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“Post-Production in a Post-Apocalyptic New York”: Amalia Ulman on Distance, Hard Drives and an Invisible Threat

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

Now, I find myself in the middle of post-production in a post-apocalyptic New York. I lift my eyes to the calendar behind my computer and sigh at the sight of the seven days marked by a spring trip to Gijón that never happened. My mother is 5,241.66 km away from me, her mother, 10,236.13 km from her. We stand alone and away from each other in three different continents, almost equidistantly in a triangle, communicating via WhatsApp only. Through images.

My mother sends depressing videos of a Gijón where no one is allowed to go on walks anymore. On the other hand, my grandmother, in all her doomsday evangelist optimistic glory, sends me sublime, obscenely gorgeous videos of nature. Camels dancing on the beach, splashing each other on the shore like beach babes. Parrots in the jungle smiling and singing under the tropical rain. God has a plan, and this is what he’s done so the Earth could breath, she says. But meanwhile, humanity finds itself lost, confused, just like Leonor and Maria in the movie, naively clinging to a reality long gone, while an invisible threat looms over all of us, rendering our mundane miseries absurd.

Days pass by while I, glued to the monitor, look at new assemblies the editor sends me. I see Chen Zhou and me fooling around on a fictional date. Our onscreen kiss is chaste, but the idea of him flying all the way from Shanghai and holding my face with his hands seems lewd now. So does being with the crew outdoors and swimming in the sea. I’m surrounded by hard drives containing an implausible dream that took place only six months ago. I cut it close.

But this spring apocalypse is strangely pleasant because all flowers are in bloom, and Holga and I see from the window the strangest birds. It all reminds me of a poem by William Carlos Williams about humans’ absence and earth’s renewal that I always fantasized about and that I now find terrifying because of its accuracy. Be careful what you wish for. “Suddenly it is at an end. THE WORLD IS NEW.”

Amalia Ulman is an Argentinian performance, video and net artist based in Los Angeles. This piece is excerpted from a longer work, Sordid Scandal.

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