Last week, the film The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal (El Sol Como un Gran Animal Oscuro) — directed by Miami-based filmmakers Christina Felisgrau and Ronnie Rivera (together known as Bleeding Palm) — made its online debut. Produced by the Miami-based Borscht Corp., the short had its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival before going on to screen at several others, including AFI Fest and the Miami International Film Festival.
For a five-minute short, it’s a challenging film that messes with audience perception — from its archaic and otherworldly animation to a self-reflexive voice-over narrative read in a digitized voice by Miami artist Agustina Woodgate. Based on a story by Rivera and filmmaker Bernardo Britto, the film is a testament to the metaphysical. The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal explores the cognitive dissonance where the conscious and subconscious meet — where a dreamer seeks to be recognized by her dream, and those in the dream look like peanuts working in an office.
The work is a result of a commission by the local poetry organization O, Miami. Rivera was paired with Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik. The director, who admits to tangling with his own insanity, was instantly riveted by the work of the mid-20th-century poet. Pizarnik had also recognized her own insanity before taking her life in 1972.
New Times spoke with Rivera about the short film, his collaborators, the response to his film at the festivals, and his quest to snag a star for the film’s protagonist, Allie the Peanut, on the Official Miami Walk of Fame at Bayside Marketplace.
New Times: How did you get together with O, Miami?
Ronnie Rivera: It was made with great trepidation from each entity: Borscht Film Festival; O, Miami poetry nonsense; and Bleeding Palm.
At some point in 2013, Scott Cunningham — director of O, Miami — approached Lucas Leyva, the director of the Borscht Film Festival, about asking me to work on a project for the poetry festival. I had just done the Bosh short film [The Adventures of Christopher Bosh in the Multiverse] produced by Borscht, and although I think some people liked it, those who did not know me figured I was just insane. Scott further inquired to Leyva what it was like to work with me, and I believe Leyva said, "Ronnie is crazy and not to be trusted." So against all advice, [Scott and I] moved ahead with the project. Specifically about the commission and pairing, Scott has written: “Much like Bleeding Palm's animation, Pizarnik's poetry is dark, strange, and magical.”
How did Alejandra Pizarnik's poetry influence you?
I was immediately absorbed by her work. Her writing often goes to dark places, and along the way she finds these moments and visions of beauty and intrigue. The work is also heavily informed by her diaries, in which she often worried about being insane. She also dealt with the pure qualities of objects and words and how removed the qualities we perceive about our surroundings are from reality. She worried about losing touch with the meaning of words... and she also did a lot of drugs.
There aren’t really any narratives in her work, so in the film, the color, tone, and themes were influenced by her poetry.
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The music is quite beautiful. How did you get Otto von Schirach and Nayib Estefan to create something as tranquil as that?
Visually, they were working with a finished animation, so they were able to get a vibe and flow before diving in. I have been a friend and fan of Otto's for a long time and knew that he would develop something amazing. Though I had not heard Nayib's [non-noise] work before, he was the one who laid down the base beat, and the piece grew from there... In any case, the music really brought the project to life. Like Agustina Woodgate's narration, the music uniquely blends the robotic and the human, which worked beautifully in the context of the film.
What was the most interesting thing you heard while taking the short film on tour around the world?
A high-schooler was the first person to ask during a Q&A about our visual references to Hieronymus Bosch's painting The Extraction of the Stone of Madness and about our visual reference to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Neither reference is vital to the story, but they were reference points for Alejandra, and it was fun to incorporate them into the film. There are reasons behind their inclusion — boring, pretentious reasons, but reasons nonetheless.
Why do you think it's important that Allie have a star on the Miami Walk of Fame?
It’s a shame that there is only one female and no current local talent represented on the Official Miami Walk of Fame at Bayside Marketplace. You can help this happen by signing the petition, #JusticeForAllie.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter.