Farrah Kazemi Interviews Morrissa Maltz at the 2018 Slamdance Festival
Ingrid, directed by Morrisa Maltz, takes us into the world of Ingrid Gipson, a woman living as a remarkably independent recluse in Eastern Oklahoma. The documentary slowly introduces us to Ingrid and peels away layer by layer, exposing fascinating details of Ingrid’s past life including her success as a fashion designer and her current work as an artist who has built an entire world for herself secluded from the noise and bustle of modern life.
Maltz holds a B.A. in Fine Arts from Columbia University, where she began her exploration of film and video. Her affinity for the surreal and keen eye for color, texture, and design stand out in her short film Odyssea, which premiered at Slamdance in 2014. Maltz demonstrates her ability to bring those same elements of experimentation to the medium of documentary with Ingrid. The film gently unravels Gipson’s life in exquisite detail through stunning cinematography and carefully composed shots which showcase the elements of artistic and rural work that make up Gipson’s world.
The documentary premiered this year at Slamdance’s 2018 festival in Park City. I had the chance to chat a bit with Morrisa after the debut of her film.
How did you meet Ingrid and what inspired you to make her the subject of your documentary?
I started making things after my father passed away in high school and haven’t stopped since. As an adult as I started making money, I mean, not a lot just enough to survive (laughing). But I started to lose that whatever that was that you start off with—that feeling of needing to make things. I was yearning to find that again, whatever that was that I had started with.
So I started looking in the corners of the internet and going through newspaper articles and trying to look for people that made things for no money or fame or anything like that, just to pick their brains and figure out why they liked making things. I thought maybe that was a good way to exercise what I was going through. So I started visiting people for two years in between other work and projects.
While I was in Dallas with another subject, the girl I was staying with at my Airbnb told me about Ingrid Gipson. She was like, “Oh my god my colleague knows this woman who used to live in Dallas in the woods!” So I drove out and met Ingrid and there was this immediate connection. Ingrid was the first woman who had done this and instantly she just had this full story to her. Most of the people I had come across before her were men. So, I started driving out and seeing her for a few months to try to become friendly.
Did you have a code of ethics going into the documentary? While watching the doc, I was left wondering if certain details of Ingrid’s life were intentionally left out either for ethical reasons or artistic ones.
So the shape of the film reflects the shape of my friendship with Ingrid. She was very closed off at first and so the film starts, mostly, with beautiful imagery of her. The camera’s always a bit further away. By the end of the film, almost two years have gone by, and she’s more intimate.
But as far as leaving out certain things, well when you drop-out-of-life (so to speak) and stop talking to people for 30 years, there’s a gap of information left out in one’s narrative. Basically, I met with her son to see if there were other angles or missing information. But her son was like, “no, no one has talked to her. She’s been gone for 35 years, whatever she gives to you, that’s it.” And he sort of filled me in on certain things. But yeah, that’s the price you pay for what she’s doing. The lens of the film had to be primarily through her.
What was your process like throughout the duration of filming the documentary? How did you build rapport with Ingrid and establish your presence in the film?
We had Dallas as a base and I stayed in Dallas for a year and a half and would intermittently drive out there. At first, we planned a 4 day trip with a small team and slowly but surely, we started limiting it down to just me and the DP. We were just editing the whole way through so that we kind of knew what we needed.
I would call her and be like, “Can we just come out and film?” The whole time she was just very confused. She would be like, “I don’t understand what you need from me; what do you want me to do?”
I went out there and spent a week at the very, very end with her. We were waiting for the goat birth, which actually ended up occurring in perfect time. We weren’t sure when the baby was going to be born but it worked out really well that it took a week because that gave us a week to sort of be there and just talk and film.
All of the unraveling of her as a person, it really is, in general, how you get to know another human. It’s sort of just like if you meet somebody, they’re not just instantly going to come out and say, “Did you know that my parents did this?” So really, the film does show what our relationship slowly became. I couldn’t have just gone and stayed in her house the first week. But a year and a half later, she was a little more like, “it’s fine, you can come stay for a week.”
One of the biggest struggles when it comes to independent filmmaking is funding. How did you go about getting the funds you needed to complete your film?
