Jennie Feyen is a talented artist and filmmaker based in Sydney, Australia. She recently completed her art film titled “Sakura and Steel” which will be part of the Tokkotai Exhibition on May 20, 2017. The film features Kei Ikeda and the music is composed by Ellie Cumming. “I’m interested in creating films that have an ethereal, dream-like quality to them, as well as observational documentaries in which the camera acts as a fly on the wall, “said Feyen for NY Elite.
When I was in university two prominent Australian film critics, David Stratton and Margarent Pomeranz, awarded my short film Marigold (2011) as Best Film in a Super 8 Short Film Competition. Since graduating I’ve had original work shown at galleries and festivals around Australia.
I love creative visual storytelling: two of my favorite film directors are Peter Weir and Lynne Ramsay and I was obsessed with Björk’s collection of music videos as a teenager, said Jennie Feyen for NY Elite Magazine.
In the following interview Jennie Feyen talks about the making of “Sakura and Steel,” the Tokkotai Exhibition in Sydney and the Vivid Ideas event where she will be guest speaking, called “What Does It Take? Science, Art, Wonder”.
Meet the Artist: NY Elite Interview with Filmmaker/Writer Jennie Feyen
NY Elite: What projects are you currently working on?
Jennie Feyen: I’m actually taking a small break after completing an art film called Sakura and Steel (2017). The film was commissioned by Mosman Art Gallery to be part of an exhibition titled Tokkotai: Contemporary Australian and Japanese Artists on the Battle of Sydney Harbour. The battle took place during World War 2, and it’s my second project about this particular war.
NY Elite: What is the new film about?
Jennie Feyen: Sakura and Steel (2017) is my interpretation of how the Japanese submariners felt during the attack of Sydney Harbour, and the way in which Australia respectfully honoured their sacrifice. I tried to humanize their experience by focusing on just one performer, contemporary dancer Kei Ikeda, as she moves through claustrophobic darkness, gets captured in a net and meets her demise. There’s a strong spiritual element in which the Japanese cherry blossoms symbolize both her transcendence and the power of love and respect.
After the attack, a military funeral was held for the fallen Japanese submariners, which I believe to be a very honourable act by Australia. One of the mothers of the Japanese submariners was brought over to Australia to collect the ashes of her son, and she scattered cherry blossom petals were her son’s body was found, so there was a lot to work with creatively.
NY Elite: What is different about being in the director’s chair with this project?
Jennie Feyen: In 2016 I mostly took on shooter-producer roles, so I was relieved to work with talented cinematographer Matt Bedford, who I’ve already worked with before, so we were able to build on our past collaborations. As I had a very small team to work with I was also responsible for costuming and props, so although it was a bit overwhelming at times, I was able to synchronize other roles into my main role as the director.
NY Elite: Which actors stand out and why are they perfect for the role?
Jennie Feyen: I worked with contemporary dancer Kei Ikeda and she’s an incredibly focused and dedicated performer, and was able to channel everything I needed into the performance. We’ve also worked together before and were able to build upon our last collaboration. All in all, she’s a fantastic dancer and someone I really enjoy working with.
NY Elite: Who are the film’s stars?
Jennie Feyen: Kei Ikeda and composer Ellie Cumming for creating such a beautiful soundtrack. Music is such an important component of storytelling.
NY Elite: What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
Jennie Feyen: I like films that actually treat the viewer as a person with a working brain. These films aren’t afraid of ambiguity, silences, emotional darkness or even a bit of magic realism, but they don’t hit you over the head with it. The filmmakers understand when to hold back when necessary and allow the audience to tie up the loose ends themselves.
It’s impossible for me to choose a favourite film, however I recently watched Denis Villeneuve’s film Arrival (2016) and was really moved for the reasons listed above.
NY Elite: As a screenwriter, what is the most important aspect of building a character?
Jennie Feyen: My answer is going to be very specific, but I can’t stand the way in which traumatic experiences have been merely used as a plot device to make films and TV shows edgier or more interesting. If something awful or tragic has happened to a character then I think it’s worth exploring for it to be an authentic contribution to the story, otherwise we’re just perpetuating stereotypes.
I also believe that characters are a product of their actions before and after something happens to them, and we should explore how they process the event and how it can change them. A character can’t just permanently exist as only one thing; life is more complicated than that.
NY Elite: What scripts have you written so far?
Jennie Feyen: I’ve mostly written short film scripts that contain magic realism as I think cinema is an amazing tool for abstract storytelling, however I’ve also been focusing on treatments and proposals for documentaries and art installations.
NY Elite: Top 3 favorite projects that you have been involved in?
Jennie Feyen: My Core – this is my very first video installation and I got to work with contemporary dancer Catherine Ryan, who is now doing some amazing work in vertical dance. The installation is a floor projection of a woman touching and enjoying her body. She never makes eye contact with you as I wanted it to be the opposite of “music video sexuality”. She’s just happy in her own space.
Beneath The Surface – this was part of an art-science residency with Culture At Work in Sydney, Australia. I collaborated with marine biologists and filmed their research focusing on eco-engineering and climate change impacts. I learnt more about my city and got to film scientists getting their hands dirty.
Sakura and Steel – this project has reunited me with past collaborators and is very unique as the exhibition will take place in a camouflage fuel tank that was used during the war, so it’s very site-specific. It also allowed me to combine my two majors at university: filmmaking and Japanese Studies.
NY Elite: Do you express yourself creatively in any other ways?
Jennie Feyen: I used to create a lot of collages by just cutting images out of magazines and combining them with my drawings. I also used to create minimalist soundtracks on Garageband and Protools for little projects. Now I’m really interested in artistic photo shoots and interdisciplinary collaborations. I also love singing. If no one is home I’ll usually be teaching myself a new song on my keyboard or ukulele.
NY Elite: What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career in filmmaking?
Jennie Feyen: I can really only speak for those who want to direct their own projects, but I think you need to be genuinely interested in life, otherwise how can you be a genuine storyteller? It’s important to learn how a set works, learn how to use a camera and make connections in the industry, but if you don’t have anything unique to say then your films won’t either.
NY Elite: Any plans to direct another movie?
Jennie Feyen: Yes, but I’m not sure what it is quite yet. The most important thing is that I challenge myself and direct something that I’ve written that combines the traditional short film format with a strong artistic aesthetic.
NY Elite: NY Elite: What can we expect from you in 2017?
Jennie Feyen: I’ll be part of the Tokkotai Exhibition in Sydney and a speaker at Vivid Ideas for an event called What Does It Take? Science, Art, Wonder.
NY Elite: Where can everyone keep up with you to learn more? …social media…website
Jennie Feyen: www.jenniefeyen.com (website)
Jennie Feyen Artist Filmmaker (facebook)