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“Collage Frees Me to Articulate Personal Narratives Using Materials That Have Been Created By Others”: lyric r. cabral on Sound and Image

In April, as we began to put together the Summer, 2020 issue of Filmmaker, we asked directors, cinematographers, editors and other film workers to send us their thoughts on the quarantine and their own creative lives. The responses printed here were collected from April through mid-June — personal statements that speak variously to individual filmmaking practices, films halted mid-production, politics, art and life. Read all the responses here. — Editor

At the time of this writing, I’ve spent 100 days in self isolation and have largely stayed inside/close to my Los Angeles home. My creative expressions have been drastically tempered by COVID-19, as it is unsafe to engage in the documentary practices that sustain me. For the past 16 years, I have habitually embedded in the lives, geographies and intimate spaces of strangers to create films and photographs. Much of my creative language is interpersonal, as I am inspired by individuals and their complexities. The pandemic has caused me to reevaluate and recalibrate the foundations of my documentary work and to cultivate creative expressions that are more dependent on self.

I spend a lot of time researching visual and music archives, digging in the crates to discover new things that interest me. I collect vintage Black magazines and printed ephemera—during isolation, I have acquired many items through the mail. Using this curated body of images, I have ritualized a practice of paper collage. Collage frees me to articulate personal narratives using materials that have been created by others. Through a process of image sorting, cutting and combination, I work to assemble disparate elements into a cohesive story. In many ways, the process mirrors editing a documentary and is a personal exercise in reimagining narrative constructions. I enjoy experimenting with paper collage technique as I move to incorporate this visual aesthetic within my films.

Music has been a source of respite during the pandemic, and I have enjoyed discovering, and immersing myself in, new frequencies of sound. In particular, I have been studying the sonic landscapes of East Africa, tuning my ear to instrumentation and rhythm. Music is a critical element of my storytelling, and I study sound archives in consideration of visual pairings. Music for me often triggers synesthesia, as I associate strong visuals with certain sounds. Collaging music is thus critical to my process, as it helps me to draw connections between disparate images and representations. As I deepen my knowledge of soundscapes, I am thinking about film scoring and how music will best collaborate with my current film projects.

lyric r. cabral is an Emmy Award–winning filmmaker and artist based in Los Angeles.

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