Watch the Sundance-selected, Miami-made short “The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal” plus a Q&A with co-director Ronnie Rivera
May 2, 2016
It’s been a while since I first saw the short film “El sol como un gran animal oscuro” or “The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal” by Bleeding Palm, a.k.a the filmmaking duo Ronnie Rivera and Christina Felisgrau. When I wrote about Borscht Corp., the group that helped facilitate the short film’s production, almost a year-and-a-half ago in the Miami New Times (Borscht Film Festival Returns With a Five-Day Showcase of Local Works), I didn’t even mention it (for shame). It went on to premiere at Sundance and has traveled to many film festivals since (including a screening at the Miami International Film Festival). Upon first viewing, I knew it was something special, but it’s a challenging film upon first sight. Despite any inclination to knee-jerk react to the seemingly archaic digital animation, there are many moments of beauty in “El sol como un gran animal oscuro” that stand in poetic contrast, from artist Agustina Woodgate’s reading of the eerily self-reflexive narrative (in Spanish with English subtitles) to the pulsing, beeping soundtrack by Otto von Schirach and Nayib Estefan.
The film was commissioned by O, Miami, an organization that fosters Miami’s literary community. It paired Rivera with the tragic Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik. After watching the short several times, I took away a surreal narrative about a dreamer wishing to be recognized by her dream. In a Q&A via email, Rivera resisted confirming a concrete reading, until he caved against his own mental resistance. It just goes to show how personal a story this is to Rivera, as nonsensical as this short may seem. It’s not something to be underestimated. Part of the Q&A was published last week in the Miami New Times (Watch Borscht’s The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal and Get Allie the Peanut on the Miami Walk of Fame). But he reveals more concrete things about the short in the rest of the Q&A, which we’ve published here:
Where did the idea for Allie come from?
Alejandra’s own story is tragic; she struggled with mental illness and eventually took her own life. It was tempting to go that route, but ultimately, we felt we needed a vessel for her work and wanted to avoid anything too autobiographical. We at Bleeding Palm love “world building,” so we built a world and populated it with little peanut people. Allie came out from that as our star.
What came first, Allie or the dreamer narrating the short?
Allie was always there. Sometimes the world Alejandra writes from is dreamlike. Sometimes it is nightmarish, and sometimes it’s magical. Often it is both. The other voice grew out of Allie.
Is this about a dreamer looking to be recognized by her dream?
I hate when people say that they want their work to be left up to interpretation. Usually I think that means they have no idea what or why they are making whatever and are too scared to admit it. Or they want to bullshit their audience. But damn it, people have had so many different reactions and interpretations. Some find a happy emptiness to it, a lightness. For others, it’s all about longing, and the darkness is inescapable. Some people have come up to me after a screening, crying. The best reaction was one of my oldest and dearest friends, Anna laughing uncontrollably during and after a screening in NOLA.
I definitely don’t want to ruin anyone’s experience, and oh, hell, it’s a love story about a computer and a peanut. It doesn’t work (because nothing ever does). Everything that happens in it is real, in fact, all life is real.
How do you think technology affects our dreams? Are they an obstacle or might they help enhance our dreams?
I’m all about it. I want computer chips in me right now. I want them to regulate my sleep, everything. I want to press my computer chip lips against a cold metal robot’s chrome face and trade information.
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That’s a taste of Rivera, a funny but extremely serious artist. You can read more of my conversation with him in that article published last week by the Miami New Times. In it, he talks about how Pizarnik inspired the film’s narrative, how the score came about and how Allie the Peanut deserves a spot on the Miami Walk of Fame in Downtown Miami (here’s a link to the petition). Jump through the publication’s logo of the art and culture blog to read on:
And here is the short for your viewing pleasure. If you have an interpretation please share in the comments:
All images courtesy of Bleeding Palm.