cinematic graphic process? It was going to be a story staged and shot on sets and locations, but I quickly had to scale it back because of my very limited budget. I came up with the green screen idea which still remains one of the biggest speculative aspects of the project. After shooting all the stills against a green screen and shooting miniature sets separately, we intend to combine them to create a unique semi-realistic world. I have been very much inspired by the silent era production model because they too had no script, only what they called a “scenario” at the launch of a production. This allows the story to come together visually way before any dialog is introduced. What the characters will be saying is still a mystery to me.
No one working on this project has ever done anything like it. How difficult was it to gather such a dedicated and talented cast and crew? I did the casting without auditions, only interviews. I needed people who would not be thrown off by the unusual shooting mode and I was also looking for very intelligent, ambitious and courageous actors who would work with me as a first time director without holding back. I couldn’t say it was terribly difficult. From the mid-production position I’m in now, that phase looks like a walk in the park.
Same can be said about the crew. They are all enterprising, adventurous people who don’t shy away from a project just because it’s not standard procedure. These are fun people and I’m forever indebted to them for offering me their trust and talent.
Cast and crew information, as well as project updates, can be found on the artist’s blog countercomics.com. To be able to complete this project, Allweis is seeking support on Kickstarter.com, an online fundraising platform for unique, creative projects (look for “Isness: A Photo Graphic Novel”).