This poem-within-a-poem lives in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Barefoot Through the Woods
Read interviews with "White Fur" director Georgia Tribuiani and poet Mark Wunderlich!
Interview with Georgia Tribuiani, Director of “White Fur”
By Jeannie E. Roberts, Motionpoems Citizen Journalist
As I watched Georgia Tribuiani’s motionpoem, “White Fur,” I was instantly drawn into her world of light, color, and contrast. Tribuiani sets the scene beautifully and powerfully within Switzer Falls, a wooded area in the San Gabriel Mountains, Los Angeles County. The albino deer, depicted as an African-American albino man, runs barefoot through the woods, where he follows the banks of a stream, eventually stopping to look at his reflection within a pool of water. Tribuiani imagines a story that is, in her own words, suggested: She envisions the albino deer as Narcissus: a young man, mesmerized by his own reflection, who falls in love with it and eventually drowns. Though not necessarily the intent of Mark Wunderlich’s poem, Tribuiani creates a stunning metaphor, a poem within a poem. All great poetry has layers, and this director has found another layer with thought-provoking elegance and creativity.
JEANNIE E. ROBERTS for MOTIONPOEMS: Georgia, after you read “White Fur,” what was your overall sense of it; which part or parts inspired you the most?
GEORGIA TRIBUIANI: For some reason, I felt really close to it. It spoke to me immediately. The contrast within the poem really inspired me. Its whiteness and darkness. The albino deer also captured my imagination as if it was a mythological figure.
MOPO: Did aspects of race strike you while reading the poem? Why or why not?
TRIBUIANI: Is it because I choose an African-American to play the deer? Honestly, I wasn’t really thinking of race or ethnicity when I cast the role. I just knew I wanted someone with a unique aesthetic, someone strong enough to represent this rare creature, to be captivating on film.
TRIBUIANI: After spending some time with the poem, I decided to leave it as it was. I didn’t want to make a manifesto of the poem. I recorded it as a voice-over, and I juxtaposed it with images that aren’t in the poem. I stepped back and imagined a story that isn’t the poem itself, but that is suggested. This wasn’t the plan, but I wanted to experiment and leave the poem imagined, so I added a mysterious layer to the poem. My mind kept playing with the idea of this beautiful creature found drowned. Maybe my Motionpoem can be seen as a prequel to the poem.
MOPO: How long did it take to complete your Motionpoem? And briefly describe the process from beginning to end.
TRIBUIANI: It’s hard to tell. We had to work around everyone’s day jobs, so we didn’t work consistently on it. Maybe 4-5 weeks. Cori Cooperider, Head of Production, introduced me to Motionpoems, and she followed the project from the beginning to the end. She made sure that everything was on track and running smoothly. As soon as I chose the poem, I spent some time writing down ideas. I started collecting visual references to create a mood board: paintings, photography, videos. One painting in particular came to my mind: Caravaggio’s painting of Narcissus, where his image is reflected in the water. The idea of creating a mirror or a glass that captured his image, like the deer was placed “behind a glass in the bank,” was very interesting to me. Inverting the perspective by looking at his image reflected in the water was something that I wanted to capture. I took all the images that I sketched and collected, and I recorded a temp voice-over for timing; then I started editing a video collage from materials I had in my library. This collage became my rough storyboard. Todd Heater, Director of Photography, and I met on a different set last year. I immediately thought of him when this opportunity came my way. I knew that he was perfect for this project. Todd has such a great eye, and we are on the same wavelength.
Scouting and casting were really challenging. I had to keep the shoot in Los Angeles. I was looking for a specific forest that I would never imagine finding just thirty minutes away from the city. Amanda Miller, Production Supervisor, found the location. She showed me this beautiful path called Switzer Falls on the Angel National Forest that matched my references exactly.
For the talent, I was looking for a strong contrast, an unexpected unique look—not just an albino or a very pale person. Someone who could represent the deer—”its whiteness a world bled of distinction.” Someone indescribable. Our producer , Adriana Cebada Mora, not only found the talent, but she also put together an amazing crew: Natalie MacGowan Spencer and Amy Taylor, Natalie’s assistant, did an extraordinary job with Hair and Make-up, covering all the talent’s tattoos on his neck and hands. There’s no post effects; it’s all in-camera. Taylor Wootton, Second Camera, captured the beautiful detail of the forest and of the reflections. Davion Marshall aka Dave B. The Prince, our talent, is a young African-American albino rapper who’s also an amazing dancer. He walked, ran, and jumped in the water barefoot with great elegance. The talented Lani Trock styled him in white, making his figure stand out beautifully against the background.
We shot during the arc of one beautiful, sunny day. When Joe Hughes started editing the footage the film really started to come to life. I went through a long research process for the voice-over, then I finally found Roberto Grossi, whose deep voice had both the gravelly and smooth range I was looking for. I managed to find the author of the music that I initially used for my mood piece. Denis Stelmakh, the composer, is surprisingly young and an extremely talented composer from Russia. He liked the project and adapted the song to the film; then Egg Creative mixed the voice-over and music, creating the perfect balance between music and voice. And the final touch was by Marshall Plante, from Ntropic, who did the color for the film, blending each scene together in a beautiful way. Thanks to Motionpoems, I had the opportunity to work with this amazing crew who came together spontaneously and contributed both time and talent to give life to this beautiful short film.
Interview with Mark Wunderlich, Author of “White Fur”
By Jeannie E. Roberts, Motionpoems Citizen Journalist
Mark Wunderlich’s poem, “White Fur,” not only recounts a memorable childhood experience, it also presents the subjects of death, beauty, and the preservation of beauty after death. Art and artifice and their relationship to the natural world play integral parts within the poem. Implications of difference, resurrection and contrast—including the difference between small-town and big-city “events”—unfold in a significant way.
JEANNIE E. ROBERTS for MOTIONPOEMS: When was “White Fur” written?
MARK WUNDERLICH: I wrote “White Fur” a year ago, in February. I was at a writer’s residency in northern Iceland. I was the sole resident in a house in a very small town. It was February, and for a month I spent my days writing, reading, and walking the icy street to the municipal swimming pool. On my way back from the pool, I would stop at the store, and then I would go back to the house, which was very spare and beautiful in that Nordic way; everything was painted white—floors, ceilings, walls. I was thinking of whiteness as a kind of absence—a void—and I began writing about an experience I had as a child. I finished the poem in an afternoon.
WUNDERLICH: I’m not sure poems have messages, in the same way paintings or a dance or a piece of music probably don’t have messages. Poems often have subjects and metaphorical implications. The subject of this poem is exactly what it says it is—when I was a child, the game warden brought a dead albino deer to my school. I still remember this experience and thought to write about it. On a larger scale, the poem takes up the subjects of memory, death, childhood, and the human desire to preserve things we think are beautiful. The beauty of this strange and rare animal can’t be preserved in death, but another thing comes in to take the place of the blood and breath. Taxidermy and dioramas are beautiful to me too, in their way, though the poignancy of them is often about how they fall short. So this poem is also about art and artifice and its relationship to nature.
MOPO: Do you see yourself as, or similar to, the albino deer within your poem? Why or why not?
WUNDERLICH: That never occurred to me, so I think the answer is no. The deer is the deer. The child and the speaker of the poem are me. The deer has metaphorical significance, but it’s not a symbol; it doesn’t stand in for something, though it does act as a vehicle for a number of metaphorical possibilities.
MOPO: As you look back, when you laid your hands upon the dead deer hoping to restore its life, did this act of hopeful restoration represent something to you on a deeper, grander, or more personal level?
WUNDERLICH: I don’t think I wanted to restore its life, though I’m interested to read that this is how you read the poem. I suppose the poem does suggest that, though as the poem’s author, I’m probably less qualified to say what the poem means than the poem’s reader. To be honest, there was a big, pretty furry thing in the back of a truck, and I think that gesture—reaching out to pet it—is pretty universal, particularly among children.
MOPO: Why is the inclusion of childhood memories and the natural world such a big part of your poetry?
WUNDERLICH: I had a very vivid childhood growing up in rural Wisconsin. Some of my earliest memories are of animals, the woods, the marsh below the house where I grew up. For me, the natural world is so full of beauty and mystery and profound power. As a poet, I often just want to describe it. The natural world is also the place to see death and resurrection enacted every day. The world dies back and is reborn in new forms. I think that my work as a poet is often about my efforts to recapture the sense of mystery I had as a child encountering the natural world. I’m not sure any single poem is capable of reconstituting that sense of wonder, so I keep writing new ones to try to get it right.
MOPO: Why do you write? Has your answer changed since it was initially posted in My Book House on August 13, 2009?
WUNDERLICH: I don’t think my answer has changed, though I will say that writing has become the thing that I do. My work in the world is to write, to talk about literature, to help my students understand the tradition of the art, and to mentor them as they write their own work. My personal life, my professional life—my vocation—these things are integrated, and in that way I am very fortunate.
Jeannie E. Roberts writes for both adults and children. She is the author of Nature of It All, a poetry collection (Finishing Line Press, 2013). A lifelong visual artist, she is also the author and illustrator of Let’s Make Faces!, a children’s book. Her poems have appeared in the Illinois State University’s Festival of Language Festival Writer, Misty Mountain Review, the University of Wisconsin Barron County’s Red Cedar Literary Journal, Verse Wisconsin, Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets’ Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar, and elsewhere. Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Jeannie lives in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. For more information on Jeannie, click here.