Q&A with Sari Katharyn, director of THE SAPPHO PROJECT: FRAGMENT 147 - EFN AUDIENCE AWARD WINNER
Saturday 27 November 2021, by
With dozens of translations of Sappho’s words recorded by queer women from all over the world, we celebrate the fragment’s poignant reflection on memory and legacy. With animation reflecting the evolution of art movements, we pay tribute to queer woman through the ages—though we may never know their names, we celebrate their lives. The Sappho Project won the Audience Award at the latest edition of Emerging Filmmakers Night. We caught up with director Sari Katharyn.
Who is Sappho? What was it about her that sparked your interest?
Everything about her sparked my interest. Sappho was an ancient Greek lyric poet from Lesbos, considered to be the female counterpart of Homer. But unlike Homer, very little remains of her work. It is estimated that Sappho wrote nine volumes of poetry, or around 10,000 lines; what has survived to this day are fragments. Sappho is also the reason we have the words “sapphic” and “lesbian” in our vocabularies. From her surviving work, we know she wrote about women loving other women, and yet so much discourse still exists about whether or not she was queer herself.
Can you explain the choice of title?
There are two parts to the full title of the film, “The Sappho Project: Fragment 147.” The first half was initially just a working title. The second is the name of the fragment that inspired the entire film. It is one of Sappho’s most famous fragments, here translated by Anne Carson from her book “If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho”:
someone will remember us
even in another time
Because Sappho was a lyric poet, we know that what she composed was meant to be sung, accompanied by music. This entire film revolved around the initial idea of hearing her words spoken today, in languages that did not even exist when Sappho wrote them over 2,500 years ago. I knew from the beginning that the words had to be spoken by queer women. There was something deeply moving to me about having sapphics speak the words; so much of the history of queer woman has been lost, censored, or destroyed, just as so much of Sappho’s work has been lost, censored, or destroyed. And yet, against all odds, Sappho is remembered. Similarly, queer women have existed in all places and all times — though we may never know their names or lives, through this film I hope to pay some form of tribute.
The film itself feels like a tapestry of fragments — not only because each animator contributed a specific segment that differed from the others, but also because of all the voices and languages we put together. To find the voices to record the words, I contacted hundreds of member organisations of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association about the project, to see if they had anyone who was interested in being involved. For the most part, many of the LGBTQ+ organisations who emailed back translated the fragment into their own languages by themselves. In this way, the project feels so genuinely collaborative.
How did you "pick" which moments from history would feature in your project? Or did you leave that decision to each animator?
When I was developing the concept and decided that the story would follow two characters through time and space, I started to do research on the lives of queer women through the ages. It became clear to me that it was difficult to find a lot of information, so I started to look into the history of Western art movements instead. I made a list of movements that would portray a clear flow from one time period to another, and shared it in our team group chat, so the animators could pick the eras they were interested in. Everyone in the team wanted to try something different, so there were no overlaps. I wrote out the script after each animator had an era.
There were a few eras that did not end up in the final version — for instance, Medieval and Renaissance — because some of the animators were unable to complete their work, but hopefully in the future they can appear in an expanded version of the film. I would love for the film to evolve over time — more eras, more voices, more languages. I would especially love to include Eastern art movements, so we can show queer women from even more parts of the world.
How did the collaboration with other animators come about?
The project started during the first UK covid-19 lockdown, while I was a postgraduate student at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA). During that time, we were meant to go into production on our live action thesis films, but everything got postponed. With all the sudden free time I found myself imagining this film, so I reached out to some of my friends who were studying animation at the time, who also reached out to people in their year; that was how the team was formed. Since we were all in lockdown, our entire collaboration took place online.
Can you tell us more about your background as a filmmaker/animator?
I come from a writing background, and I do not have a lot of experience in professional filmmaking yet. Most of my experience has been in school: in 2019, I received a Chevening Scholarship to study MA Filmmaking in UCA, and I directed two major projects from my time there: The Sappho Project: Fragment 147, the first animated project I have ever worked on, and Luna, a 360°/VR short film that was my thesis project.
What are your main sources of inspiration?
It’s difficult to pinpoint because I find inspiration in everything. What I consider most compelling are ideas that evoke a strong emotional response, like poetry, or Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
Can you tell us more about what you’re working on now and what you hope to work on in the near future?
I recently wrapped postproduction on a silent short film, which marks two firsts for me: my first film lab, and first film grant. Set in a vaudeville theatre in 1920s Manila, the story follows a female vaudeville Chaplin impressionist who is in love with the star singer of their troupe, and helps her deal with the unwanted attention of three infatuated audience members who refuse to leave her alone. It is a queer recreation of one of Jose Nepomuceno’s lost films, “Ang Tatlong Hambog,” which was one of the first features ever made in the Philippines.
As for what I want to work on in the future, I would love to explore more animation and 360°/VR projects, though I will definitely need more training for both media.
Well done for your EFN win! How was the night for you? Any highlights?
Thank you very much! It was a wonderful experience, even if I could not be there in person since I am no longer in the UK. The EFN team really champions filmmakers as much as it champions their work, so they found ways for those of us who could not be there to attend remotely. I really loved getting to know the other filmmakers and seeing their work. Some of the Fragment 147’s creative team were able to attend, which made me really happy. I am very grateful that EFN has arranged for the film to screen before Rebel Dykes next month — some of the creative team will be attending that, as well.
Any advice for other emerging filmmakers and animators?
For the most part, film is not a solitary process — it is collaborative, and that is the joy of the medium. I have met a lot of people who seem to see filmmaking as a competition, which is a perspective I don’t agree with. Find people to create something with — that is just as important as the creation itself. And keep going! Make sure to rest and take care of yourself, but do not give up!
The Sappho Project: Fragment 147 will be screening at Genesis Cinema on 9 December 2021.