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La piedra en el camino: An Interview with Gabriela Nafissi

Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

I am from Mendoza, Argentina. I am Licenciada in Psychology. I completed the Specialization in Production of Critical Texts and Media Dissemination of the Arts (UNA) and have participated for many years in a literature workshop taught by Laura Galarza. Currently, I am doing a Diploma in Creative Writing at the university Tres de Febrero. I completed The New York Film Academy´s 1 Week Filmmaking at New York Film Academy. I am member of ACEP (Cuyana Association of Psychoanalytic Studies) and an associate of EOL (Escuela de la Orientación Lacaniana, Mendoza Delegation).

I would sooner identify myself as person with a passion for creation than as a filmmaker. I have worked as Director of Art & Culture at Monteviejo Winery (since 2015), where the projects and films are co-produced, and most of the films take place. Most of the short films I have directed and written have stemmed from “Reincarnations: Artistic Experimentation”. I develop and manage cultural projects based on these artistic experimentation devices that articulate various art fields and languages, whereby I explore and develop my interest in the areas of convergence of the arts and psychoanalysis with artists and psychoanalysts that I invite to work with. The resulting creations are either documentaries or experimental films.

Co-directed with Ramiro Navarro, the first experimental short film, Rewritings (2013), won the Best Experimental award in the amateur category at Vision Ribereña Festival, Then, Signs of an Artist was rewarded the Gold Prize as the Best Experimental Short Film at the International Film Festival for Women, Social Issues and Zero Discrimination in Indonesia, Jakarta in 2016. After that, I was the director and screenwriter for the film “Elephant Escabeaux”, winner of the Best Experimental Movie award at International Cinema in Venezia, in 2017, as well as Best Female Direction and Best Animation Feature Film at the Arte Non-Stop Film Festival, also in 2017. La Piedra en el camino (2020), my latest documentary short film, has received the following awards: Best Female Directors at Tokyo International Short Film Festival (October 2022); Best Short Documentary at Art Stream, (Amsterdam, August 2022); Roma Short Film Festival, Honorable Mention Short Documentary (August, 2022); London International Monthly Festival, Best Documentary; Black Swan International Film Festival, Best documentary (January 2022, India); Film Fest International Film, category: Best Short Documentary (November 2021); Niagara Falls International Short Festival, Best Short Documentary (New York, November 2021); Vancouver Independent Film festival, Best International Documentary (September 2021 in British Columbia), and Hollywood Golden Age Festival in the category Best International Short Documentary (New York. November 2021).

Talk about your last work. What are some of the challenges you faced during production?

My last work is the short film La piedra en el camino (The Stone on the Path), a documentary involving the convergence of two propositions. One of them was the coming together of a group of artists, including Fernando Rosas, Juan del Balso, Daniel Ciancio, Julio Melto, Flavia Robalo and Verónica Fonzo, who convened for a nine-day gathering at Bodega Monteviejo. Given the question “What is a woman? “ as a springboard for artistic creation, they reflected on the feminine and, using marble as a support, worked for nine days to produce individual works of art in an attempt to express the ineffable. What is the stone that was already there, that is experienced as an obstacle despite having no meaning, that manifests itself in that repetition on the path of words and desire? A stone and a path are presented in a double allegory. One of them is the path that an analysand travels until the end of their analysis, where the analyst acts as the stone. The other one is the work performed by the sculptor in the act of sculpting, who, as Leonardo Da Vinci said, operates by via di levare, that is, by reducing the stone, ridding it of everything that covered the forms that were already contained in it. Isn't the stone a way in which the feminine is presented, or in other words, the ineffable? Without a path the stone does not appear, without a stone the traveler would not know what path it is. Thus, six walker-sculptors made their way, each one with their stone, to the discovery of a precious and unique object.

The most important challenge we faced during the making of the film was related to the fact that all the shooting had to be done in nine days, which gave us no room for mistakes. Yet, in the post-production, we realized that a recording with the voices of the women sculptors enumerating the different kinds of stone had gone missing. This recording was important; I had actually asked Victor Silione, the musician in charge of music for the short film, to include their voices in the sounstrack, which would make a significant difference. We also found there were problems with the drone shots. As a result, the project was stopped and remained dormant between 2017 and 2020. In 2020, I got back to it. Somehow, that hiatus allowed me to see things from a different perspective. We found the recording with the women’s voices, and worked out the difficulties with the footage we had.

Another challenge was posed by the fact that the sculptors had to work for nine days in the scorching heat of the summer afternoons. They also needed masks for protection against the dust released in the sculpting process, which added to their discomfort. Dealing with these problems required a lot of planning and preparation, and everything came out as planned.

We had the support of a team that helped us resolve situations related to the filming and did their best to work things out in spite of the time constraints and other limitations. Ariel Larriba, the photography director, was instrumental in bringing about the necessary solutions. Andrea Cazorla and the Monteviejo winery team, who were not formally involved in the film project, lent a hand and helped us to transport the stones and artworks in process to the sets for the various shots, a task that required the utmost care as well as heavy machinery.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

I love writing in different ways, exploring different artistic languages and styles, and the Reincarnations project has provided the framework for experimentation and documentaries. Recently, however, I had a good experience writing a fiction script that won the best non-produced category award at the Madrid International Film Festival (2022). That came as a surprise and posed a challenge as well, because I had taken the idea from a story I had originally written for publishing as a book, and I later realized that it could make a short film instead. There is not necessarily one way to tell ideas, concepts, and stories, and I like to bring them together and explore the meeting points among them in my experimental in my work. On the one hand, I feel deeply inclined to embark on projects where there is not a carefully planned-out or scripted path but a truth that unfolds as we go, a mystery we gradually sculpt out.

