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Laida Lertxundi Introduces Her Film "Autofiction"

"I felt that I had pulled up my roots and was now carrying them around with me."
Notebook
Laida Lertxundi's Autofiction is showing exclusively on MUBI starting November 22, 2021 in most countries in the series Brief Encounters, as well as part of the series Landscape Plus: The Films of Laida Lertxundi.
THAT SEASON
I was folded like a pollo desplumado (featherless chicken) recovering from a shocking and unintelligible birthing experience. I got a phone call asking if I’d like to come to New Zealand to be an artist-in-residence at the University of Auckland and work on a film, all expenses paid. YES was my resounding answer.
I was living in Los Angeles. After many years as a single artist, teaching part-time with the freedom to make my work, a new reality was now setting in. It was the Trump era. Medical aid, already meager under Obamacare, was eroding. Rent prices were now New York prices, and it was impossible to afford renting a studio in addition to a home. I became a mother in the middle of this. I paid to become a mother. On top of unbelievable amounts given to private insurance, and the expenses of checkups during pregnancy, we needed to borrow money because we made a human being.
Everyday life soon became driving around the city with a baby, paying to enter private parks or weird office buildings converted into indoor playrooms. Did no one else think this system was hostile?
I enlisted my mom for the New Zealand adventure. She claims she only went because I looked so broken that she couldn’t say no. But I remembered her inspecting the stickers on kiwis, saying the words las antipodas with the mild longing of a proletariat girl who never imagined traveling so far. And so we went. In New Zealand we found green parks, a life of walking, a politically conscious art community, beautiful music, and strong women artists who did not hide their strengths. My mom helped with the domestic work so I could make art. I missed my partner Ren, who was absorbed by his masters program back in Los Angeles, gone from us in more ways than one. Christina C. Nguyen came to visit and helped shoot some film. I most remember wonderful conversations, the kind that seem in danger of extinction.The most valuable materials I collected on my trip were the sounds of indigenous birds on the island of Tiritiri Matangi, a protected bird kingdom.
I returned to California to teach. I had a pumping room, and some other moms in the faculty looking out for me, helping me with my transition, patching up the gaps of an inhumane system. I would teach and take breaks to pump. I was a hormonal soup. I would sometimes think of my students as babies. At the end of the semester I received (for the first time since I began teaching) student feedback calling me “sweet.” With breasts painfully swollen, I would rush home to feed. A cop once pulled me over for speeding.
We started making this film. The working title was “Daytime Noir” because a crime was happening in plain sight, during the day, bodies being dragged across the sidewalk. We interviewed women on camera. The content of these interviews was personal but not necessarily true, an homage to Soft Fiction by Chick strand. Strand had lived among these streets and valleys and made films with similar equipment. Agnès Varda was also a constant influence. Speaking on camera candidly, with intimacy and comfort, these women opened up as we made the film together. Bert Hoover and Ren played music in Bert’s studio and we filmed and recorded it with expired film that another CalArts filmmaker had given me in order to make room in her freezer for breastmilk. I had liked this anecdote, a kind of material riddle about negotiating work and motherhood. The film was so faded it was almost insensitive to light.
Sexism, racism, and cynicism was in the air, and America’s particular oppressions and hypocrisies were on display for all to see. We filmed at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade in Leimert Park. There were cops in the parade, smiling and waving from their motorcycles. It felt incongruous, and being able to film them in that context was like a strange reordering of the world.
My friend Maite Muñoz Iglesias appears in the film, trying to chronicle the exact moment she is in, the broken-openness of early motherhood, her child Greta in her arms. They walk and breastfeed around Echo Park, while the sound of the New Zealand birds accompany them. The birds are heard throughout the film when women are speaking, which tweaks the realism of the interviews, opening a subconscious state, el sueño de la razón (the sleep of reason).
We were in distress. One of us had just had an abortion, another had lived a version of Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment, one had abandoned their partner of 18 years, another chose not to share. We were trying to land somewhere within ourselves, amidst the anxious panic and exhaustion of 2019.
Autofiction
After my time in New Zealand, I became aware that I would never readjust to life in Los Angeles. I loved the people, the art and the landscape, but I felt I was being ejected by a broken system, spending all of my time and money feeding a machine that did not support me. I felt that I had pulled up my roots and was now carrying them around with me.
We framed sections of bodies using yellow paper that trembled in the wind (a poor man’s matte job). Nazli Dincel came to do a show at REDCAT, and we were talking about antidepressants taking away her libido. We filmed her collapsed on the couch at Rocío Mesa’s house, unable to get up. Finally she gets off the couch, only to collapse again in the backyard.
I started subletting my studio to a younger artist, and one day her friend casually asked me, “Now that you are leaving, are you just going to be a mom?” I finished the film, had it processed and scanned, did the color with C. Diaz and fled for Spain with my family and my hard drives.
