EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling first-time feature directors who have films screening at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
Screening in the New Frontier program at Sundance ’08, Michelange Quay‘s first feature uniquely discusses the evolution of power and the relationship between black boys and white women in the director’s native Haiti. As Sundance’s Shari Frilot explains, “Eat” “seductively begs the viewer to abandon the rules of traditional storytelling and instead embrace a poetic, cinematic language.” Frilot finds a “muscular confidence and inspired dreamlike quality to Quay’s filmmaking.” He “evocatively blends gorgeous imagery with an infectious musical energy to create a story that is largely free of dialogue and entirely visceral in effect.”
“Eat For This Is My Body”
Director: Michelange Quay
Screenwriter: Michelange Quay
Cinematographer: Thomas Ozoux
Editor: Jean-Marie Lengelle
Principal Cast: Sylvie Testud, Hans Dacosta Saint-Val, Catherine Samie, Jean Noel Pierre
Haiti, 2007, 105 min., color, 35mm
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Michelange Quay. I was born of Haitian parents in New York City, and grew up in Queens, then in South Florida. Studied anthropology and film at University of Miami and came back to New York to study film at the graduate department of New York University. Sometime shortly after, I moved to Paris – I guess in the romantic tradition of James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Chester Himes and company. I visit my family regularly in Haiti and I guess these days it would be difficult for me to say which country is ‘my’ country. Spiritually, Haiti most of all!
What initially attracted you to filmmaking? What other creative outlets do you explore?
Since the earliest age I’ve been drawing – comic books…obsesssively! Did some graffiti writing to in late adolescence, tags and big murals. Somewhere in college I took a film course. I think its been a progression to larger and larger canvases. When I stumbled unto film I saw that its power is dual: photographic, and musical at the same time. Its so close to how we ‘think’ the life experience itself, and how we dream…It has possibilty of having the authority of photographic reality, yet at the same time the lyricism of a poem, and the hypnotic conviction of music. Film’s a blessing. Personally, aside from film, I play the piano at home for fun, blues and gospel, and I play the asian chess game of go – alot!
Have you made other films? How did you learn about filmmaking?
As I said, I studied film at NYU where I made a number of short films, and I had some amazing teachers, like the great Boris Frumin and Yvette Biro, but I started to really ‘feel it’ when I made my last short, “The Gospel of the Creole Pig“… I think, thus I’m just starting to dialogue film language, and learn from myself.
What prompted the idea for “Eat, For This Is My Body” and how did it evolve?
This film prompted…itself! This kind of mad biblical monlogue that opens the film just came out one day while listening to Charles Mingus, and from then on its just been about letting the film organize itself organically. It has always had a life of its own , and the ideas came either to stay or be discarded according to their harmony with the whole. So I worte it by feeling my way through it, for what ‘sounded’ right or wrong.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
My approach to making film is to start from the writing, where on the page I have to let some mytholgoy organize itself, find its own rules. Then I go out into the world with theose scene as a ‘net’, or a set of spaces to fill with reality! Often, what I found was much more interesting than what was written, but I would not have been able to get to step 3 without 1 and 2. Also, because at least in this film there’s no forced adherence to any particular historical or narrative anything, I can put what I want where I want as long as it ‘grooves’ with the whole, so I have alot of freedom to improvise while shooting, because of the ‘chord structure’ well established in my gut somewhere. My influences are: David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Jean Luc Godard, Glauber Rocha, Pier Paulo Pasolini, Werner Herzog.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
The biggest challenge I faced in developing the film and still face is getting business partners to trust the process, trust the film, at all stages, even this one. But I supposed that’s normal – its their money and reputation tap dancing up on that high wire. Hope this part will get easier with time….hope so.
What are your specific goals for the Sundance Film Festival?
My goal at Sundance is to enjoy watching people discover and dialogue with this film. Also, I look forward to meeting the kinds of interesting people in and around cinema that one encounters in such an event.
What are some of your recent favorite films?
The film I’ve loved the most recently is “Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame” by Hana Makhmalbaf.
How do you define success as a filmmaker?
To me success as a filmmaker, or as a human being, is to discover ones own voice, again and agian over time, and that’s my personal goal, to get deep into that. To bring something out for the people!
Please tell us about any upcoming projects?
I’m working on a new project but it’s a secret that I don’t even know yet!
Please share your thoughts on the state of independent film today.
With all this new media, new context and general planetary confusion – this is a very interesting time to be a filmmaker. We’ll discover what kind of interesting later on down the line, I guess!
indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival is available in iW’s special Park City section.