Ming of Harlem by  Phillip Warnell,   2014

Ming of Harlem by Phillip Warnell, 2014

Today in Florence,   Phillip Warnell presents “Ming of Harlem. Twenty One Storeys in the Air”. ATPdiary interviewed the filmmaker.

Program ? Day by Day

9:00 pm / CINEMA D’ARTISTA
Ming of Harlem. Twenty One Storeys in the Air by Phillip Warnell, UK, Belgium, USA, 2014, 71’
language: English; subtitles: Italian / Italian Premiere
Winner of the G. de Beauregard Prize at FID Marseille 2014, Warnell’s poetic film deals with the theme of the relationship between man and animal. It’s the true story of a man’s cohabitation with a tiger and an alligator in a 21st floor apartment in Harlem. Voice-over by philosopher Jean Luc Nancy. 

ATP:  What fascinates you mainly in the animal world?

Phillip Warnell: I think the intrinsic links between animality and the cinema stand out for me. The adoption of animal puissance as a measure for the motorisation of the moving image is still a crucial element in the formation of the cinematic image, particularly when working on an ongoing basis with the strangely imprecise rendering of moving bodies on film gauge. Recently that interest, which might be described as part of the line of enquiry by which I approach cinema, has been joined by a growing fascination with the attributes and awe inspiring character of creatures themselves, especially those of prodigious, predatory species.

ATP: How was the film ‘Ming of Harlem. Twenty One Storeys in the Air ‘ conceived? How did you discover Antoine Yates?

PW: I saw Antoine Yates’ story on the syndicated news like so many people and was struck by the counter intuitive aspects of the ‘animal condition’ as the NYPD described it. Usually the predator is the one on the outside, from which we are protected by the architecture of our built environment. Yet here was a Tiger inside an apartment, alone with an Alligator for company, with the authorities having to manufacture their ‘rescue’. That such an occurrence could take place in a high-rise, social housing circumstance is indeed a case of the wild inside.

ATP: In the making of this film, what have you found out about the relationship between man and animal. In particular, how was Yates managing living with a tiger and an alligator in his Harlem apartment?

PW: Personally, I learned a tremendous amount through working ‘with’ the animals themselves during the making of Ming of Harlem, placing my own (human) ideas and constructions relative to their unbelievable attributes and abilities, thus entering into proximity and co-species operations with them. As concerns Antoine Yates, the most extraordinary thing was his commitment to Ming and his emotional release during his time with both of the two creatures, along with his quite uncanny recollections of them. That he withdrew from society to co-habit with them is a reminder of how animal husbandry and co-species companionship can be a secret, even forbidden form of love.

ATP: Beyond the strictly documentary aspect, which other topics you deal with in this movie? I am thinking of the imprisonment concept, the tension between nature and culture (human and animal), speculations on human nature etc…

PW: I prefer to avoid the term ‘topics’ in this context and I’m also cautious of what might constitute the ‘subject’ of a film. In my view, filmmaking has other imperatives…and like much other creative output, a film can defy definitions, subjects, genres (which may not even be a reference point) and conceptual presuppositions. I’m also not especially equipped to comment on concepts such as human nature or the tension there might be between it and culture perse, except perhaps to suggest that I’m quite suspicious of such concepts. The ‘nature’ of all life forms and worlds is more intiguingly, as Jean-Luc Nancy describes it, ‘a spasm of the nihil’, an act of creation, coming into a world where ‘strangeness is unpreceded by any familiarity’.

ATP: Also in this film you work with the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. What was his contribution / influence?

PW: We have an uncomplicated working relationship, which involves a simple exchange of ideas towards a mutually understood development of a text especially for a project. Following this, Jean-Luc doesn’t especially involve himself in the actual film. Along with mutual understanding and respect, our approach has enabled me the privilege of working with some profoundly moving, poetic textual material, authored and co-authored, collaborated and shared.

ATP: Briefly, are you working on any new project?

PW: I will be, but I instigate and make films slowly, utterly dependent on building the circumstances and financial requirements for a project, which is a complex and sometimes absurdly challenging process. With that in mind, I won’t be embarking on a new project in an absolute hurry (unless someone would like to facilitate that!), preferring to research thoroughly before committing to the development of a specific next venture.

Ming of Harlem by  Phillip Warnell,   2014

Ming of Harlem by Phillip Warnell, 2014

Ming of Harlem by  Phillip Warnell,   2014

Ming of Harlem by Phillip Warnell, 2014

Ming of Harlem by  Phillip Warnell,   2014

Ming of Harlem by Phillip Warnell, 2014