Film making and catching the invisible: Nadine Gomez
curated by Daniela Veneri
“The film I'm working on is kind of a fresco, I could say, about the city as a human experience, the space were human experiences can take place, that is also built through the imaginaries of people, not just from a urban planning point of view or only by architecture, and all this brought together makes the complexity of the city."
- Nadine Gomez
Nadine, what projects are you currently working on?
This morning I was just talking to my producer for this film that I've been developing for quite a while now, and it's a project that I've been trying to grasp not knowing exactly how to approach it. I think I often work this way, I start with intuitions and concepts that are a bit academic or intellectual, and I take a long time to process them into something cinematographic, so it doesn't become a thesis in a film but it becomes a film.
The film I'm working on is kind of a fresco, I could say, about the city as a human experience, the space were human experiences can take place, that is also built through the imaginaries of people, not just from a urban planning point of view or only by architecture, and all this brought together makes the complexity of the city. While speaking to my producer today I realized also that I think I want to grasp the question of tension between beauty and chaos, I think that this is also what I'm trying to aim, because I love cities as much as I hate them. I need to live in a city, I miss the city but at the same time sometimes we need to get out of it.
I think the pandemic has shown us a lot of things about cities, when they're empty they can become scary spaces, they lose what we look for into them; and they also are part of environmental problems, but at the same time they are places of upon God, where new ideas, new projects, new technologies arise, so they're very interesting spaces for me to explore, in the cinematic way and in a documentary way, that I'm also approaching.
At the beginning, the idea was to include literature into the project, because I felt literature was part of what has built the imaginary of cities. Now, I'm realizing that literature is becoming like the third wheel of the bicycle, which is maybe forced into the project and it's not working the way I would like to. For now, I'm working on trying to build the film, a bit in between documentary and fiction. We will navigate in this kind of imaginary space, meeting people that tell us something about where they experience the city from, and we will have like a journey of discovery while meeting one after another of these characters.
It doesn't seem very precise, but it is more than it seems, and we managed to get almost all the money, so we're waiting for one last grand and we'll be able to able to shoot it, I'm still pinching myself that institutions trusted us with the film. It's good.
What drives you in your work?
I think there are two aspects now. Maybe one year ago I could have not ever really said this, but now I see more clearly that there are two aspects that I really feel are at the center of what I do and what I like to do. One is to dig into concepts, to kind of be able to sublime and explore intellectual or philosophical or more academic themes and subjects. It's the way I approach my work, and maybe it's the academic side that I still have, but I never wanted to follow into the academic structure because I felt that it was not a place for me, however I get this approach by reading a lot of books before working on a project. The other aspect is meeting people.
I think that when a film starts to exist, what happens is not in your hands, and you actually lose the control when you start working. In documentary, a lot of magic can happen; people are their own creators for you, and I think that's the best gift you can give when they offer with generosity something in a scene, seeing things in a certain way, moving in a certain way, observing life, or by discussing with somebody else in a certain way. This gives me a lot of life energy, and I really love it.
What are your most important objectives as a filmmaker?
That's a good question. I know that I make films in a world where there are an enormous amount of films, and I think many filmmakers have this kind of seizure, feeling that you are just a little grain of sand, and huge mountains of work are created every day, year after year. I question a lot myself about why I'm doing this, and why I want to keep doing this, because it's not easy. It takes a lot of years, and I know people feel like making films is very sexy and cool, but that makes us feel also very alone and sometimes it is very painful and stressful. So I ask myself why I'm making this, and I think it's a way for me to ingest and digest existence; it's the way I found that could bring all things that are interesting to me together.
Cinema kind of allows me to do a lot of what I like and what I feel I'm able to do, so I would say the objective for me in cinema is to create films that are open enough so the public can have a dialogue through the eyes. For me, it is a way to encounter and to meet people, and I feel it's the same for the public. I want to respect the intelligence of the people that watch the works I do.
The films I do not necessarily go mainstream, but when people find a space to dialogue with them, I think it really works, and they connect and think about the film for a while afterwards. I think my objective would be always to make films that are on a dialogue mode with the public; not to impose, not to present my convictions, but to present my beliefs so as to have a dialogue with the people that are listening to them.
What do you appreciate most of the interaction emerging between your films and the viewers?
