Jessica Snow is a San Francisco-based artist working across film, drawing, and painting. She holds an MFA from Mills College and a BA from UC Davis, and currently teaches in the Art History Department at University of San Francisco. Along with videographer Paul Morrill, she co-directed ‘More than Once, Upon a Time’, which received the best experimental film award at FICIMAD in 2023.
How did the idea of using the André Bloc House as architecture of the future come about?
We were based in Southern Spain for the filming of the future, in Almería province. I was looking for a location in which the traditonal curved stucco shapes of the architecture had an otherworldly aspect, unmoored from time. The future I wanted to portray in this film is not dystopian, like science fiction films tend to be. The exterior of the Bloc house was a perfect setting for establishing what a sustainable future on earth might look like. The French architect André Bloc was a design visionary in his synthesis of sculpture and architecture, and the Casa Laberinto in Carboneras perfectly expresses his sculptural approach to space and form.
Architecture, sculpture, painting, ceramics and even gastronomy are important elements in your film using Naples as a place of space-time confluence. What was it like filming in this city?
We wanted the scenes in Naples to reflect the chaotic atmosphere of the Spanish Quarter, Sanità, and the Centro Storico. Here is where our story loops into the present, and filming on the city streets was exciting and jarring with scooters careening everywhere all the while. The atmosphere of the city is unique in that past and future come together here in a dynamic contemporaneity, not only because of the crumbling elegance of the buildings, but because the layering of the neighborhoods on the various hills projects and stretches one’s bodily orientation in time and space.
Where does your interest in ancient civilizations and the Etruscan civilization in particular come from?
My interest in ancient civilizations has always been a part of me, stemming from childhood. My father was a historian and sculptor, and he had a library of books on preclassical civilizations and anthropology. Some of his sculptures paid tribute to the Venus of Willendorf, and one series explored the Greek myth of Sisyphus. Our family home was filled with his sculptures and books, along with Bakhtiari and Bijar rugs passed down from my mother’s Armenian family.
My fascination with the ancient world has never really felt like research, it’s just intrinsic to who I am. For this reason, D.H. Lawrence’s book ’Etruscan Places’ is a book that resonates deeply, because he’s a kindred spirit in that way. Lawrence evokes the Etruscan joy of life he saw in the tomb paintings in Lazio— dancing, playing music, and parties are the subject matter, along with augury and game playing. He saw a joyful spontaneity reflected in these ancient paintings that he felt was largely lost by the time of Roman domination. I saw this same joyfulness in Minoan painting, which was also largely lost when the more warlike Myceneans came to dominate after the eruption of Thera. My interest in the Etruscans and Minoans comes primarily from the joyful beauty of their art.
How was the choice of Kate Temple as the actress who plays the Sibyl of Cumae and how did you develop her character in her gestures, in her costumes, in her mimicry, in her actions…
Kate is an artist whose work is deeply connected to nature and divination. We both see art–making as a sacred act, and her ‘tree divination’ series manifests the ancient practice of divining through nature as she draws the tree’s movement through shadow and light. Traveling back to the past, she portrays the Sibyl of Cumae, the great oracle of Magna Graecia. We chose to portray her as Etruscan in keeping with the eminent oracles of the day, and her dress is based on that of a dancing woman from the Tomb of the Triclinium in Tarquinia. The Cumaen Sibyl would divine the future by painting symbols on oak leaves and place them outside her cave. Thus Kate as Sibyl paints leaves with water from Lago d’Averno, believed by the ancients to be the portal to the underworld.
What unites the protagonists of More than Once, Upon a Time across space and time?
The film is structured around mythic time, with an eternal present containing both the past and future. Time is continously flowing in a figure-eight pattern which links together in the present, where the two protagonists meet, Kate and myself. We are friends and artists, and our imaginations lead us on very particular paths. These
subjective voyages feed our art, and through the imaginary voyages we take in the world, creativity begins.
How important are some particular elements in your film such as the Bucchero, the Cumae fruit or the Mojácar donkey?
Bucchero is a type of black pottery unique to the Etruscans, and we filmed the collections at the Etruscan museums in Rome and Florence. Our cameras focused on the negative spaces in between the vessels, playing with the discrepancy between void and mass, and echoing the dark rock at Playa de los Muertos in Spain, where I drop a hologram while time traveling to the future.
The pomegranate symbolizes regeneration and change, serving as an entry point between two spheres of existence. The fruit, associated with Persephone, represents a liminal threshold between worlds, between seasons, between past and future.
During one scene in the Naples Botanical Garden, I discover a tree full of overripe lemons, one of which I hack open with a large kitchen knife. Lemon’s scent and tang brings one into the present like no other fruit—through my dance with the lemon, I was evoking intuition and the clarity of the mind’s eye gazing into the future.
As for the donkey in Mojácar, he lived along a path near our residence at Fundación Valparaíso where we would often walk. I nicknamed him Donkey Hotey, a play on Don Quixote. While making this film, I thought often about Quixote’s adventures— he was both mad and brilliant, not distinguishing between reality and imagination, and his imaginative world is a metaphor for the world an artist constructs alongside reality.
All of these elements are interstices which function as openings in time, visual markers, allowing for continous flow along the figure eight pattern, especially where the time loop meets in the present.
What was it like working in the direction with Paul Morrill?
Paul and I have co-directed several short films, and our styles compliment each other well. He’s a gifted cinematographer and editor, skills that allow him to tell a story visually. The two of us were the entire crew for ‘More than Once, Upon a Time’, and a few scenes necessitated some guerrilla filmmaking with either myself or Kate acting. We got the shots we needed thanks to Paul’s nimble skills with his Sony camera and monopod.
In what time and place would you like to film your new cinematographic artistic work?
We start filming our next project in May. The crux of the film will take place at Argimusco, a Neolithic site near Mt. Etna in Sicily. With this film, we’ll be evoking a time even more ancient than the Etruscans — Stay tuned!