So, I originally went out by myself to visit Ingrid a few times. I put together a short, six minute video of my ideas. There was a doctor in Texas who knew Ingrid, though not me at all. I approached him as said, “I think that this woman is amazing! Do you want to pay for this film?” (Laughing)
When asking for funds, I started very small because I knew he didn’t know anything about film. He didn’t know anything about who I was, and I just randomly showed up. So I started small and asked for $9000 for a short film, and then would ask for $5000 more. So it’s still very, very low budget—it’s probably $15,000-$20,000 with everything. I was careful to ask for small bits as we went along.
I do feel very fortunate; I’ve worked with people in the past that respect my work, and I respect theirs. It really is about the people who also came on and were willing to give their time because that’s really what makes a film what it is—the people that come together and the editors and the Director of Photographer. With Ingrid, these were all incredibly talented people that I was really excited to have on board.
The cinematography in the film is absolutely stunning.
He’s great. Yeah, Andrew normally shoots commercials in Dallas. He’s a big commercial DP. He had actually never shot film before, but it was kind of perfect. He knows to show up and make something pretty, even if it’s a bag of Doritos or whatever. So he knew how to do that really well.
In your other films, you have gone beyond the cinematography—you have made the costume pieces or had a hand in the production design. There often isn’t much room for that in documentary. Is that something you missed being able to do?
I didn’t miss it. I like the challenge of trying new things, so I was excited to work in a different form. I didn’t necessarily miss the aspect you mention, but I’m sure I’ll go back and forth between different things. I don’t think I’ll only make documentaries forever, but documentary as a form can be very experimental. Elements of it like piecing together the story, creating the story as we went along, and getting a bunch of beautiful visuals without having a distinct purpose for them in mind. It’s a good way to make a first feature.
Do you have anything lined up next?
Yeah! It’s a combination of stuff that came from Ingrid and Odyssea. It’s a story about a young, indigenous girl who finds a photograph of her grandmother and she goes on this epic road trip through America to find a photo and connects with her heritage along the way. Everyone in it except for the main actress are actual people. Real people: real waitresses, real gas station attendants, real people in America. We just started shooting in South Dakota; so it’s like half doc, half narrative combined.
That’s awesome, sounds like a rad project. (teaser link: https://vimeo.com/238212382)
(Laughing) Yeah, it’s going to be another very long process without very much money.
I feel you! I know as an independent filmmaker you often have to wear a million different hats, and it’s not like you can go into making a film and focus on one job in particular. Sometimes you’re directing, producing, maybe editing, maybe even PA-ing, all at the same time.
Yeah, I mean I think that’s what’s great about indie filmmaking is being able to really make it what you want it to be and even wearing all those hats, even though it can very stressful, and you wonder why in the world you would ever do it again? Still, it is very rewarding, and it feels good to have this thing that you can show that you really made in so many different ways.
A question that I think about a lot—if I had all of the money in the world what would really change? Like maybe I could just pay the people that I work with a little more? A lot more? But keeping it small like that is a really nice feeling.
It allows intimacy between you and your team. Do you feel as though you want to work with the same people again and again?
Absolutely, yeah Vanara Taing, the editor-edited Odyssea, edited my short. Andrew Hajek and I have already worked on a few things together since Ingrid. I think a lot of what’s important about indie filmmaking too is finding the team of people that you love and sort of understand you and can fill in the holes of what you’re lacking and know how to balance each other out. I think that creating that team and working with them continuously is actually super valuable.
That’s kind of magical in and of itself. Finding your family, your crew that you want to work with constantly.
Absolutely, it’s creating your own creative family—it’s so true. We actually just started this next project together so we’re all rushing, doing the Ingrid trailer while we we’re making the teaser for this next thing. It’s been a mesh pot, but it’s super fun. And, I’m so thankful to be able to do the things that I love with people that I love.
What advice do you have for filmmakers who are trying to make their way into the film festival circuit or make that first leap into filmmaking?
I mean, I’ve found that 100% the most important thing is to just figure out how to do it. Just start it, even if it’s just you and your camera or just you and your iPhone. Whatever your tools are—just get that thing going. People around you will start to see that. You have to be excited about what you’re doing in order for other people to then latch onto that.
I think that’s the hardest part about the arts and filmmaking in general; people can so easily feel intimidated that they won’t be able to do it because of funding or this or that. But there is no perfect moment. You need to just figure it out—just do it, and I do believe that it will turn into something if you follow your gut instinct. I feel like that’s something that my friends and I talk about all the time, just starting it. As far as festivals, I think that’s just tough. As long as you stay true to who you are and make things you are proud of, you’ll be fine.
Check out the teaser to Morrisa’s next project: https://vimeo.com/238212382