It's a bit hard for me to see it because I don't have that much experience in showing my films, with that interaction, and it's really interesting for me to see what I experience when I am the watcher, when I’m the public. But I do ask myself during editing for example, what is the space that you, public, find yourself into what I have managed to present you, where you hang on, what are the details that you find interesting, what stays in your mind?
What role has the sensorial experience in your creative process?
I think that, as much as I pretend to have this intellectual rigor or a solid background, as much as my films are built on this, I think what drives me the most is the sensorial aspect of what you can show. Of course, in cinema you are restricted to two major senses, which is the view and hearing. Since the first time I made a film, I realized that sound was an aspect that I found very important, that is much more powerful than we suppose when we speak about cinema, and the sound people I worked with also made me understand and feel that. For me, it is a necessary part of the sensorial experience.
When you make Cinema and you want money (to make films), you have to pretend that you know what you're doing, and I wasn't yet at that stage of being able to do it, but I remember writing a lot of bark gesture when I was working on the film on Exarcheia (Athens), and I was obsessed with the gestures of people, or the way gestures sometimes say much more or (mean) something else that you words intend to do, and for me it's something that makes sense for cinema.
The film about the city is not about saying what a city is saying, or what the city should be in the future, but it is about what is the feeling of you being in a city, how do we feel. Of course, there's no truth and not one answer, but if my film manages to have that kind of feeling which is sensorial for me, and subjective, and subliminal, invisible, well, this is what I'm kind of searching for, secretly.
Who are the most important partners or interlocutors that have somehow an influence in the unfolding of your own creative process?
For a big part, definitely the ones who write about the subject, but sometimes I would not know who has the most direct access to what I'm trying to say.
Definitely people around me, my friends, and my boyfriend, who sometimes doesn't understand at all what I'm doing, but the fact that he doesn't understand forces me to try to explain it more or understand myself better, because sometimes I tend to be comfortable with my ideas, as I don't have to confront them, and I'm not exactly there where I want to go.
I have some friends that I really trust because of their practice. I have a friend that works in theater, who I often go to, to dialogue about subjects. I have a group of friends from high school that are very rich intellectually, and they are able to give me references. I have a friend who made me realize that every time I do a film, it is like I am building the process to achieve the film instead of the film being the objective.
When I ask for references, sometimes my friends suggest what I should go see in theatre for example, and sometimes they made me realize that I already had a clear idea of what I wanted to make. It also happens, when I watch my work when it’s finished that I would say something like "Hi, stranger, is this you that I was making?" - I didn't know it, I discovered it at the end of the journey.
Generally speaking, my interlocutors are people that are good for dialogue, that inspire me or that will help me; it depends on where I am.
What feedbacks that you received over the years have been particularly meaningful for you or surprised you most?
My process feels to me intuitional. Some people at certain moments made me realize that, if often I don't have much perspective on the way I work, I feel very confused when I'm working, then I realize that I know better than I think.
My boyfriend often makes me notice that I don't allow myself, for example, to be convinced of what I am doing, and that I am hiding behind this excuse or this other thing, and this takes time to digest but then it helps me a lot in my process. It's like if I was working in a cloud, doing what I'm doing, and slowly, through the people around me who make comments like this, I'm kind of seeing a bit more the path I'm working on, which gives me more confidence and helps me be more engaged with the work I'm doing.
I have a small kid now and time suddenly is so much more precious, so I feel I have to know where I'm going because I have only few moments in my day to do this stuff, and now it's like if my subconscious works more efficiently, like if all the fog of anxiousness and of what people are thinking, what I'm thinking of myself, dissipates because I have to be efficient.
I guess it's like not so much what people say about my films, but what people say about how I work, that is what works inside of me most.
What is the relationship between past, present and future in your artistic practice?
It's a good question because actually what I'm interested in is cities, and cities are infinite layers of time. My first film was exactly about how the presence of how the city of the past is visible, or how it is disappearing in the new city. What traces can we see? Who is carrying this memory? When are they losing something? I was interested in this and I was spending time in a neighborhood that changed; it was one of the oldest neighborhoods in Montreal, even in Canada, and it became like a stick attraction, so these were very important questions for me.
The most I advance in my films, the most I'm abandoning that and becoming interested in future. I would say that my first film was about past, then the latest films were about present, and now I'm interested in the future.
I think cities are always for me, at the same time, as a projected prediction of the future and nostalgia of something that we're losing, and I'm always oscillating between those emotions.
