INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES FAIRBANKS

IRMA

a film by Charles Fairbanks

How did you meet Irma?

I was training as a wrestler in Mexico City as research for another short film: the immersive, experimental ethnography Flexing Muscles. When I saw that Irma taught wrestling at the same gym, I thought she’s a legend, I have to meet her! When we met, I introduced myself as a wrestler and filmmaker, and she said Yo también – I’m a wrestler and an artist! The next class she brought me 2 LPs. When I inquired, at my 3rd training session, whether I could make a film about her, she said Of course! I’ve been waiting for you to ask.

How did you settle on the shooting aesthetic, namely a static camera?

My background is in photography, and Irma was one of my first films. I think it was easier for me to approach filmmaking – and motion – by composing shots on a tripod. Beyond that, I wanted viewers to see and feel Irma’s gait, the way she moves through the world, without being distracted by camera movements. She wrestled for 50 years! Once you know that, her labored movements take on a whole other meaning.

Were you ever tempted to make a feature instead? How is Irma doing?

Irma’s doing well. We still talk on the phone, and I try to visit whenever I’m in Mexico City. This short film came together so incredibly easily. I never thought to make a feature, probably because the short film feels right. That said, one of the protagonists in my feature doc The Modern Jungle resembles Irma in a major way: her appearance as a little old lady belies remarkable strength and character.

What are you working on now?

I’m editing a sonic video portrait of a village in Chiapas; in pre-production on a couple of animated essay films; and hoping to shoot a 16mm film about my home state of Nebraska. But all that’s on the back burner because I’m busy teaching at Antioch College – where, by the way, my students and I made a powerful portrait of America via the Republican National Convention: it’s called SERIOUSLY NOT FUNNY.

Charles Fairbanks grew up in Nebraska and wrestled at Stanford, where he studied Art and the History of Science. He has a MFA in Art & Design from the University of Michigan, where he also studied Anthropology and History. The founding professor of Media Arts at Antioch College in Ohio, Fairbanks has worked as a programmer and translator in Belgium, and taught videoarte and cel-phone videography in Mexico. His short films – including two on Mexican lucha libre – have shown on POV and at CPH:DOX, Images, Slamdance, Visions du Réel, and over 100 other festivals. For a retrospective screening in 2011, Anthology Film Archives wrote “His entertaining and heartfelt short films are extremely easy to enjoy and very hard to forget.” He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, MacDowell Colony, and the Wexner Art Center’s Film/Video Studio Program. The Modern Jungle is his first feature.