JS: I've always been fascinated by creative process; going deeper and deeper with the creative process as an artist myself. Creativity is an un-nameable thing buts it's so important.
What initially got me started was there were these incredible women who followed their own voice and listened to their own voice at a very interesting time in art history when women were more models than painters. They were all defining their own vision for themselves. I thought that that was an amazing feat in the time in which they lived.
What was interesting about all three of those women was that their creative process was part of their whole life: a lifelong process and relationship with painting.
So when you get to the end of the film you're seeing Frida Kahlo's last painting, the one she did days before she died. It was her actual last painting, what she did when she was on her death bed. It's a painting of joy.
To me what was remarkable about those women was their relationship to creativity.
tV: What was the most challenging this about making this film?
JS: Patience (laughs). A seven year commitment. It was a really interesting process, and quite a joyful process. I spent the time and never really tried to move ahead until I was ready to move ahead. I went through six thousand journal pages to come up with the dialogue of the script so it could all be in their own voice. During those seven years I made three other films, and I studied their paintings. Meanwhile this film was always percolating.
For me it was always my creative baby that I didn't want to sell out in any way. It was really important just to stay true to a certain process and as true to these women as I could.
There's a ton of research in there because we're representing three huge icons. That was quite a death defying feat. My security in doing that was in knowing as much as I could about their paintings and their worlds, and to have gone through as many letters and journals as I could to try and understand what they wanted to say, how they were saying it, and present that with as much respect as I could.
It's just a taste of who they were. Really, you only meet each women for only ten minutes each but within every scene it's completely layered on their lives. The whole art direction of the Frida Kahlo miscarriage scene is inspired by one of her paintings of her own miscarriage. That POV that you see from far above is what she does with the painting. There are all these inner references: fans who know their work will get the layers. There was a lot of thought that went into them.
It was a long journey. It was challenging to shoot in four cities and three countries, in nine days with crews in each area.
tV: Anything unusual or unforeseen happen along the way?
JS: There are always tons of surprises in filmmaking. We booked a house, for the Frida Kahlo scenes, six months in advance and two days before we arrived they told us they'd giving it to a government convention or something like that, so we had to shoot our whole scene in two hours (laughs). The I had to find another setting for the alter scene. When you're shooting in another country, such as Mexico, you have to be entirely flexible, even with all the good plans and intentions.
Even getting in to Emily Carr's totems was challenging. We were going to go to Haida Gwaii and three weeks before we were to shoot we were told we had to shoot something else. We were told there were no other existing totems. We got two locations researchers on it and we did find the most pristine gorgeous totems in Kasaan, Alaska.
We decided to take a small crew but the weather socked us in the day we were there and the helicopter wasn't going. Finally at eleven in the morning they told us they could get us in but that we only had an hour on the ground. It's an hour to hike in to get to where these totems (laughs).
It's pouring rain and we've got our “Emily” and her wardrobe is soaked. It was only by the gods that we got into the totems at all. They wouldn't let us stay too long but we did get enough for a scene and then get back out.
tV: Was there anything that you discovered about the three women that you hadn't expected?
JS: By the time I got to shoot I don't think there were any surprises in terms of their stories. I'd created a voice bible when I first started research when I locked myself away in a little cabin in France with all their journals and letters.
One thing that was remarkable for me was the era that Georgia O'Keeffe lived in. Life was so vast, and when I think of the film, it talks about the artist's emotional relation to the creative process, and the highs and the lows of that.
Drawing on three lives and different moments in those lives, from when they're enchanted with their muse and everything is unfolding for then, to when they're challenged and have to keep going and meet that challenge, to where they are at the end of their lives.
It's kind of like these three voices trying to create an autobiography of the creative process: what does it feel like. Hopefully this film will impart some kind of feeling of that to the viewer.
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