The last time I saw Zia Anger, she was ensconced in a bedraggled fluorescent wig and covered in vivid streaks of blood. She stood in a repurposed factory that houses Basilica Soundscape in Hudson, NY—an event collaboration between Basilica Hudson, Pitchfork’s Brandon Stosuy, and Brian DeRan of Leg Up Management—and crooned in a sort of placid, atonal way to Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness”. It was just one of the many transcendentally absurd aspects of a performance by Norwegian musician Jenny Hval, who Anger regularly joins on tour.
A few weeks later, Anger presented her latest short, My Last Film, at the New York Film Festival—epicenter of prestige filmmaking at Lincoln Center. And immediately afterwards, she embarked on tour with another friend, the celebrated songwriter Angel Olsen; showed her film alongside archival Butthole Surfers footage in a warehouse in Long Island City; and ended up in LA to screen another short, I Remember Nothing, at the ultra-eminent AFI Fest.
It’s this strange dichotomy—the jarring, constant transition between roving, oblique ensembles and sterling filmic acclaim—that Anger confronts with a smirk in My Last Film. A visually lush, searing indictment of independent film culture’s capitalist capitulations, My Last Film is an ornately wrapped, weaponized package. And though her criticism of the film hustle sounds familiar to independent musicians, she finds solidarity among touring performers.
Via Skype from the road with Olsen, days after My Last Film’s New York debut, Anger explains how the film was born out of her frustrations as a female filmmaker. “It came from this period where I kept running into a wall of, here’s another thing that I’m going to make that no one is going to see,” she says. “I was a nanny for three years and was starting to feel like the only thing I was good at was this super utilitarian work that was inherently feminine. So it was me creating something that was a response to being a woman within the patriarchy.”
It’s a feeling of frustration shared by the characters in the film. In the first section, shot in constrained, hand held 16mm, actress Kelly Rohrbach complains about the devastating oppressiveness of being a struggling actress. Then, she’s struck down by a van driven by a blank-faced Mac DeMarco, appearing metonymically as a sort of hipster capitalist grim reaper. “The character was originally written as a hedge fund type: a dude in a suit, which Mac obviously is not. But it was my boyfriend’s idea to use Mac, and it made total sense,” she says. “He is, in a way, a sort of cultural god to Brooklyn, so of course he would hit her with a van.”
In the second half of the film, decadent widescreen compositions capture a perfectly cast Roseanna Arquette, who plays a fed up actress and director espousing on behalf of all beleaguered females in the film industry. Next, a robot films her suicide and uploads it to the film festival submission application Withoutabox. For all its tongue-in-cheek brashness, the film is unnervingly real in portraying a system that “from beginning to end, is socially set up to be easy for men, and specifically white men, to navigate.” The commodification process that all filmmakers are forced to endure is “torturous, and bizarrely inhuman,” Anger says. “The whole Withoutabox thing…is this obvious capitalist taint. It starts with a yellow ‘your film has been processed.’ The majority of the time the yellow circle turns red, but we have to use it, obviously—and we have to pay.”
Anger masterfully suffuses images with emotion, communicating the otherwise inexpressible through the grammar of visual styling and sound. She uses the short format as way to examine “myopic ideas and the ideologies of filmmaking.” I Remember Nothing stars a revolving door of Anger’s collaborators, including Mistress America star Lola Kirke as the same character over a prolonged epileptic fit, each actress playing the main character at a different one of the five stages of a seizure. It features a haunting, flawlessly matched score by Julianna Barwick and a surreal musical performance by Hval, swirling and submerged in Barwick’s ethereal vocals, as the film fluidly descends into ominous haze.
Two years ago, she wrote to Hval, sparking a friendship and collaboration that resulted in three haunting videos for the artist. And her music videos for Barwick and Olsen are no less memorable. Independent music may have similarly inherent flaws as the film world—a lack of inclusiveness, unavailable funding for creators—but Anger continues to gravitate towards these circles, the music video format being the perfect place for her effusive experimentation with the formal logic and physics of filmmaking.
Independent music is afflicted with much of the same capitalist cynicism that Anger condemns in the film world, but she identifies with songwriters. “They’re such natural performers, but not in the overt way in which a lot of actors are performers,” she says. “[Maybe] my lifestyle is just more similar to that of a musician.”