A story told and reinterpreted with a different flair, Radar Productions presents Michelle Tea's '90s, lesbian literary memoir Valenica. Her story hops off the pages and takes on a life on the silver screen to soon make its Chicago debut at the Reeling LGBT Film Festival.
Possessing an anthology structure, the movie thrives on artistic license as 20 different established and emerging LGBT filmmakers hailing from all over the country tell a chapter of the story using different casts and creative style. Each chapter stars a different "Michelle," which emits a different feel and element, coming in varying shapes, races, styles, and gender further enhancing the universal experience the film aims to depict.
Starting like a zine, animated photographs of Tea's hands arrange illustrator Amanda Verwey's drawings of the directors' names and each actor playing "Michelle" to provide an introduction. Each director and cast assists in presenting the project that renders Tea's tumultuous love life, telling the story of a generation of lesbians. Portraying things such as falling in love and bonding with an exes' exes, the film captures the experiences of being young, heartbroken and ecstatic while discovering oneself in her 20s.
"It's like a cinematic zine and to me that's really exciting," said Valencia Producer Hilary Goldberg. "I hope that it's a film format that takes off. 'Valencia' is a reinterpretation of Michelle Tea's memoir, which is fun because it has a contemporary edge and is constantly shifting, which I think speaks to our community. It's an evolving multi-voiced project."
Valencia author Tea generated the film idea among her filmmaker friends at San Francisco's Frameline Queer Film Festival. Rather than waiting for a production company to option her memoir, Tea assembled the group of talented film artists.
The film's directors include Hilary Goldberg, Silas Howard, Cheryl Dunye, Aubree Bernier-Clarke, Lares Feliciano, Dia Felix, Alexa Inkeles, Jerry Lee and Peter Anthony, among others. Tea, Tanya Wischerath, Heather Acs, Shawna Elizabeth, Annie Danger, Morgan Bassichis, Stephany Joy Ashley and Lil Miss Hot Mess, among others, make up the principal cast.
"Gender non-conforming, non-conformist structurethe film explores boundaries," said Goldberg of the movie's composition. "Collaboration is so important. These are the artists and filmmakers who are making important films and have something to say and are the community. They're all magical people and it was an honor to work with everyone."
Goldberg, who resides in San Francisco, first picked up a video camera at 12. Growing up around art and film equipment, Goldberg said she is drawn to the medium of storytelling and that the unlikely, outsider protagonist and imagination continue to be an inspiration. Goldberg specifically credited the "wacky and imaginative" works like Tim Burton films, specifically Beetlejuice, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and classic Disney animation as having an initial impact on their art.
"Maybe it was a form of escape and expression as a queer kid," said Goldberg. "I started with Play Doh-mation and then I was just sort of filming weird, experimental things and I was kind of open."
Animation, Goldberg said, was always a through line, but their work was mainly making narratives. With each year everything got more and more experimental. Currently, Goldberg's work aesthetically includes experimental filmmaking and animation and has started to make visual art pieces that combine clay and sculptural elements. Goldberg's most recent project, The Deer Inbetween, is a stop-motion online series that employs the style used within the Valencia chapter. Tea even gives voice to a deer.
Goldberg's artistic style as a director and animator can be seen in the opening sequence of "Valencia" as well as chapter five. In the chapter, 25-year-old "Michelle" takes magic mushrooms and walks around with a tape recorder. Goldberg infused their signature style, transitioning from live action to claymation buffalos.
"I could totally identify with taking hallucinogenics and walking around with a tape recorder and your friends and having these very intense conversations about the world and trying to understand it," said Goldberg. "So that was a grand opportunity."
Goldberg was predominantly attracted to the piece as a fan of Tea's novel and the challenge "Valencia" provided in terms of creativity and managing all the various contributions that shape the film.
"It's a queer epic," said Goldberg. "I was attracted to a project that was challenging to the point of intimidating. I saw it as an important cultural document and it became extremely dear to me. So, even if the film didn't have an end goal of making everyone a bunch of money or being a big mainstream crossover film, even if it's a super queer piece that is a festival favorite that may not make any money, for me the important thing was the artistic community aspect, the filmmakers involved, that it was collaborative, and a culturally significant project."
The film originally debuted in June 2013 at the Frameline Film Festival at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, Calif., the same venue where Tea and Goldberg met earlier in the summer of 2005.
The Reeling LGBT Film Festival marks the film's Chicago debut. Northwestern University's English and Gender Studies departments are co-sponsoring the screening. This will also be Goldberg's first time showing work in Chicago. Having traveled with this project and previous projects, Goldberg enjoys watching the film with different audiences, as they perceive things differently.
"That's really the most fun, traveling with this project and seeing how it's received in the different theaters and how people respond to all the different filmmakers' work," said Goldberg. "I look forward to engaging with the audience there. It's always fun to stumble upon different communities and different cities and see what's the vibe and see what's happening for people in their respective communities. I'm excited to check it out and see what the festival is like."
For more information about Valencia, visit www.valenciamovie.com . To learn more about Goldberg and The Deer Inbetween, visit www.hilarygoldberg.com and www.thedeerinbetween.com .
Information about Reeling Film Festival can be found at: reelingfilmfestival.org . Valencia will screen Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the Logan Theatre.