Janaxpacha (Brazil | 2016, 15 min)

Subtitles: English

Directed by: Dimitre Lucho, Katherina Tsirakis

Janaxpacha is a short dance film filmed in 3D in Salar de Uyni, in the Andes Cordillera in Bolivia. With 12.000Km², Salar do Uyuni is an immense salt desert at over 3600 meters high. When flooded, the Salar do Uyuni becomes the largest mirror in the world. With the airs of "another planet," the Salar do Uyuni inspires us to seek in the images of Salvador Dalí and Magritte a meaning before the overwhelming immensity of space that imposes itself.

In our history this character, the desert is personified by its guardian Thunupa, who plays with the travelers that cross its sacred white habitat. Thunupa, the female entity of the transformation that personifies the forces of nature, wishes to fly and discovers in Inti a nomad who walks wandering through the desert his chance. During his crossing Inti is captured and sacrificed, a new man is born: Willka opposite of Inti, who must then rescue his identity.

Investigating our spiritual evolution through dance and human relationships, Janaxpacha invites the viewer to a 3D journey through the universes of Dali and Magritte, in a reflection on the relationship of the masculine and feminine as pulsating forces of the human battle.


An Interview with Katherina Tsirakis, director of "Janaxpacha," conducted by Caleb Dawdy, Curator of Art & Experimental Film

CD: Firstly, I would love to hear about your history and beginnings with both filmmaking, and art in general? Where did it all begin for you?

KT: My mother is a visual artist, so I grew up in her art studios and being taken to several museums. She is also an art educator and writer so the continuous discussions about art history were very common during breakfast, and museum visits were absolutely mandatory in every vacations trip. When I was 3 years old I was enrolled in dance classes and I loved the magical end of the year presentations so much each year my passion for art grew stronger. During college I decided to study psychology, and I always managed to focus in art therapy, because art for me is a cure.

CD: The film you’ve made is wonderfully conceptualized and performed, could you briefly describe where this idea was spawned, and how it came to be? Where did the basis for the story itself arise?

KT: In 2008 I was in Bolivia, and almost got lost in the desert of Uyuni, so I decided to go back and change this experience I had there with better memories. Also I realized how difficult it was to reach this place on earth and decided to take this place and show it to the world. During my first trip to Bolivia I found the culture from the Andes very interesting; in particular their concepts about masculine and feminine as sun and moon. I then took these concepts and cross referenced them with greek mythology and Magritte’s paintings. It is a very personal intercrossing of references, I know, and the criteria for assembling these elements together is what makes the work so intriguing.

CD: Were there ever other approaches to telling this story, and if so, how were they transformed into the final piece we have now?

KT: Yes, the dialogue in between film as a language with its patterns and methods and dance and its logic, language and methods, was always very strong and at points diverging. Its was a great process of negotiation for members of the crew on either side of expertise to come together and find a middle ground.

CD: What was pre-production and planning for this film like, and how long was your shoot? Could you describe some methods you used to prepare your crew, talent, and yourself for completing this process?

KT: Pre production was an act of faith, took almost 3 months. Happened in my house, where I had lunch made for crew members and they would come in almost everyday during lunch time to help make things happen. After 2 days of preparation in la Paz, the shoot took 7 days in total in the desert; and 1 day to leave the country, so 10 days trip. It was very fast working, this piece was an endurance piece in its making. Since I had already a intuition of that from my precious trip I made sure to communicate that to the crew, and asked them to prepare physically for the trip. I had one producer back out from the shoot because he was scared of the physical conditions for example. For the talents we would just train hard with that in mind.

CD: Your film has a very unique character to it, both in terms of your actual actors, and that the setting itself is so prominent. What was the process of filming at this location like?

KT: The process of filming in the location was very common to film in general we had the script and a storyboard, and a book of image for references. The hard part was setting up the 3D equipment and travelling in the desert, the lack of oxygen was very hard to deal with. It was a stressful but magical process. Again endurance I think is a good word to describe the process of being there.

CD: Given your inspiration from surrealists like Magritte and Dali, did you ever consider other settings to tell this story? Or did you find that the story of Thunupa fit just fine here?

KT: Thunupa is an actual volcano believed to be a woman who was unfaithful and thus transformed in a mountain and thus she is the protector of Bolivia. I never had a doubt this was the place, this place inspired me to see the world with new eyes and it demanded to be danced in.

CD: What elements of surrealism were most important for you to capture?

KT: The methods of surrealism are what I hold dearest since I am a psychoanalyst by graduation. So mixing elements from subconscious with a logic of the emotions not the brain. This was present not only in capture but in the beginning till the end of the process.

CD: What were some of the influences you drew from in regards to the physicality and choreography of your actors?

KT: I drew from contact improvisation, Limon, and Pina Bausch’s dance theatre.

CD: Could you briefly describe a few of your influences in film and cinematography that aided you in your creation of this film?

KT: Mathew Barney, DV8, Pina’s and Wim Wenders’ film on Pina; and of course the master Charles Chaplin.

CD: Given the barren setting, you did a great job at shooting in such a way that it never feels stale or empty, except the minimalism is serving to enhance your story. What trials and ideas did you go through in approaching the cinematography?

KT: The cinematography was limited by the fact that it was 3D, making the equipment very heavy for movement. We also wanted to create the impression of looking through a window, a very comfortable 3D effect for the audience to feel submerged in this reality. In 2D the effect changes a bit, but the stillness of the place is almost another character for us with its exuberance.

CD: What were some challenges that you faced and overcame in making this film?

KT: Learning how to be a female director and producer and creator and choreographer. Learning how to be feminine because it's how I like to be; but at the same time holding the command of the crew. This was extremely challenging for me, but proved to be absolutely necessary that I learn and overcome this challenge otherwise the film would not be done. This is not only a personal challenge but one that the world faces today. Women bosses who don’t want to be masculine in order to prove anything. We don’t need to prove, we need to do.

CD: If you could have a say, what are some feelings or ideas that you hope your audiences walk away with?

KT: I hope they walk away feeling more than thinking, I hope they are inspired to dance, and to feel. I hope they are also curious about this part of the planet.

CD: What upcoming projects do you have in the works that we can keep our eyes open for?

KT: The "King of Wolves," is my next short film coming out next year. "Waterbelt," is a dark comedy musical about this feminist journey into professionalism, still in pre-production. I also have a space in Brazil called Simpatia257 that will be inaugurated soon for artistic residencies, screenings, rehearsals etc.