Sundance Film Festival 2021
Interview

Alisi Telengut
Writer/Director 
The Fourfold

alisitelengut.com

An exploration of the Indigenous worldview and wisdom based on ancient shamanistic traditions and animistic beliefs in Siberia and Mongolia. With handcrafted animation, a testament of reclaiming animism for environmental ethics and nonhuman materialities.


Hi Alisi thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

Thank you for this opportunity and interest in my work! It’s definitely a strange year with the pandemic. Many people thought that because of the lockdowns, life rhythms will get slower and there would be more time and space for thinking and creativity. To the contrary, I didn’t feel that. With so many events, talks and meetings happening online constantly, things are moving at an even faster pace. 

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

I’m researching on a new project about the animistic traditions of the indigenous Buryat people near Lake Baikal in Siberia. I had planned a research trip in 2020, but obviously I could’t travel in the foreseeable future. So I would have to find an alternative way to continue my research and creativity. I think there’re lots of wisdoms and knowledge on the human-nature relationships to learn from the indigenous peoples.

In our contemporary moment, when we talk about nature or environment, some people would think it’s a faraway topic or individuals are too small to change anything. But the pandemic could be a great example indicating that even though an individual’s small, how quickly a virus could be transmitted from person to person, mouth to mouth, and became a pandemic, so we’re part of and contributing to a much bigger network. 

Congratulations on having The Fourfold Premiere in the Animation Section at Sundance 2021, what does it mean to be part of such an amazing line up fo short films?

I really appreciate this incredible opportunity! I learned that only 50 short films were selected out of almost 10,000 submissions. I’m very grateful that my work could be seen and the voice could be heard. 

You are no stranger to Sundance, do you remember what your first time at the festival was like?

 

I was at Sundance 2017 with my short film Nutag-Homeland. At that time of course it was an in-person festival. There were so many events, talks and various activities everyday, but I didn’t manage to see many films at the festival as the tickets were sold out instantly. Everyone was very excited and passionate about what they were doing. 

The-Fourfold-2_800.jpg

"I think it’s one of the most direct sense of expressions of the creator’s mind with the hands-on practice and physical materials."

The Fourfold won the Jury Award at last years Mammoth Lakes Film Festival, what does getting this type of recognition for your film mean?

The Best Animation Short Award is a great recognition for my work and encourages tremendously my career in independent animation filmmaking. 

Where did the inspiration for The Fourfold come from?

The Fourfold is based on the animistic beliefs and shamanic rituals from Mongolia and Siberia. As a child, I heard about the rituals from my grandparents who used to live as nomads on the grassland. As an adult I learned that these beliefs and rituals are called animism, which is a term from a British anthropologist in the 19th century. It described that Western European have advanced to the highest stage of science, while the rest of world’s people were still “primitive" and animistic. Of course, this out-dated colonialist notion was long shunned. In the past twenty years, the idea of animism has been reconsidered and has become self-description among indigenous populations for land rights, the protection of natural resources and environmental ethics. 

What where the biggest challenges you faced bringing The Fourfold to life?

The topic has never been a priority for certain producers and the provincial funding institution in Quebec when the project was in the development phase. But later, it was supported by multiple artist residencies and the federal funding agency, then the biggest challenge was my time putting the work into life while I was working part-time on another film.

 

How do you manage all your creative roles on a project like this?

I played pretty much all the creative roles on this film, except for the sound mixing at the end.

When working on a film do you like to stick to what you've planned or do you allow yourselves to be flexible?

I always have a storyboard and an animatic (the plan of the animation with timing), but as soon as I start actually animating with the under camera animation technique, there’s always lots of space for improvisation. This workflow’s straight ahead and has a forward momentum, so most of the times I can’t go back to correct a mistake in one frame. As a result, there’ll be some changes from the original plan with new experiments. 

Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?

Yes, definitely, I think creative work that questions and challenges boundaries is thought provoking, even if it makes viewing uncomfortable at times. 

Have you always had a passion for animation?

I didn’t grow up watching animation and didn’t know much about it until I started my formal education in animation filmmaking. Then I was very inspired by many auteur films and independent animations, such as the works by South African artist William Kentridge and Russian filmmaker Yuri Norstein. 

Poster_The-Fourfold_1340_c.webp

How much has your approach to your films and the stories you tell changed since your started out?

I was inspired by the under camera animation technique by William Kentridge when I was a student. I did many exercises and a couple of films with this particular workflow. I think it’s one of the most direct sense of expressions of the creator’s mind with the hands-on practice and physical materials. 

What are some of the best tips you offer fellow animation filmmakers?

Keep experimenting and keep going. 

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from The FourFold?

There’re other ways of how humans relate to nature outside of the Eurocentric point of view since the time of modernity and colonialism. In many indigenous cultures around the world, nature is not considered as a static “environment” or a Galilean object to be exploited, instead, it’s considered as alive and is worshipped as a deity/deities.