AFI FEST 2009: Ten Burning Questions – Jessica Oreck (BEETLE QUEEN CONQUERS TOKYO)
It’s a wonderful thing to begin a “journey” with a film and be taken to an unexpected place that at the least adds to the original charms and at best enhances and amplifies that initial interest point. Jessica Oreck’s BEETLE QUEEN CONQUERS TOKYO is a great example of this phenomenon. Yes, the exploration of the Japanese culture’s fascination with beetles and bugs that has created its own cottage industry would be fascinating enough for Oreck to focus on. But she has grander ambitions to look deeper and wider into the zen of miniatures that has long been a staple of Japanese culture and through her camera’s lens – to immerse and indulge the viewer into that world for a few brief, calming and exquisite moments.
1 You have said that you aim (through the film) to challenge the way Westerners view nature, beauty and the hectic monotony of our day-to-day routine. But what inspired you to want to do that?
I’m obviously generalizing here, but I think that Americans have a pretty limited relationship to nature, or none at all.
Working in the butterfly vivarium, I hear more kids asking if a butterfly is ‘broken’ than asking if they are ‘dead,’ I think that’s a real indication that we have a rather potent problem with the human/nature interaction.
It seems that a lot of the environmental messages our society is pumping out are getting lost on the masses, either because they are preaching to the choir, or because the scare tactics are working too well – and people come away feeling disheartened instead of inspired.
I think our first and most basic step is just getting people to look at nature – not just glance at a picture or watch some aerial view of a world they have no connection to – but encourage them to pick up a leaf or a bug in their own city and really take the time to look at it, to understand it, to realize its place in the extraordinarily complex system that makes up our environment.
From there we might be able to make a change.
2 Why do you believe the Japanese culture lends itself to the fascination with insects and life in miniature?
You’ll have to see the movie to find out!
3 What is the best thing about having your film at AFI FEST?
I’m always excited to see new films and meet interesting people, but I am also pretty thrilled to be going to California for the first time.
4 BEETLE QUEEN CONQUERS TOKYO has also been chosen to be part of AFI Project 20/20. What is the most exciting thing about being part of that program?
The idea of traveling around the world with a group of filmmakers, sharing our films and ideas – not much to complain about…
5 How did you own personal feelings about bugs change over the course of making the film?
My feelings towards bugs didn’t really change – I still love them – but the filming did make me want to move to Japan, or at least smuggle lots of their bugs back to America.
6 When you aren’t working filmmaking, you are an animal keeper and docent at the American Museum of Natural History. So, what exactly does that job entail?
It depends on what’s on exhibit. Apart from our perennial butterfly vivarium, we have several rotating exhibit spaces at AMNH and when we present an exhibit with live animals – that’s my department. So right now we are taking care of butterflies, sugar gliders, a variety of frogs, and silkworms. It’s a lot of cleaning and feeding, but we also get to spend time in the exhibit, talking to visitors about the animals we keep.
It’s basically my dream job – and my boss has been incredible to let me take all this time off to travel with the film.
7 What recent documentaries have made an impact on you?
In the last few years, I liked Philip Gröning’s INTO GREAT SILENCE, and I enjoyed MAN ON WIRE. In terms of what’s playing the festival circuit now, I’m partial to the Ross Brothers’ “45365.”
8 Your cameraman on the film also happened to be your boyfriend. So, what carries more potential for an argument: setting up a shot or visiting each other’s parents?
Setting up a shot – definitely.
9 Seriously, now… You find a spider in the house. Do you scoop it up in a cup and deliver it outside into some bushes or do you smush that sucker?
A spider? I leave spiders in my house! Spiders are really great at getting rid of the insects we humans abhor – like mosquitoes, gnats and fruit flies. I always leave spiders where they are, or, if I have to, move them to a more convenient location. A cockroach on the other hand…
10 Popcorn or candy? Candy. I have an exceedingly unruly sweet tooth.
BEETLE QUEEN CONQUERS TOKYO screens 10:00AM October 31 @ Mann 1.