“I would be nowhere without the Internet,” the artist and filmmaker Petra Collins told IndieWire last week, after her short documentary, “Keep Sailing,” about the Atlanta rapper Lil’ Yachty premiered on The Fader, which produced the film.
Collins was drawn to Yachty as a fan of the music, but also because of their similar trajectories. “How he came up on the Internet and was really honest about that really drew me to him.”
Collins began taking photos at 15, and when she didn’t see a place for her work, founded the online women’s art collective “The Ardorous.” Her dreamy visual style and unapologetic images of female sexuality caught the eye of other young artists, and she began receiving submissions.
With the site’s success as well as her considerable Instagram following, Collins became the unofficial arbiter of taste for young female artists and their fans. Her first book, “Babe,” a collection of work by Ardorous artists, was released in 2015, with a foreword by Rookie Magazine founder and actress Tavi Gevinson (“Enough Said”). She has also modeled for Ryan McGinley, arguably one of the most important photographers working today.
Collins directed the music video “Boy Problems” for Carly Rae Jepson, who learned of her work via Instagram. She also made a three-part documentary series called “Making Space,” exploring the importance of dance for young girls in the deep South. At 14 minutes, “Keep Sailing” is the longest film Collins has made to date.
Like her other films, “Keep Sailing” stays true to Collins’ visual style, which she perfected with her 35 mm photography. With washed out colors, her images look as though they’ve passed through an Instagram filter of her own design. Yachty’s outsize persona fits into this otherworldly color scheme, as Collins blurs the lines of fantasy and reality.
“It’s almost a mockumentary,” she said, referring to Yachty’s appearance — in bright red wig and mustache — as his own fictional uncle, Darnell Boat, a character from Yachty’s album. “That feels more real than doing a straight-up documentary, because it’s taking the subject in their world and creating it as well.”
Yachty is an unconventional subject for Collins, whose previous work is unabashedly feminist. (She designed a line of t-shirts for American Apparel featuring masturbating, menstruating, hairy vagina drawings). But she found his honesty about his thirst for fame refreshing.
“It’s so taboo to talk about how you become successful,” said Collins. “[Lil’ Yachty] debunks this old way of thinking about fame, that this person is so talented they just got where they are.”
Unfortunately, simply claiming space as a female filmmaker is still a radical feminist act. Collins has a unique vantage point, straddling the art, fashion and now film worlds. She says it is harder to be a female filmmaker than a female artist. “When you’re creating art, you’re just doing it on your own.”
Filmmaking involves a whole host of collaborators — often male — who take one look at a waif-ish young woman and feel entitled to offer advice, even if she’s the director. “When I’m on set, I have to constantly remind myself that I’m the talent.”
Which is why Collins is so grateful to the Internet and social media for democratizing opportunities. “It’s about not waiting for permission to do something, and not having to go through the classic system,” she said. “Because it’s usually not a system that works.”