I feel drawn to delve into the resonances between the arts and psychoanalysis, and I do so in documentaries and experimental films. My first project was “Reincarnations. Audiovisual Short Stories” (2012), and the first artistic experimentation projects I embarked upon were: Signs of an Artist (2014-2015), Extimacies of Daily Life (2015-2016), Four Elephants on their Stepladders (2015-2018), Center and Absence (2016-2019), including “Dark, Dark Continent”, “Women, One by One”, and “The Stone on the Path”. Tarabust. Voiceless and Sonorous (2017-2018). Curating. Creations and Inventions (2018-2019). V27dr A Poetic Mathema for the Artistic Cause (2019-2022), Paths and Drifts (2022).

Each of these artistic experimentation projects can be transformed into a film. It is the way I respond to both the question that served a springboard for artistic creation and the developments that come up along the process. My role in the project starts with the device included in it, but also considers what emerges along the process, including the artists’ elaborations of the device and the works of art they produce. In this respect, the film is my final reading of what comes out of the interactions and productions of the artists. As a result, I have to wait for the time when I can define whether the film will be experimental, documentary or hybrid. By filming the process close to the experience, I come closer to their own answers, feelings and thoughts involved. Then, the final genre will depend on the many kinds of the encounters that occur spontaneously.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

It is starts with an idea I wait for. Sometimes, I am inspired by readings about different topics, or by neologisms, aphorisms or provocative phrases from psychoanalysis, literature, or other artistic disciplines. Sometimes, the inspiration comes from a dream I have had, like in the case of La piedra en el camino, which was inspired by a dream I had after reading The Bone of an Analysis by Jacques-Alain Miller. I used the dream to explore with others the questions about what a woman is. It could also be phrases or questions that come up during the analysis experience: questions that divide me, that are not easy to answer, or that strike a deep chord. It is never something that I have to do; it is always something that stirs the desire to know, or the effects of a question or experience I have had.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

Among many filmmakers that have influenced me, the most important are Darren Aronofsky, Wes Anderson, Lucrecia Martel, Narcisa Hirsh, Hayao Miyazaki, Xavier Dolan, Cohens brothers, Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Some of the films that have influenced me are Pi, Faith in Chaos, The Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream (Aronofsky), Three Colors (the trilogy by Krzysztof Kieslowski), The Four Hundred Coups (Francois Truffaut), Grand Budapest Hotel ( Wes Anderson), The Holy Girl, The Headless Woman, The Dependencies (Martel), The Imaginary Loves (Dolan), Fargo, Ballad buster Scruggs (Cohen), Amores perros, Birdman, 21 gramos, Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu).The Altarpiece (Alvaro Delgado Aparicio), The Tongue of Butterflies (José Luis Cuerda), Drive my Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi), Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino ), Baraka (Ron Fricke), I lost my body (Jérémy Caplin), and Great Freedom (Grosse Freiheit).

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

The pandemic was surely a challenging time for independent filmmaking. Today, many festivals take place online. I have witnessed a rebirth of filmmaking activity after much of it came to a standstill during the pandemic, but even during the pandemic many independent filmmakers used virtual technologies to continue producing, and the pandemics theme was presented profusely in independent creations.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

I would tell aspiring artists they must work with things that really matter to them, not for commercial purposes, but driven by the artistic vision of giving to others something singular and unique, their personal outlook, transformed into a piece of artwork. It is one’s inner vision that makes it possible to create something that touches the others.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

I don’t think that they could change something as big as the world, but they could change a person, something you see or read. It could be a film, a book, visual art, music. Arts could change your vision of the world. In my case, the encounter with films, visual arts, and books has had a profound and lasting effect on my life.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

I ‘m not sure what people like to watch, and I prefer not to make generalizations, but I have observed that people are more open-minded and open-hearted to value artistic experience.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

I am currently working on my next two documentaries. One of them is a new offshoot of the project A Poetic Mathema for the Artistic Cause. The other one is about the changes that artist Andrés Paredes experiences while conceiving his own artworks for the Plus+Art interdisciplinary artistic festival at Bodega Monteviejo during the pandemic in 2020. The film follows him along the creative process as a gestural change results in a change in his work.

After that, I hope I can start producing Pampero, my first fiction script. Pampero is the story of Emilio and his daughters, Leonora, and Francisca, who undertake a trip from Mendoza to Rosario to buy a boat after Mother Amelia, shaken by the news of her dying father, decides to travel to accompany him in his last days. With the mother absent, the father’s plans to buy the boat plunge the family into multiple hardships to achieve the goal. Narrated from the perspective of the older daughter, eleven-year-old Leonora, the story nears its ending when they arrive at their destination and Emilio decides to test his recent acquisition on the Paraná River.


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