Original text from interview here:


FIDMarseille Interview with Brent Chesanek

Interview by Marco Cipollini

Nomotopowell takes the form of a travel diary to explore the region and surroundings of Geneva, a village in eastern Florida. Where did your interest in this place come from, and the stories that run through it?

My work is extremely personal, but never directly about me or my family. I wanted a geographically limited project that would allow me to stay with my parents while the film was being produced. I'm obsessed with the landscape they inhabit, and staying in their homes became a tradition I could carry on in my work, like I did on City World , my last feature film. Not only did I live in the village and its surroundings, but I also helped my father to build houses there. So there is all that, and then the maternal side of my family who are Powells.

Beyond those personal connections, the first thing I wanted to explore was the brown metal sign that said "KOLOKEE." Initially, I did not know that this sign indicated a disappeared town. I wasn't sure of its meaning. This word does not exist outside of this panel or the town that bears this name. I noticed other signs as I explored, and soon realized I was looking at ghost towns, rather than ghost towns. The idea for the film and its travel diary format comes from literary traditions of exploring different civilizations past and present.

There is a book by Darran Anderson called Imaginary Cities, in which he presents his ideas with far more eloquence than I ever could. He embarks on a series of fascinating journeys that all revolve around the fantastic, and the convergence of remote cities, whether that distance is physical, mental or temporal. The book is amazing, and it made me think about the possibilities of filmmaking in Geneva.

In addition to the travelogue of botanist John Bartram, who crossed this region in 1766, the film crosses passages from an adaptation of the Travels of Marco Polo. How did you come up with this idea?

I chose John Bartram because it is the earliest known written description of the Geneva swamp region, especially since he traveled to the location shown in the middle of the film and was obliged to turn around and withdraw, which corresponds to the structure of the film. I adopted his whimsical, non-formal practice of naming places ("We came to Round Lake, and we called it that, because it's one of the roundest I've ever seen ").

With respect to your previous question, and in connection with Bartram, East Florida is an antiquated term from the pre-statehood era when Florida comprised a much larger land area, spanning the west to what is now Louisiana. And before that, the entire territory of what is now the continental United States, was known to the Spanish as La Florida, marking lands believed to have been claimed since Hernando de Soto's invasion in 1539. The connection with de Soto leads us to colonial genocide, and so we have to look at Christopher Columbus. Marco Polo's stories are included in Nomotopowellfor two reasons: the first, because of their role in the colonial empire, being one of the most important inspirations of Christopher Columbus. The text we recite is written in an archaic French that Christopher Columbus would have read. The second is that Il Milione was received as a fanciful, untrustworthy narrative. I wanted to consider the possibility of supernatural forces while analyzing the violence exerted by tourism under the banner of discovery, even today. I considered and I recognize that the fact that I make this film is in itself an act of tourism disguised as discovery. I hope I haven't made these places attractive to those seeking wealth.

The film offers an articulated, and layered exploration of this region, and its history, evoking many ghosts that reside there, through multiple sources that intertwine. However, these materials, sometimes read in voiceover, sometimes inscribed on the images, are not presented in their entirety, or their context, but rather in the form of fuzzy fragments and linked together in a surprising way by the coincidences of time and space, evoking traces and signs whose meaning seems forgotten. How did you select this corpus, and why did you opt for this processing of sources?

From the beginning, I intended to use multiple voices. I looked for direct sources that offered the most plausibility with the least amount of information. I saw these sources as ghosts from a distance: voices and texts that are not spoken in the space of the village but which have a great resonance there. The elements that I could extract without using proper names or anything too specific played a key role in the selection. The pieces that I chose were perhaps the result of an intuition, they corresponded to the atmosphere of the film.
I realized that my interest in the historical relevance of Geneva required a basic explanation of circumstances and stories. I thought about approaching it as a standard educational film, with a narrator and archival sources conveying information in the traditional way, but then I would have strayed from the real goals of this format, which are clarity and knowledge . I rather tried to offer a minimum of what can be considered as knowledge. I hope no one comes out of this thinking I'm trying to impart knowledge.

The feeling of mystery is thus reinforced by the environmental images and sounds, which instead of clearly constituting a cartography, immerse us in this place by following a more sensory and impressionistic approach. What ideas guided the photography of the film? And how did you work on the sound dimension?

There is an idea that we have two souls, and that these two souls reside in three places: in the shadows, in the reflections, and in the light when it comes into contact with our eyes. This idea is inspiring. It is clear and yet exponential. That's also cinema, isn't it?

I started very early to film reflections, and I supplemented them with larger tableaux and night scenes. The sound recording sessions were done at night, at the assassin's grave, hidden, along the river, in the village, etc. I assembled these sounds before or at the same time as the image. Sound was never an afterthought.

I was lucky to have Owen Levelle with me to share the work of the image during the most intense period of production. We were both discussing in pre-production what we were looking to do, but then, when it was time to shoot, we were each on our own filming and we rarely spoke to each other. I love making films in solitude, and even when working with Owen I can still think and gather information as if I were alone.

The film begins and ends with the image of a yellow-green square on a black background. Could you specify this choice?

An anecdote: Thomas Jefferson wanted the capital of the United States to be designed around a sparse grid system, what he called a checkerboard city. But other federal planners incorporated a radial ray system for its major avenues. It is said that it was partly for the defense. It is also said that due to this design, the assassin Powell got lost while trying to escape, which led to his capture.

Jefferson believed that when towns get too big, that is, they become cities, corruption and evil flourish. He wanted a more agrarian country, which is how the American South developed, the same region that ran through and profited from slavery. In the United States, we still witness today the demonization of cities, with all the racism that accompanies it.

Yet, in general, the square is linked to everything – to the design of cities, to cardinal directions, to cartographic insets, to road signs, to the language of anthropology, and geometry, to the notion of reduction and simplification. shapes. A square is a loop with a structure, divisible by two. It's a trip around the block.