Where do you sense the presence of seeds of future?
Well, I think there are two futures. There is a future of my own life, which is a future that for me will darken because of the end of life, something that I see more now that I have a kid, and I feel like she forces me to see further that I ever saw before. At the same time, I see future in my work as I ask myself what will be of the world that we are heading to.
I'm interested in how cities blow up. I've been doing interviews with architects, and think about the cities of the future, how resilient architecture can be, or how it needs to be resilient because of climate changes. We are forced to think. There will be changes, we will have floods, we will have heat, winds or fires, and how should we build the city around these things? For me this is inspiring.
What kind of contribution would you like your work to have?
It is a very interesting question because it is forcing me to admit that I want my work to out past me, or exist after me. Sometimes, a lot for many years, I approached my work with a lot of the syndrome of being an imposter, I would say like many women, however I don't want to bring it to gender. I didn't study cinema, I studied communications and I was around it, but I did not study cinema like many of my friends, and I learned by myself. They didn't know what I was doing. Now, with time, I feel that this is my place and this is what I want to do.
I guess I would like people to be able to see these films in the future, that they could watch my work and still have a dialogue with it. If I'm honest I really kind of hope that people can watch my films out there and that, one day, some young person will be interested in it and find a dialogue and feel that it still relates to reality.
I have myself this relation with many work made by people who are dead, but I still shoot myself in the past, and I wonder if one of my films can have this feeling of not being linked to a temporary moment but to transcend that a bit. I would be really proud of it.
In your experience, what kind of impact do you see emerging from the most recent pandemic? How do you feel or sense that this experience is affecting our way of producing, sharing and experiencing art?
It is a big question, because I think we're still in the midst of the pandemic and I'm not sure it's easy to say that we're out so we can have a perspective on it. If I just think fast, I would say that the domestic side of me would say that it has pushed forward, or faster, this individualistic experience of life. The fact that we might return to tribes, to smaller communities that are more similar to us, because we are less exposed to difference.
I made a small film in the underground metro of Montreal, and what I liked when I was making this film was the fact that I realized that subways are political spaces in a way, as that they force you to go a bit closer to people you would never want to be with you. You have to watch them, they don't look like you, don't smell like you, and you always come up with stories about seeing this person and observing this person; that's important for tolerance and collectivity. I'm afraid that emptying spaces of their people will affect more the question of collectivity and social life.
As for the cultural aspect, at the moment here in Montreal live shows like theater, music and dance shows, are allowed even if places cannot be in full capacity, but people don't go, which is scary. I also heard a study about people in philanthropy who are giving money, and arts culture are the least of the worries of the society, because people are worried more about elders as well as our young kids being locked in front of a computer. Of course there are urgent matters that out fast art, and I think art will have to ask itself very important questions. Sometimes I feel art is becoming, or it has become, some kind of a trend, not only a way of questioning life and digging to find essence and meaning and beauty, but it has become something you call yourself off like artsy, and it's like a hashtag word.
What questions do you see emerging right now?
I will say this, and I don't know if I will believe it myself in a few weeks or months, because it's just something I thought two weeks ago that was brought up by a friend in a conversation, and I haven't thought it through, but she was saying that we are losing sensuality in our existence. We are not attending premieres, or being together at festivals, very close to each other, having drinks and speaking, being in a collectivity, we lost that.
We have urgent problems to face, the environment, social and political crisis are rising again, and maybe not more than before, I'm not sure, maybe the media make you feel like it's more complicated, but I feel like cinema art was at a time very political and then it has become very poetic or interested in small narrations. I don't know much about the visual arts and where they're standing now, maybe theater is more engage with life, but I feel cinema has become interested about itself. We need to have a crisis, maybe, to go and do something that will start speaking about people that are living with problems. People don't go to art fairs or events, because right now there are other, more urgent matters to attend, and art has to find a way to be in this space for soothing, for helping understand reality, and not just be something of a laser. What I feel is that art has to find a way to reconnect with people and help people live better, instead of being something that people just see as an extra in life entertainment. When things are going bad, this is the first part you cut.
How do you make people understand that they need arts? We need to remind them that art is not just cosmetic, that art is necessary for life.
In your personal experience, what do you notice about how the arts and cultural field relates to the expanded social field? What do you feel needs some attention or change?
