If I Were a Limpet: Isabella Rosellini’s Green Pornos

December 6, 2012

interview by Sasha Wizansky
photography by Jody Shapiro
This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Nineteen.

IT’S NOT HARD TO FEEL DIFFERENTLY about whales after seeing Isabella Rossellini dressed as a male whale in a paper costume, penetrating a female whale puppet with a six-foot-long paper penis. In 2008, Rossellini began a series of Web films for the Sundance Channel called “Green Porno” to explore environmental themes by depicting a wide range of animal reproductive strategies. She demonstrated the mating behavior herself, in costumes made mostly of paper, on paper sets. Her theory was that the more you know about animals, the more you’ll be inspired to take care of them. Many of the films feature marine life, with Rossellini costumed variously as a barnacle, an anchovy in a school of anchovies, a molting shrimp, and a giant squid being fished from the ocean, among other creatures. Canadian filmmaker Jody Shapiro, who coproduced and codirected the films, kindly answered a few questions about the series.

Tell us about the low-fi look of the series. How did the sets and costumes for the Green Pornos come to be made of paper?
The Green Pornos were originally commissioned to be seen on mobile platforms — meaning small screens. By doing some research, Isabella determined that simple color palettes, like the kind used by animators, seemed to read best. We had always thought that to make this new medium work, you had to create an original look for it and not just recycle content. Rick Gilbert, the producer and production designer, introduced Isabella to the artist Andy Byers, whose medium is paper. We realized we could control the look and aesthetic — and the budget — by making everything out of paper.

What was the most challenging mating behavior to communicate within the parameters of the art direction?
Well, I could tell you that the most humorous moment was yelling “Action” when Isabella was mating with the human-sized paper fly. And I do remember that dolphin sex was pretty tough … our penis puppeteers, operating offscreen and without a monitor, had a mighty difficult time directing the “member” to hit its mark.

Do you eat fish? Has your relationship to fish, insects, and other animals changed since you worked on Green Porno?
I do eat fish — and try to be as responsible as I can. I carry around one of those Seafood Watch wallet cards. And my relationship to nature has changed since making these Green Pornos — for instance, when swimming with giant squids, I now keep my eye out for their spermathecae.

What happened to the costumes and set pieces after the shoots?
Andy’s paper sculptures are incredibly detailed and should be considered works of art. A few years ago, the Toronto International Film Festival invited us to create a Green Porno installation at the Royal Ontario Museum using Andy’s pieces. We created a giant aquarium. Afterwards the pieces were added to the Toronto Film Festival’s Film permanent archive collection — so a few of his marine life creations will be stored forever! Unfortunately, though, most of the collection over the years has ended up in a paper recycling bin. The sculptures are extremely fragile and don’t always survive the filming process — especially when that involves mating.

What story from the set do you find yourself telling most often?
This didn’t happen on set — but once I was invited to Russia to show the Green Pornos. I needed to get a travel visa from the Russian Consulate, so I applied with the necessary documents, along with a letter of invitation from the festival. There was a bit of commotion once my application was reviewed; I was called to the consulate and asked to explain why I was heading to Moscow to show “pornos.” We always had to be careful with the “P” word.

Do you think the Green Pornos’ message about overfishing has resonated with viewers?
I’d like to think that Isabella’s incredibly creative, humorous, and nonpreachy tone has gotten a few messages across with these films. Seeing Isabella Rossellini caught in a net with by-catch definitely resonates.

“If I were a calamari, I would be a squid, and everyone would want to meet me. By luminescent effects, and by changing shape, I could communicate. I could say “Be careful.” I could say “I love you,” with my whole three hearts. I would give the most passionate 20-arm embrace. 20? 18. (Two are not arms, if you know what I mean.)”

quote from Bon Appetit — Squid (Green Porno Season 3)

SASHA WIZANSKY is the editor in chief and art director of Meatpaper.

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Nineteen.

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