"I felt that I had pulled up my roots and was now carrying them around with me."
By Laida Lertxundi
Laida Lertxundi's Autofiction is showing exclusively on MUBI starting November 22, 2021 in most countries in the series Brief Encounters, as well as part of the series Landscape Plus: The Films of Laida Lertxundi.
I was folded like a pollo desplumado (featherless chicken) recovering from a shocking and unintelligible birthing experience. I got a phone call asking if I’d like to come to New Zealand to be an artist-in-residence at the University of Auckland and work on a film, all expenses paid. YES was my resounding answer.
I was living in Los Angeles. After many years as a single artist, teaching part-time with the freedom to make my work, a new reality was now setting in. It was the Trump era. Medical aid, already meager under Obamacare, was eroding. Rent prices were now New York prices, and it was impossible to afford renting a studio in addition to a home. I became a mother in the middle of this. I paid to become a mother. On top of unbelievable amounts given to private insurance, and the expenses of checkups during pregnancy, we needed to borrow money because we made a human being.
Everyday life soon became driving around the city with a baby, paying to enter private parks or weird office buildings converted into indoor playrooms. Did no one else think this system was hostile?
I enlisted my mom for the New Zealand adventure. She claims she only went because I looked so broken that she couldn’t say no. But I remembered her inspecting the stickers on kiwis, saying the words las antipodas with the mild longing of a proletariat girl who never imagined traveling so far. And so we went. In New Zealand we found green parks, a life of walking, a politically conscious art community, beautiful music, and strong women artists who did not hide their strengths. My mom helped with the domestic work so I could make art. I missed my partner Ren, who was absorbed by his masters program back in Los Angeles, gone from us in more ways than one. Christina C. Nguyen came to visit and helped shoot some film. I most remember wonderful conversations, the kind that seem in danger of extinction.The most valuable materials I collected on my trip were the sounds of indigenous birds on the island of Tiritiri Matangi, a protected bird kingdom.
I returned to California to teach. I had a pumping room, and some other moms in the faculty looking out for me, helping me with my transition, patching up the gaps of an inhumane system. I would teach and take breaks to pump. I was a hormonal soup. I would sometimes think of my students as babies. At the end of the semester I received (for the first time since I began teaching) student feedback calling me “sweet.” With breasts painfully swollen, I would rush home to feed. A cop once pulled me over for speeding.
We started making this film. The working title was “Daytime Noir” because a crime was happening in plain sight, during the day, bodies being dragged across the sidewalk. We interviewed women on camera. The content of these interviews was personal but not necessarily true, an homage to Soft Fiction by Chick strand. Strand had lived among these streets and valleys and made films with similar equipment. Agnès Varda was also a constant influence. Speaking on camera candidly, with intimacy and comfort, these women opened up as we made the film together. Bert Hoover and Ren played music in Bert’s studio and we filmed and recorded it with expired film that another CalArts filmmaker had given me in order to make room in her freezer for breastmilk. I had liked this anecdote, a kind of material riddle about negotiating work and motherhood. The film was so faded it was almost insensitive to light.
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