Naomi Pacifique is a filmmaker who stood out to DN when we first caught her short film after a room as part of the London Film School’s graduate showcase earlier in the year. Amongst a plethora of innovative and exciting student films, Pacifique’s short left an indelible mark as it was unlike anything else screening in the best way. Her short, which won the Pardino d’Argento Swiss Life at Locarno Film Festival and premieres with DN today, is a lucid and sensual film about the exploration of the body between two lovers in their apartment. Pacifique stars in the film and weaves footage of her younger self amongst the tactile encounters, creating a thought-provoking excavation of our ongoing relationship with ourselves and our bodies. You can watch after a room below and follow it up with our in-depth chat with Pacifique where she reveals her intentions for the film, its fluid evolution during post-production, and the decision to place herself and her body at its heart.
A heads up, there are some NSFW images in here.
after a room is an incredibly striking, sensual and raw film, where did it begin for you?
I work in filmmaking, music, poetry, and visual arts. Across my practices over the last five years, I have sought to challenge primarily the sexualisation and romanticisation of our intimate spaces, of our own bodies. after a room was my first finished film in the direction of this exploration. At the time of making after a room, I was angry at how sexualised and romanticised my intimate life had been encouraged to be while growing up. In my early twenties, I spent a period of time exploring myself in intimate encounters which felt close-to-devoid of sexual or romantic promise and quest, feeling like they had more to do with self-discovery, childlike play, and felt connection.
Since then, I have questioned why intimacy, while I was growing up, was so often limited to belonging to the spheres of either sexual pleasure or romantic attainment in the experiences that cinema, art, music and my day-to-day life exposed me to. Within those spheres, I came to find that another person was often made into a goal: into a targeted project with a relatively set identity. In contrast, I am more interested in the space one has to reinvent both oneself and eventually possibly, even the environment one is surrounded by. Under the light of another’s curiosity, I have the chance to grow, to change, and by shining that light on someone else, regardless of reciprocity, I have the opportunity to understand myself and my spaces with more complexity.
How did you look to alter this perspective on bodies within the context of the film?
Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “The body is not a thing, it is a situation: it is our grasp on the world and our sketch of our project.” Why have our bodies so often become sexual or romantic projects? With after a room, I wanted to explore rather the body’s possibilities as a vessel for personal excavation and child-like self-discovery, past its usual representations as a sexual or romantic entity. I wanted to explore skin as intimate map, body as personal playground, connection as space for momentary growth. I wanted also to experiment with capturing a specific lived intimacy, mine and Rafael Manuel’s, which I knew very well on screen: recording the specificity of its body language, and mannerisms via audio-visual means.
Because you were tackling something so intimate, did it feel like a natural choice to place yourself in the film?
I put myself in the film as a way of expressing art through the body: behaviour and bodily communication as means of expression within themselves. And I wanted to know also, in part, how coming so close to the film might affect the process and its end result. Many artists I admire, including Jaques Tati, Carolee Schneemann, Chantal Akerman and Charlie Chaplin draw an inextricable tie between their body and their film, their work. This is something I am interested in. In regards particularly to the female body, I was driven by something Carolee Schneemann asked, “Can a nude woman be both image and image maker?” As the image of the naked woman has been so exoticized and symbolised, what might it be to attempt a reinvention of this image through my own body? I am interested in exploring this with others’ bodies and have already done so for recent projects, but I find importance in continuously working with my own body also.
I wanted to explore rather the body’s possibilities as a vessel for personal excavation and child-like self-discovery.
It’s such a visual film, with an earthy colour palette and almost portrait-like compositions, what discussions did you have with your cinematographer in establishing those elements?
To answer this I thought I’d share some notes I made through the development of the film:
- This week I met up with Xenia and Shira, the cinematographer and production designer for after a room. We talked about the colour palette for the film. We want earthy colours, colours like the skin – so that the naked body in the film blends with the rest, to emphasize its non-shock, its non-taboo, its childlikeness.
- A few weeks ago I found a set of nude portraits of people, shoulders up, set against a background which matched their skin tone. They all looked so innocent. I want my body to be like that in the film, like the old lady’s in the top left corner especially. I want my body to be autonomous through its vulnerability – the way it is in bed or in a room with someone I know very well – I want to open that space up to the audience.
