We had the good fortune of connecting with Marie-Michèle Jasmin-Bélisle and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Marie-Michèle, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I was born in Montreal, and raised in the countryside of Quebec, by two equally creative and outside-the-box parents. Both were/are writers and historians; my mother a journalist and a poet, my father a photographer, ethnologist and museum curator. Together they also launched La Belle Amerique (labelleamerique.com), a company devoted to honoring French heritage in North America through replicas of sailor wares and various Nouvelle France artifacts, and later through lectures and books through their publishing company. The house was filled with antiques, quirky stuff, mannequins dressed in theater costumes and a full size knight’s armor made of papier mâché. We also had -and still have- paintings from floor to ceiling, as my grand-father was a painter and a founding member of a very successful artist collective in Montreal in the 1930s. I left the house at 17 to go spend a year in Australia, where I got to make life-long friends from around the globe through the exchange student group I was a part of. That was the first eye opener. Back in Montreal, I started film school, graduated on to a degree in Fine Arts and left for New Mexico, which is where I consider I really grew into adulthood. I felt home in the desert, and started making films based on my own made-up mythologies and poetic interpretations of my surroundings. A doc I directed during that time also had me travel across the US from the bayous of the south to the geysers of the north, and that’s when my love for striking landscapes really took off. Fast forward to a few years ago, my life/work made a full circle when I came back to Montreal and got working on a costume drama set in the Victorian era. I rallied my entire family to help and between everyone’s talents and personal antique and costume collections, we pulled it off! As I enter a more focused phase of my artistic practice and career, I can see how all these elements I grew up with are suddenly converging at last to create films filled with all that I came from : an eclectic artistic background filled with character, lots of raw landscapes, and an international twang. And some fascinating period storylines to go with it all!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
If I was to summarize my entire life/career/artistic practice in 3 words, it would be : Catching the Light. I seek the beauty, the good, the meaning in everything, from personal life events to a photo shoot in a back alley (how ‘NYC 1999’ of me). The phrase also works quite literally, in that I am super sensitive to light; I had my husband change nearly every light bulb in the house when we met so it would be soft, warm light (who wants Target lighting in their house?? No offense, Target). I am also interested above all in ‘worlds’; fascinated by it, actually. I love entering an artist’s studio, meeting people who are passionate and express themselves so very vividly in their environment, how they dress, how they spend their time, how they choose to live, essentially. I’ve had the great fortune to meet a lot of characters in my journey thus far, from taiko grand masters to indigenous leaders, surfers and desert rats, real-life cowboys, puppeteers and circus artists, the whole bit. When I create a film, I am essentially tapping into a vision in which my characters, the landscapes I shoot and music soundtracks I curate come together to create a very definite, unique world. For instance, in ‘Desert Haiku’, one of my first shorts, I brought together a Yacqui-latina singer, Navajo b-boys, a contemporary dancer, a Japanese spiritual singer, the geysers of Yellowstone, the Bad lands of South Dakota and the Bisti of New Mexico, with a cast of jellyfish to round it up. It was a three part cinematic poem on the story of the desert which was once an ocean; the days of water, the days of drought, and the warning that came to warn us of this time. In the third section of the film, two children are looking throughout the land for the last drop of water. All in all, it was also a metaphor for finding oneself. That short premiered at the International Symposium of Electronic Arts, which I am quite proud of. A more recent piece, a tv pilot, actually, was set in a costume house at the turn of the century -the Victorian era. Based on true events and people, it follows the path of a pretty fierce Scottish-Canadian woman who finds herself in a tough situation, turns the odds around and on a hunch from a fortune teller, establishes what was to become at the time the most successful costume house in Canada- and maybe, North America. It’s called ‘Women of the West’. All in all, whether it’s creating a dreamscape for an event or as a permanent ‘installation’, developing a tv show or shooting an indie, my passion lies in developing evocative storylines and worlds based on a mixture of legends, mythology, personal stories and actual history. There is endless magic to be found in the land and the people that surround us, and I love bringing it to light in its own special way!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Ah! Excellent question. First stop would be Swami’s (Encinitas), the beach that brought my husband and I together, and where we ended up getting married on the reef in a sunrise ceremony 🙂 If they are into surfing, even better! I’m just learning but my man is an accomplished surfer. Then, there is good food for days between LA and San Diego, so I would probably do a mixture of local Mexican deliciousness at Barrio Star in SD, Ethiopian downtown LA, and then to get some fish off the PCH. Oh, and Cafe on 27, in Topanga! We’d for sure need to drive Mulholland (hello views! hello architecture!), maybe check out the sculpture garden at the Getty, go visit my friend Joe who’s a screenwriter in Los Feliz, my friend Tony the composer who lives by the Venice canals, go walk Abbott-Kinney, Nick Fouquet’s chapellerie, obviously the Santa Monica pier at night… the Melrose flea market… dinner at the ACE hotel downtown… I guess I’m not exactly reinventing the wheel here, but it would be a fun week nonetheless!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Reading ‘The Artist’s Way’, by Julia Cameron, was definitely a turning point in my life. I have in fact used her series of books for every crossroads I got to, and every valley of darkness I traversed; ‘Finding Water’, ‘Walking in this World’, and ‘The Vein of Gold’. Funnily enough, I lent that last one to a friend before I had time to finish it, so there is literally one final chapter for me to read. If I remember correctly, it’s titled ‘The Glass Ceiling’! So super shoutout to Julia Cameron for being such an incredible writer and inspiration to millions of us. Every other creative I meet does their morning pages, because of her. I also have practiced Buddhism – Nam myoho renge kyo! – since I was 19, and active meditation has definitely provided me with both a spiritual backbone and an open portal to tap into when I have doubts, questions, feel stuck or otherwise lost! Finally, there is my group of girlfriends -and a few dudes, too- that have been there for me throughout the years, from Norway to Germany, Albuquerque to New York, L.A to Bangkok… You know who you are. Thank you. <3
All photos @Marie-Michele Jasmin-Belisle