I say my films are “made with…” because there is no cast or crew. Everyone involved in the film makes it together, sometimes appearing in front of the camera, sometimes working behind it, without a specialization of roles. If there is something concrete I am trying to get at it with my films, it is this way of working. I want to take the opportunity to thank every person who has ever helped me make a film, and those who have shown them or written about them.
Here are some of them (I’m sorry if I’ve left anyone out). Much love.
 ***
Christina C. Nguyen, Ren Ebel, Hanah Lur Ebel Lertxundi, María Palacios Cruz, James Benning, Gabrielle Pulgar, C. Díaz, Lucas Quigley, Maite Muñoz Iglesias, Greta Grau, Nazli Dincel, Josette Chiang, Anastasia Sargent, Ashley Campbell, Arshia Haq, Gabrielle Pulgar, Jasminne Morataya, Case Esparros, Rocío Mesa, Bert Hoover, Jorge Suárez-Quiñones, Guillermo Pozo, Alexis Sevilla, Bing Cao, Fiona Jack, Lisa Crowley, Zoe Bokany, Torben Tilly, Elle Loui August, Ana Ara, Gonzalo de Pedro, Muhe Chen, Victor Artiga Rodriguez, Tanner Cook,, Andrew Busti, Craig Smith, Greg Pope, Tooth, Keira Greene, Clara Schulmann, Kate Dollenmayer, Luisa Cameron-Coats, Begoña Prado, Laura Merando, Shambhavi Kaul, Emilio Luarca, Forouzan Safari, Kane Lafia, Claire MckEwon, Laura Steenberge, Usoa Fullaondo, ACB, Aram Moshayedi, Hamza Walker, Suzanne Wright, the Hoffmanns (Lindsey, Walt and Ann), Dan Boer, Albert Ortega, Ezra Buchla, Tashi Wada, Beau Johnson, Tanya Rubbak, Michael Sicinski, Thom Andersen, Betzy Bromberg, Mark McElhatten, C.W. Winter, Sandy Ding, Eliza Douglas, Sally Oviatt, Helena Estrela, Mariana Sanchez Bueno, Unai Ruíz Ameztoy, Kai Ruíz Alonso, Martina Ruíz Alonso, Jessica Lee, Clara Rus, Brian Block, Amina Cain, Minjung Kim, Michael Robinson, Akash Kataria, Rebecca Limerick, Duy Nguyen, Michelle Ruiz, Fern Silva, Raya Martin, Gym Lumbera, Genevieve Yue, Bente, Leif Magne, Marla, Noah Doely, Sarah and Tage Schipschack, Bassam, Berte, Dag Ivar, Shawn Lockie, Yuan Pan, Chandra Wright, Andrew Abram, Oihane Basañez, Josep Florit Juaneda, Gwenaëlle Gobé, George Clark, Ben Rivers, Ben Russell, Peggy Ahwesh, Jeanne Liotta, Alex Alonso Díaz,  Garbiñe Ortega, Ted Gerike, Sam Raphael, Emma Kemp, Amy Beste, Alex Nogueras, Rebeca Blanchard, Martin Lahitete, Gregorio Cibrián, Beatriz Setien, Gunnar K Varan, Stefan Ramstedt, Bettina  Steinbrügge, Matt Williams, Andrea Lissoni, Andrea Picard, Filipa Ramos, Marta Cervera, Esperanza Collado, Gloria Vilches, Nuria Cubas, Jaiver Estrada, Fernando Vilchez, Pablo Useros, Erika Balsom, Max Goldberg, Robert Sweeney, Katie Bradshaw, Jennifer Reeves, Thomas Beard, Ed Halter, Enrique and Natalia Piñuel, Patrick Friel, Berenice Reynaud, Steve Anker, Andrew Berardini, Mark Peranson, Nick Pinkerton, Nuno Rodrigues, Oier Etxeberria, Víctor Iriarte, Anna Manubens, Nicole Yip, Benjamin Cook, Charlotte Procter, Stephen Cairns, Regine Ehleiter, Alison ​​O'Daniel, Angela Mewes, Una Quigley, Oona Mosna, Dan Fox, Regina Barunke, Gregor Staiger, Erwin van 't Hart, Becca Keating, Tomonari Nishikawa, Jenni Sorkin, Beatriz Navas, Miguel Armas, Francisco Algarín Navarro, Fernando Perez, Rakel Esparza, Ángela Molina, David Dinnel, Bea Espejo, Maite Martinez de Arenaza, Tania Arriaga, Peio Agirre, Francesco Scavetta, Gry Kipperberg, Francesco Tenaglia, Enrico Camporesi, Giampaolo Bianconi, Dennis Lim, Phil Coldiron, Aily Nash, Emma Leigh MacDonald, Eva Sangoirgi, Chiara Marañón and Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili.

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