Zia Anger's "My First Film" Is A Revolution In Confessionalism
Anger's most recent work is part film, part performance, and a wholly original view at the business of making movies.
A selection of images Zia Anger airdrops to the audience during My First Film. Courtesy Zia Anger
The first act of Zia Anger’s My First Film is oddly intimate. Although it is titled My First Film, it is more like a show, a mix of film and performance art, and it begins with Anger using AirDrop to send video files from her desktop to the phones of audience members within range. The videos, she tells us later, are old stories from her Instagram archive.
“It was a very small example of what the performance is doing as a whole, which is demonstrating a method of distribution that is not meant to happen,” she explains to GARAGE. “You're not supposed to get your friends’ expired Instagram stories, or anybody else's, but it is possible. And it's antithetical to traditional methods of moving image distribution. For me, that moment is about demonstrating, in a very easy way, what we all can be doing.”
Seated in the audience, Anger interacts with her filmgoers primarily through a live typed monologue. In a Text Edit window relegated to the side of the cinema screen, Anger provides a thoughtful, comedic, and typo-ridden commentary to accompany and contextualize the various media she pulls up from the depths of her hard drive. My First Film primarily follows the trajectory of Anger’s debut feature film, an incomplete venture named “Gray” in the shooting script, and “Always All Ways, Anne Marie” in later iterations of the production. Through rejection emails, blurry crowdfunding videos, and mp4 clips of the feature itself, Anger shows us the lifespan of the unfinished project, as well as the very personal experiences that led her to make it. The result is as much of an astute critique of the film industry as it is a playful, tender memoir. Anger talked with GARAGE in between stops of her current tour, where she is performing My First Film, in theaters across the United States, about Survivor, feeling seen by YouTube ads, and how the flu led her to discover a new side of performance.
The form of My First Film is very interdisciplinary. Can you tell me a bit about how you came up with the idea for such a piece, and how, if at all, interdisciplinarity informs your work in general?
The interdisciplinary part of my work really started because of my work with Jenny Hval. The first music video I did for her, I performed in it simply because I was the only person that we could ask to do the things that we wanted done in that video. Later on, she asked me to come on the road with her and do a kind of live video. The live video component was secondary to this more physical performance that Jenny, myself, and Annie Bielski, who’s an artist, would do together.
Going into [one] performance, I got the flu. So any physical stuff that I could have done was impossible to do. But I still sat on stage, and using–I think–my phone, but maybe a laptop, I started writing stuff on a Notes or a Text Edit app. And it was only a little bit here and there, sprinkled throughout the performance with some other found images and videos from the Internet. We were using Snapchat filters and stuff, but it kind of felt like it worked. It felt like this really exciting new thing that we had tapped into.
The interdisciplinary nature of this work is very happenstance, but if you if you look at my life history, it makes sense. My mom is a mime and performance artist, my dad is an actor, and my other mom is a visual artist.
One of my favorite TV shows is Survivor. It has taught me a huge amount about narrative, and storytelling, and truth in fiction.
Did you have any specific artistic inspirations?
The first book that I read and felt very seen in a cellular way by was The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. That sort of auto-biographical auto-fiction is what I’m hoping to achieve. It's less artists and more things that I like: I love The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That's at the top of my list in terms of movies, which is a very uncool thing to say. One of my favorite TV shows is Survivor, which is also equally uncool. But it has taught me a huge amount about narrative, and storytelling, and truth in fiction.
I don’t know if you’ve kept up with the Caroline Calloway saga at all, but I feel like we’re witnessing a big moment in terms of the cultural commodification of the self. How do you feel about that, and to what extent do you think you participate in that system?
I think that I was very aware going into the performance that the public diary is very lucrative in this moment in time. Even if you aren't making something to be clickbait, it does have the ability to be co-opted like that. For the most part, I tried not to let knowing that inform me, only so much as that I knew it. I didn't want to play into it, but I also didn't want to deny it.
One of my favorite parts of the screening I attended was when this really inane ad started playing before a YouTube video you were trying to show us, and it defused the tension of the moment beautifully.
I mean, 50% of the time I do the performance, an advertisement comes up for a grammar correction program. As much as I hate that, I love it.
Everybody gets put in a position when they're on social media, when they're on the Internet, where they see an ad looking back at them so acutely, and that ad knows them so well. Even better than themselves. And it's terrifying, and it's thrilling. And it also feels comforting, even though it's horrible, because you're actually being seen.
Everybody gets put in a position when they're on social media, when they're on the Internet, where they see an ad looking back at them so acutely, and that ad knows them so well. And it's terrifying.
Let’s talk about Always All Ways, Anne Marie. How do you feel about it now compared with before you made My First Film?
I feel very proud of what I was able to do with so little money and experience at such a young age. But I feel very sad for the person that thought they could do all of that. People throw their whole heart and soul into something, and then get nothing back from it. And it makes it harder for them to go on and make work again, like it did for me. And I don't want anybody to go through that same experience that I did.
I think that there's a certain amount of transparency that we all owe to each other about making things and how hard it is to make things, and that knowledge is essential to share. The idea of ‘knowledge is power,’ makes people feel like they have to hold on to it for themselves. I'm much more interested in distributing the knowledge as far and wide as it can go. Even if that doesn't mean that I'm the one that benefits from it immediately.