Back in 2012, we approached the Borscht Film Festival - another Knight Foundation grantee - about making short films for us that were adapted from poems. (You can find all of these projects on our Vimeo page.)
I specifically asked Lucas Leyva, Borscht's Director, if one of the films could involve Bleeding Palm, an animation studio that had just released the single greatest film of all time about Miami Heat Power Forward Christopher Bosh. He warned me that Ronnie Rivera was an insane person who was in no way to be trusted, but he was also insanely talented.
When Ronnie and I met, I told him that I wanted to him make a film based on the poetry of Alejandra Pizarnik. While very well known in her native Argentina and around Latin America, Pizarnik (at the time) hadn't been translated into English by a major press (I highly recommend Ugly Duckling's brand-new version of El Arbol de Diana), and very few poets in the U.S. knew who she was.
Much like Bleeding Palm's animation, Pizarnik's poetry is dark, strange, and magical. She was enormously talented, but struggled with drug abuse and mental illness until she took her own life in 1972 at the age of 36. After Ronnie and his partner Christina Felisgrau read through Pizarnik's work, we met again to talk about what a film based on her work might involve.
We agreed right away that we didn't want to glorify her death. The temptation with presenting Pizarnik is the same one with presenting Sylvia Plath: it's too simple to allow her death to be the organizing factor. And Pizarnik's poetry is actually just the opposite: it's a struggle against death and the instruments Death uses against a person: the body, the mind, and the world.
We also agreed that the film shouldn't use the poems as a script. Poems themselves, especially when written by Pizarnik, are their own short films. They already contain the lighting, sets, and music, and adding those things later on can actually strip them of their magnitude. So Ronnie let Pizarnik's work inform only the lyrical aspects of the filmmaking: the tone, the colors, and the themes.
To write the actual script, Ronnie and Christina enlisted the help of fellow Borscht family member Bernardo Britto. They also cast Miami artist Agustina Woodgate (an Argentinian, like Pizarnik) as the voice of the narrator and asked Miami music legend Otto von Schirach to compose the score.
After a lot of arguing between Ronnie, Lucas, and me about whether or not we were in fact making a movie about a peanut, Bleeding Palm finished a version of "El Sol Como Un Gran Animal Oscuro" in early 2014. And that's when the most critical piece of the puzzle fell into place.
Ronnie showed the film to film producer and Knight Foundation Arts VP Dennis Scholl, who agreed to come aboard as a producer. Dennis took our little peanut movie, suggested a few small but crucial edits, and convinced us that it was better than we thought we it was.
Then as I was trying to fall asleep last night, I found out that "El Sol" (or "The Sun Is a Big Dark Animal" as Sundance is referring to it) was one of 60 short films selected out of 8,061 submissions to screen at this January's festival. I believe in the power of Dennis Scholl!
I'm not really a film producer, and O, Miami is not a film production company, so what I'm most excited about is that a bunch of people who have never heard of Alejandra Pizarnik are going to get a glimpse into her world, and hopefully, a few of them will be curious enough to go read her work. I know those few will not be disappointed.