I think the industry that is guiding the big lines of what is being produced needs to be confronted. I was about to say that artists should be more engaged to political life. Citizens need to be a bit more aware of their responsibility towards society. I think art should be able to dialogue again with society, and maybe this has been lost in cinema. I’m not so sure.
I feel institutions are a big part of the problem, like the fact that they are still focusing on money and making money; but art has a function in society. Here in Quebec we are suffering a lot from that.
Some institutions in cinema are mainly focusing on cinema that is like mainstream, but they have a responsibility… I think of the way art is articulating itself right now for example, and that we're losing artists because sometimes institutions focus a lot just on being eligible, of being financed or entering a festival circuit or in a big gallery, and as an artist you try to make what you think is expected from you. For me, this is becoming a problem.
One of the characters in my last film, a teacher of cinema at the Greek Academy of Cinema, was seeing the same thing, he saw how kids came to him with a script and they wanted help to be able to enter festivals but not trying to make a film that is ingrained in them; he would ask “ what about this image that obsess you, things that you really want to make out of chaos”, but the industry has become so appealing, big and sexy that people want to enter it because that is where fame is and where money is. So it kind of closes on itself, and that is kind of cannibalism. Maybe we are losing a certain definition of art and its social function also.
Is there anything that you would like to do differently on a personal level, in your own artistic practice?
I was thinking this in the last few weeks, that I feel I don't want my films to be specifically political films, or I don't pretend that my films will change anything, but I feel I have the responsibility to be very thoughtful of what I'm doing, in terms of politics of the space I occupy, of the privilege I have of making the films I do; that doesn't mean being politically correct, it means being aware of the immense amount of films that are being made in society.
There is this way of seeing artists in societies, as spoiled children who ask for money to do nothing. This is very interesting; it's something we have to listen to.
The reaction could be, you know, they don't understand us, those people don't know what high culture is. I think, even if I'm middle class, I try not to have a bourgeois thinking about it; it's not always easy, as you're surrounded by many conventions and stuff like that, but I feel like I want to keep an edge in my work. I want to still be sitting a bit on the side of the chair, I don't want to sit through comfortably because I will bore myself.
Is there anything that I didn't ask you that is important for you mention?
This conversation makes me realize that all the context that you gave, thinking about the pandemic, about the social implication of artists and art, makes me realize that there are tons of people like me that are suffering, or fighting, or wishing for art that makes sense, that are investing everything they have in it, and maybe that's the danger of what institutions and what the industry do when they separate us, and without the space for dialogue, the space to encounter your peers, you forget that there are peers like you. It makes me realize that the fight is not in between us, but it's about to context the structures that are forcing us to be in fight or in competition with one another, instead of being fighting together.
Can you think of three keywords that you are taking away after this conversation?
I don't know why but I would say awareness, because it makes me aware, and I think disposition, when you think about your practice and when you dialogue about it; and I think perspective. Social awareness and creating, two things that go together, that we need to go together.
Nadine Gomez, a graduate of Université du Québec à Montréal, completed a master's degree in communications at the École des médias, where she discovered the urban issues that have inspired her since. Launched in 2012, The Horse Palace, her first feature-length documentary, observes the transformations of a city and its link to the memory of places. In 2015, she was awarded a grant with which she directed Métro, a short documentary essay that takes a fresh look at Montreal's underground network and its unique and imposing architecture. Her second feature film, Exarcheia, The Chanting of Birds, a nocturnal and philosophical stroll in a mythical neighborhood of Athens, was launched in national competition at the RIDM 2018 and presented at the Thessaloniki’s International documentary Film Festival in 2019. Nadine keeps on creating and developing several projects on various platforms. Actively involved in her community, she also sits, since 2018, on the Board of the Conseil des arts de Montréal as President of the Cinema Committee.
Her filmography includes: Ceci est une espèce aimée, court-métragedocumentaire, 10 min, 2021 ©Ambiances Ambigües; Avant la nuit, court-métragedocumentaire, 10 min, 2020 ©ONF; Exarcheia, le chant des oiseaux, long-métrage documentaire, 73 min, 2018 ©Production indépendante; Métro, court-métrage documentaire,17 min, 2015 ©Embuscade Films; Le Horse Palace, long-métrage documentaire, 68 min, 2012 ©Argus Films.
Note: This interview was published on Rondò Pilot, issue no. 2.0, 2021.