Bone Wind Fire
A visual love letter from Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe and Emily Carr.
Bone Wind Fire is an intimate and evocative journey into the hearts, minds and eyes of three of the 20th century’s most remarkable artists. Using the women’s own words, taken from their letters and diaries, the film reveals three individual creative processes in all their subtle and fascinating variety.
"A rich impressionistic film on nothing less than the artist’s place in the universe."
Katherine Monk, Vancouver Sun
With the only words coming from the painters themselves and almost every shot originating from the artist’s own landscape, the film explores creative impulse from a visual-first perspective using language as poetic flourish. Playful visual effects pull paintings into the artists landscapes creating an evocative tapestry of a painter’s imagination.
Bone Wind Fire grew like the elements of its title. Almost by chance, director Jill Sharpe, who had spent three years developing her skills as a painter in Oaxaca, Mexico, came across a book by Sharyn Udall called Carr, O’Keeffe, Kahlo: Places of Their Own, which managed to yoke the three early 20th century artists together in a way that struck the filmmaker as both unforced and irresistible. She’d been waiting for a project that could synthesize her filmmaking avocation with her love of painting; and by further chance one of the artists involved was associated with the country she’d just come from and the style she’d been immersed in.
The project found a home at the NFB’s Vancouver Studio under producer Yves Ma. It was filmed in three different countries over nine days, using cutting-edge digital technology and extensive post-production visual effects. Much of it was shot, in fact, in the actual locations in which the women had lived.
The visual design of the film was crucial, and was carefully conceived by Sharpe, cinematographer Sylvaine Dufaux and production designer Tony Devenyi. Says Sharpe, “From the very beginning, what Sylvaine and I were talking about, and what I was talking with my production designer about, was this idea of colour palettes for each of the women. And those colour palettes were inspired by the world in which they painted, and from their paintings and their character.
“The primary colours that symbolize each artist are white, red and green,” explains the director. “White is inspired by Georgia’s desert, the light that she loved, the bones and shells that she painted. Emily lived in and was inspired by the deep green rain forest of British Columbia and Alaska, and way up the coast. Her colour palette was this deep green. And Frida, her landscape was mostly her inner landscape. But she was very influenced by Mexico and the rich, saturated colours of that country. Her scenes are punctuated by red, for the pain and the passion she so delicately held in balance.”
Bone Wind Fire is not a traditional documentary; it is, rather, a “creative non-fiction” film, using image, sound and tone to create a portrait of its three subjects. The idea is to engage the viewer on an emotional and aesthetic level rather than merely an intellectual one. Director Sharpe calls it a “hybrid” and a “cinematic cocktail”—it’s fact filmed as fiction, in a highly stylized way. In choosing to concentrate on the bodies and hands of the actors playing the three artists, or else to shoot them from behind, the director denied herself one of a filmmaker’s primary dramatic tools, the human face. “You never connect with the actor by their eyes,” says Sharpe, “you never see their face, just hear these disembodied voices, so we tried to imbue each shot with the personalities of the women.” Sharpe also had intimate writings from each woman’s own hand, a painstakingly prepared visual plan, and a group of ready and able collaborators. With all that, Jill Sharpe has created a lovely and hypnotic portrait of three alike yet vastly different 20th century masters.
It was their differences which most interested the director, in fact. “I was always looking to make distinctions between them,” Sharpe says. “I never wanted to say that these artists were similar. I wanted to uncover, on many levels, their uniqueness.”