Willow Skye-Biggs’ Indeterminate Film Abstractions
After making ambient music as Sabriel’s Orb and avant-pop as Ava Lux, local artist Willow Skye-Biggs shifted her focus to filmmaking during the early days of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Since, Skye-Biggs has completed two short films—April in Her Mind and Wish—which have both screened at festivals in Utah and around the country. Taken together, the two works outline an artistic voice that envelops itself, both consciously and not, in issues of isolation, human connection, indeterminate identities and displacement. As in her musical works, Skye-Biggs’ films seek to “blend something tangible with something intangible,” she says. “I’m trying to explore that sweet spot where there’s enough plot that it’s engaging, but it’s loose enough that you can project your own story onto it.”
As Sabriel’s Orb, Skye-Biggs obscured herself into her music’s murky drones; as Ava Lux, she put herself front and center in a self-conscious engagement with pop music’s high visibility—on the album art, in the project’s heartbroken robot vocals and through its kitschy aesthetics. Moving behind the camera offered an opportunity to re-engage with a less direct connection between the visible self and the finished artistic product. “I don’t like the classic, dictatorial-style directing myths we hear,” she says of her working process. “I’m definitely not interested in that; I think of it as a collaboration in a lot of ways.”
In making her first short, April in Her Mind, Skye-Biggs started with a quasi-narrative script before she found herself moving further away from the strict story as she began to work with the film’s lead actress, Jojo Bluemel. “There’s not so much a plot that happens,” says Skye-Biggs. “It’s just kind of a glimpse into this person. She [April] started to become a character that I didn’t understand as much as when I first wrote it.” As the pair worked on the film, Skye-Biggs’ trust in Bluemel allowed the character to develop naturally past the director’s original intentions through the actress’ mostly wordless performance. “I had a great time letting it evolve … Now, it’s interesting that I’m curious about her [April],” she says.
“She [April] started to become a character that I didn’t understand as much as when I first wrote it.”
Skye-Biggs’ latest short, Wish (starring the director herself and her son, Sebastian), premiered in April of 2022 at the Toronto Queer Film Festival and delves even further into non-narrative and non-linguistic abstraction. Again originating from a fuller screenplay before Skye-Biggs pared it down in editing, the film features no dialogue and instead works through a series of visually inventive shots surrounding the characters’ subtle movements. “It really became a lot more atmospheric and impressionistic,” Skye-Biggs says. “It was another experiment in ‘what if I lost the plot even more?’ In April, I lost the plot quite a bit, but what if I just really really abandoned [it]?” Importantly, all the footage of Wish derives from the shoots of the intended screenplay, connecting the otherwise abstract shots into a singular feeling as you watch Skye-Biggs wander through grassy hills and the shadows of unspecific urban locales.
Watching April in Her Mind and Wish presents a significant, recurrent motif of obscured faces, with Skye-Biggs often shooting her subjects from behind and Wish displaying no footage of her own face. She reflects that she only noticed it herself post-facto, the choice an almost subconscious move throughout her work. “I spent most of my life with a very unclear sense of identity, and I very much do still have that,” she says of the blurred and blocked visages in her work. “I don’t think it’s something I’m intentionally trying to comment on, but I think it’s inevitably going to be built into whatever I do.”
“In April, I lost the plot quite a bit, but what if I just really really abandoned [it]?”
Skye-Biggs is currently finishing up shooting and editing another short titled Vapor Trails. While the piece retains the minimalism of her first two works, it also expands her vision with the inclusion of more actors and dialogue, almost approaching the semblance of a narrative (for now). To keep up to date with Skye-Biggs’ work, visit her site, willowskyebiggs.com, or follow her on Instagram @willowskyebiggs.
More on local film:
Local Film Review: A Name Without A Place
The Field: A Film Showcase of Salt Lake’s Live Music Scene
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