Alix Umen: Gallery Curator and Experimental Filmmaker
Alix Umen is a gallery curator and experimental filmmaker who recently finished a wonderful project entitled I'm In Training - Don't Kiss Me. It is taken from the surrealist artwork by Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. The exhibition, which Ms. Umen also put together, can be seen at:
Pool New York
Viewing can be scheduled by appointment from May 10 - 28, 2004.
FM: You are the curator of a rare exhibition in New York right now. What is the exhibition and what attracted you to it?
Alix: The exhibition is comprised of photo collages that were from Claude Cahun's autobiography. The photo collages were collages that were put together that she and her partner had taken over the course of ten years or more. Basically I had seen a photograph of her in the mid-90's and it looked very contemporary for the time.
FM: How did you come about obtaining the artwork?
Alix: I actually purchased the book. The book is very rare and I happened to find a copy of it a few years ago. I've been working with the museum that holds the majority of a collection of her private papers and photographs.
FM: Will this exhibit be available in other cities a part of this collection?
Alix: I'm actually kind of working on it possibly traveling right now. It's really to generate interest in Cahun and her story and the film project I've been working on.
FM: Before going into this, I wasn't very familiar with Claude Cahun, but she receives a lot of attention for her artwork and she has a more prominent role in the surrealist movement, more than her partner Marcel Moore. What was the role that Marcel Moore has with the photo collages?
Alix: Marcel Moore was a graphic designer. There's a lot of research that has been done on Cahun and not as much done on Moore and she was also just as involved in the surrealist movement. She designed the photo collages and there's an illustration on the photo collages that she executed, but she was really an illustrator. Politically she was equally involved in the surrealist movement.
FM: So was it that Cahun was more visible or controversial?
Alix: I think that Cahun was lost in history and when she was rediscovered, she was rediscovered as this more singular entity and in the book Moore is credited with putting the photo collages together and collaborating. I did want to bring that to the surface. They had a forty plus year relationship and they were creative collaborators, political collaborators and partner for most of their lives.
FM: They had an interesting history. Can you tell me how they came to meet each other?
Alix: Well from everything I researched and found out, basically what happened is Claude's parents divorced when she was very young, basically Claude's father and Marcel's mother ended up marrying each other when they (Claude & Marcel) were teenagers, but they grew up in a small French city and they were familiar with each other from school.
FM: This interest in Claude Cahun has led you to document her life in a feature narrative bio-pic, what was the process like for you in recreating her life and experiences.
Alix: I think one of the things that was interesting was that I started off working on a more documentary experimental format and I've sort of been on and off for the past 10 years researching for the film and I think what was really interesting was their creative collaboration and how they shifted from the political and creative venue of Paris to the self-exile of the Island of Jersey off the French coast and had to really deal with the Nazis there.
FM: Did you have any trouble finding funding for this project?
Alix: That's what I'm looking for actually and that's one of the reasons why the project has turned into a large-scale film. So one of the reasons I mounted the exhibition is to create interest. I'm in the process of looking for financing right now.
FM: So you're still in preproduction?
FM: What's the meaning of the movie's title I'm In Training Don't Kiss Me?
Alix: There's a photo where Claude is dressed in a musician uniform and Marcel had written in pen or something I'm In Training Don't Kiss Me on the front of the leotard. So it comes directly from one of her photographs.
FM: You've made several short experimental videos in the past that has garnered you, would you say, a reputation of an experimental artist?
Alix: Yes, definitely.
FM: This is really something different for you, doing a narrative feature, so why go this route?
Alix: Because I think the material warrants it. I am working on a shorter version of the feature length film with the material that I have but the material warrants it, it's really rich. It's a really amazing story.
FM: So what is next for you now?
Alix: Well I've been speaking with talent and looking into financing so I'm really trying to work out a co-production deal with a producer in Europe and getting people in the States behind it. I'm at the stage where I'm putting the project together and acting as producer right now.
FM: Do you find it that American investors are more unsure about this project as compared to European investors?
Alix: No, not necessarily, a lot of people are very interested in it,. It's just a matter of putting together the right group of people. These women were sort of lost in history because they were women in general. This industry is dominated by men. This is the first year a woman had received an academy award (American nominee) for directing, which is pretty crazy. Not to make it a male/female issue, but it's hard for women to get films made.
FM: That seems that that would be one of the main themes of the film, kind of like the whole issue of gender, the role of the female artist in a common society that she is trying to break through.
Alix: Yes. The story is a very amazing story and it's just going to take someone who attaches themselves in that way that Selma Hayek attached herself to the Frida story. I know Madonna has collected photos. I haven't spoken to her, she hasn't seen a script but someone of that calibur who has the financial ability and is able to support a large scale project, is someone of interest but it's going to take someone with a large amount of money to attach themselves to it.
FM: Do you see Madonna in the role of Claude?
Alix: No, I would never say that, but someone who has an interest in film and movies and also has financing or the capability to draw financing.
FM: Is there anything else you might want to tell our readers?
Alix: It's a really amazing story. I do hope from the gallery show there will be additional interest in the film project. Like I said, it's a really amazing story of two incredible heroes.
FM: Thank you very much.
Cahun And Moore: The Complete Picture
Viewing can be scheduled by appointment from May 10 - 28, 2004.
Some of Alix Umen's work is also available through Video Data Bank.
Alexander Rojas is a screenwriter and filmmaker in Chicago.