“Spontaneity is Very Much a Part of My Process”: Five Questions for Margarita Jimeno About Her Cinequest-Premiering Grind Reset Shine
Following her vibrant and raucous concert doc, Gogol Bordello Nonstop, Colombia-born, New York-based filmmaker Margarita Jimeno makes her dramatic feature debut with the Cinequest-premiering Grind Reset Shine, another story about an art and artmaking but one that unfolds in a very different way.
From the press release:
When the worlds of a struggling artist and a nun entangle, how will they break free? Peter is a struggling artist who moves from New York to Berlin to explore his luck and join an art collaborative. Alicia, preparing for nunhood in a remote Polish village, tries to decipher the existence of Satan and nature. When Peter’s Berlin debut exhibition fails, he loses faith in his gallerist, his career prospects, and even his own talent. Meanwhile, Alicia adjusts to life in a convent, but steals away to the forest to sing and paint. Their worlds come together in an unlikely friendship when Peter absconds from Berlin and stumbles upon Alicia’s church. But this new beginning leads to unforeseen consequences. Can they save themselves?
Grind Reset Shine was the Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2016 U.S. in Progress section of the Champs Elysees Film Festival, where it screened in rough cut. Below, via email, I ask Jimeno about the role spontaneity plays in her filmmaking process, how she managed to shoot in so many countries on a low budget, and about the film’s dialogue around art and commerce.
Filmmaker: In a previous interview, you said you “like to leave space to be open for spontaneity…. to be open to what the film dictates, not what you might want.” How did this belief play out when it comes to the making of your new feature?
Jimeno: Yes spontaneity is very much part of my process, it is inevitable. Filmmaking for me should have space for experimentation and failure. I don’t want to be safe or be afraid of failure.
Almost everyone making films ends up rewriting at some stage of making a film so that is not anything new. But I’m super aware of what the film needs rather than what I want to do. Sometimes only when you’re actually in the middle of doing the film is when you see other possibilities impossible to imagine before. For this film I wrote a scriptment. A few scenes had written dialogue, and Eva Moari our line producer, and the actress playing Alicia, the nun, made sure to add extra time to the shooting schedule so that we had enough time to experiment. Working with non actors and in real situations forced us to be spontaneous. I was often literally speaking the lines to the actors as we were rolling.
For me it’s necessary to be able go off the script, off the character page, and wonder away, sometimes to return sometimes to look back. Taking risks sets in motion an adventure that allows magic to happen. It is important to remind ourselves while making films to have fun and be curious.
Filmmaker: Shooting in Berlin, Poland, New York, and Paris is uncommonly ambitious for any film, let alone an independent one. How did you manage the logistics of this globetrotting in terms of bringing together collaborators and production support?
Jimeno: In Berlin we had the wonderful support from Sol Bondy and One Two films, they have been super generous opening their resources and time to help us during pre production and production. Berliners are very kind and open; we were fortunate to have many locals support us with locations, props, food, etc. Each actor was responsible for their own wardrobe, and we kept only a few outfits. For the most part it was a very small team: sometimes we were 10 people, and sometimes only three.
In Poland we had three production managers organizing all the pre-production, from renting costumes from the film school in Lodz and bringing them to set to securing the church locations and booking our accommodation. We stayed with priests and nuns in different locations. It was super cheap — per person it was about €5-7/day, including three meals. So we didn’t have to worry about cooking, and we planned our day around the meals. Eva and me had done a hiking trip in the area two years earlier, we marked all the spots we liked in a Google map, so we just followed our map and hoped things were still there, and they were!
For Paris we shot documentary style. Daniel Takács, Jens Louis Valeur-Jaques, who plays Peter, and I did sound. It was similar for the New York scene with the addition of a sound person and two assistants — very minimal. To be honest, even though working with a small team has many advantages on set, the overall production logistics was an ordeal. I would want more support from the start for the next project. Once I had a rough cut I made a coproduction with Orka Film in Poland for the post-production work. And Andrew Corkin came on board as executive producer. Everyone has been incredible supportive and really wonderful to work with.
Filmmaker: A dialogue concerning the relationship between art and commerce, or perhaps a private vision and one that’s more seeking acceptance, seems to be present in the film. How have your own thoughts about the themes of this film shifted over the course of its production — and landed now that you have finished?
Jimeno: I’ve been on the road since I was 12-years-old, so belonging to a group of people is a personal question, which I still haven’t resolved. How do you join a tribe, a country, or an industry to which you haven’t been invited to or born into?
Human success over other species has been [due to] our capacity for being flexible and [able to] collaborate between different groups. But within each group if you don’t follow the implicit or explicit rules you’re easily outcasted.
In this film Peter and Alicia are searching for a deeper meaning. They don’t express with words what that is, but they know they can’t find it in the group they’re involved with. I wanted to explore parallel lives living in the same moment in time but in very different realities. Between someone living in a city belonging to the globalized economy and someone living in nature with nothing to consume or sell. The contemporary art world is an interesting system, one that travels seamlessly between several countries; the same people, with the same references and concerns, are present at each location. While making the film I started to question labor within the art world, what makes a successful artist, how to deal with failure, and if this system of exchange is actually egalitarian. I also wanted to explore circling back to early artmaking, when religious myths and the unseen were expressed visually.
Many people fantasize about going somewhere and finding meaning or harmony in nature. Some people make the journey, others can’t leave their bubble, which is basically Plato’s cave allegory; only by going out and returning can one experience illumination.
Filmmaker: Could you discuss how you brought together your musical collaborators and how music functions in the film? I’m particularly struck by the fact that the great experimental composer Charlemagne Palestine performs in the film.
Jimeno: I started out this film because I wanted to combine my love for the pipe organ, which can be noisy and enchanting, and the story of a friend who had an artist crisis and ended up working in H&M. I was introduced to pipe organist Jamie McVinnie by Nico Muhly, and at that time Jamie was working at Westminster Abbey and starting to branch out more into the contemporary classical music. So he would come to the U.S. to play at one of Bryce Dessner’s music shows, and when I would pass by London I would go see Jaimie play at these incredible churches. When it was time to film Jaimie joined us in Poland to record the classical pipe organ music tracks. We found the local choir Szczawnicki chamber choir, who sing and play the nuns.
When we were shooting in Paris during the Fiac, Charlemagne Palestine and Simone Forti were performing their 1971 collaboration Illuminations. It was sold out, and we headed there anyways because there’s always an in point to everything. And indeed there were a few spots left, so we got in, Daniel, Louis and me doing sound. I wasn’t sure like many things we shot if it would make it in the cut, so I didn’t bother contacting Simone or Charlemagne for another year, when I sent them the scene they gave me their blessings.
While I was editing I went to see Marching Church play and immediately I knew I wanted to have their sound in the film. They let me use one of their tracks without vocals, “Coming Down,” and Elias Bendner Rønnenfelt was very generous and sent me a recording that I’m also using parts of it. The rest of the music are tracks by several artists I listen to often, like Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld, Molly Nilsson, Moon Duo, Koudlam, and Valby Vokalgruppe.
Filmmaker: Finally, the film won the Grand Prize at U.S. in Progress a couple of years ago. What impact — including but beyond the financial — did the award have on the film itself?
Jimeno: It was a very good moment to test the film when it was at a rough-cut stage. I still haven’t used some of the award perks. I have a deal with Orka film in Poland so for the post it was easier to do it with them. I hope I can still use the Ciné +Club distribution and the PR perks for France. I did use the Producer’s network pass and that was very good, I also pitched a new project and met some really good producers there.