Women fight invisible foe in Amie Siegel's 'Black Moon'
When the Cannes Film Festival announced its competition lineup this year, a patch of controversy erupted because no women directors were included. As if that weren't remarkable enough, it turns out the same thing happened in 2010.
Amie Siegel saw the controversy firsthand in 2010, as her director of photography circulated a petition to the Cannes organizers. When, in a supposed coincidence, Siegel's short art video "Black Moon" was invited to Cannes the next year, she insisted on bringing the women behind her film with her everywhere. AMOA-Arthouse is now featuring the film in its video gallery at the Jones Center.
"Black Moon" takes place in an abandoned (or unfinished) suburb, with boarded windows and half-filled swimming pools soiled with leaves. The homes sit below mountains, in a desert landscape that seems quarantined from the wider world. No shops or people in sight.
Into this landscape arrives a group of female commandos in Army greens. They are defending themselves from an enemy that we never see. There is no dialogue, just a striking series of landscapes and wordless action.
"I'm interested in fakes," Siegel said before her talk at the Jones Center. She loves going to see theater — specifically, multiple viewings of the same show — so she can compare the variations in each version.
For her talk, Siegel shows clips of her previous work, "Berlin Remake," which re-created shots from old German movies, and then shows the old and new films side by side, exploring the differences and how these fictional films "become documents of a city."
So it's unsurprising that "Black Moon" is layered with fakes and differences. It's loosely based on a film of the same name by French director Louis Malle (which features a literal war between men and women), and the footage of abandoned suburban homes was filmed in the counties in the U.S. that have the highest foreclosure rates, from California's Inland Empire to Florida.
Some of the footage "was shot in the middle of Palm Springs," Siegel said.
It was strange to shoot a dystopian film in these "neighborhoods." Siegel figures they had permission to film in "about half" of the suburbs. For the rest, the drama between lenders, banks and governments meant it wasn't clear that there was actually anyone to ask.
The buildings were as she found them. "Everything looked like a battle had just taken place." Even more strange, Siegel said, a few people lived there, "in this kind of ghost town."
The score is loud, droning and ominous. At the end of "Black Moon" — spoiler alert — one of the soldiers discovers a magazine in the dirt. But she's shocked to discover that it's filled with pictures of her and the other women, posing in their Army fatigues as if it's a Benetton ad.
It's a reference to "military chic," Siegel said, putting women in clothes typically worn by men, making them sexy and, in "sort of a strange loop," selling that look back to men.
And there's another layer. In the same room, two screens are tilted toward each other, playing an interview. Siegel has inserted herself into a very suave conversation with French director Malle. The original interview was in French, the only extra feature on the DVD. It reeks of the '70s, but then Siegel appears, in Malle's place, reading from the transcript in very dry English. "It's not parody," she said. "It's more mimicry."
It's probably not the easiest way to ensure there are more women directors, but it certainly gets the point across.
Siegel calls her film "present-day science fiction" and the foreclosed suburbs "ruins of the present." It's a reminder that "Black Moon" isn't exactly a dystopia because, metaphorically at least, it's the world we live in now.