- With after a room I want to portray an intimacy where the body apprehends the other and the self through listening, through touching. I want the body to rid itself of expectations of romantic or sexual pleasure, to be less and less of a target for either. This sentiment will manifest itself in different ways across audiences; I won’t spell it out for them – they may see a return to the younger self, or the purity of a love which exists only in a split second rather than a projected future, or a comfort and complicity with one’s own body, after all.
How large was your crew? Was it important for you to have a smaller amount of people on set given the intimacy of what you were shooting?
The film was shot with a crew of ten core people: director/actor, AD, cinematographer, producer/actor, producer, AC, gaffer, production designer, sound, and a spark. We had four other actors drop in on various days, only one other for nude scenes. We shot the film in my grandpa’s house, which was also where we all slept, creating an overall intimate atmosphere. We shot at night, meaning we were sleeping a lot during the day. We shot over the course of six nights with one night’s rest in the middle.
I’ve already asked about the camerawork but what interested you about shooting on 16mm film?
We shot the film on 16mm film with Cooke S4 lenses. The reason for shooting on film for me being that images shot on film are particularly tender. The boundary between objects on film are less firm and more fluid.
A lot of the film is comprised of long takes, how did that affect the editing process? Was it primarily a case of working out which takes to use?
We shot 39 shots. I use 28 in the edit. While we were shooting, we were already editing. Me, Xenia, and Paisley made sure to take the time to think of how the scene would cut since we weren’t giving ourselves many coverage options. Together, the shots were pretty and made sense, but the film’s heartbeat wasn’t quite realised. In the images, my character wanders through situations, there is an issue with a lover, with a dad, and with the self, but the whole is not palpably cohesive.
At the time of editing, the Coronavirus lockdown was in full swing in the UK. Film festivals were online and I was watching Visions du Reel. Watching it, two films struck me for the way they used personal found footage in a personal essay style: Correspondence, by Carla Simon who is an LFS graduate, and Bella by Thelyia Petraki. I started making another film using my parents’ DV cam footage of me in my first years. I wanted to trace some of the things which shaped me. Ram suggested that I put some of that baby footage in after a room too. I hastily rejected the idea. It made me feel like I didn’t get what I needed out of the shoot. But it was a fecund idea and whilst I was doing yoga, my mind began to piece which fragments of family footage could go where in after a room.
How did that footage alter the narrative of after a room in your mind?
After playing at inserting different baby clips in the film, I liked the juxtaposition of the adult’s naked body against the baby’s. I liked the way the inner child seems to speak through the adult. I liked the purity of a baby’s emotions. When it is upset, it says it. In the film, the adult body slips in and out of docility, while the child tends to be immediate, reactive, and expressive. The contrast complicates and enriches the dilemmas in the film. How has this child been affected by its past relations? How is it now being affected by Ram? What is it hiding, keeping to itself?
The boundary between objects on film are less firm and are more fluid.
Over voice note, Paisley, the AD, told me that it was surprising to see that the two projects we were working on were actually one and I knew what she meant. It was the beauty too of being fecund with things that are close to the heart; it yields projects which are inextricably linked to one another and can at times become one. It made me feel like I didn’t fail in our shoots – this project wasn’t a set film, I had been exploring possibilities and facets of myself through it, and this was yet another discovery in the process.
What can you tell us about what you’re working on now and in the near future?
I am currently shooting and will be editing by the time the article is published, an observational short documentary to do with intimacy and how it is allowed to exist in our personal home spaces. The film is called have we made it across the plain of night. We are also in the process of closing finance for a short fiction film I have been working on for nearly two years, which dives into the spectrum of emotions which non-monogamy may be able to encourage. We hope to shoot in Q2 of 2023. This fiction short is called looking she said I forget and was part of the Berlinale Short Form Station this year.
These two shorts alongside after a room are serving as testing and research ground for my first feature film, after the night, the night, which will continue exploring the themes and characters I started to in the three shorts. All four films, the three shorts and feature, are set in Amsterdam, where I currently live. I am starting development for the feature at the moment; it was part of the Locarno Film Festival Residency this summer and we are applying for development funding and residencies at the moment so that I can have proper time to turn the extended treatment into a script.
In filmmaking, I’m also currently working as a producer, producing films by Juan Palacios, Rafael Manuel and Albert Kuhn, and working as co-producer on films by Leonardo Martinelli and Teddy Williams. I have other projects in development or being released soon in the roles of director, co-director and lead cast that I’ve worked on with Playlab Films, Dani Huda and Marieke Elzerman. Not film related but also important in my life at the moment: I’m releasing my first music singles in a long time, in preparation for an album launch in the first half of 2023.