We had the good fortune of connecting with Talia Shea Levin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Talia, let’s start by having you share some wisdom with us. What advice would you give to a friend facing insurmountable odds?
I get lost focusing on everything I can’t do all the time. There are always obstacles in the way and sometimes they’re so gigantic it’s hard to know what’s waiting on the other side. I have to remind myself to slow down and look for what I can still do, even if I have to squint to see. Get curious about your circumstances. What opportunities are available not in spite of but because of the challenge you’re facing? Impossible moments are inevitable, but what is still possible? The Andrei Tarkovsky quote “art is born out of an ill-designed world” has been floating in my head lately. Some of my favorite projects of mine and of people I admire have come from creative responses to limitations. How can we use art to practice a better present and build toward a better future?
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am drawn to speculative worlds that I can explore and learn from to better this world. Directing and writing science-fiction films is what drives me; at the moment I’m writing a feature screenplay and strategizing the premiere of a short time-travel road trip film NEXT TIME. Feature filmmaking is such a long and winding road, though, and, as with any artistic practice, rejection is almost a constant. It’s been key for me to have outlets to experiment and find new collaborators whenever I feel stuck. My most recent dance film ISOLATIONS was spurred on by pure panic-induced productivity as shelter-in-place orders took effect in LA (WATCH HERE: https://www.shortoftheweek.com/news/best-sheltershorts-vol-2/ ). It was not part of any career strategy or plan I had in mind – probably a universal experience this year – but making it reminded me what I love most about filmmaking and it has been energizing to share the film with people in need of connection. As I take more and more forays into dance, VR, music videos, immersive theater, and ad work, seemingly disconnected projects influence each other in unexpected ways. I love when I can work with friends on videos I’ve produced and directed for companies like Uber ATG and NanoString, and then carve out some off-hours to stoke the fires for our longer-term creative projects. And I think ISOLATIONS came out of how much I was missing the energy of rehearsals for EVERYONE AGREES IT’S ABOUT TO EXPLODE, an immersive show I was working on with Ceaseless Fun as Associate Director until our run had to be postponed. I know now to look for the magic that occurs at points of intersection between different forms of media as I continue to expand my creative practice and grow into the next adventure.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Right now most of my activities involve just walking around my neighborhood. But that in and of itself could be a recommendation for how to experience LA, I suppose. Since life ground to a halt I’ve found so many new things just blocks from where I’ve lived for 5 years; fairytale ivy-covered houses, great overgrown trees to steal fruit from, secret staircases I had never had time to explore before… For a little more exploring there’s the Angeles National Forest with an endless supply of places to escape to for a day hike or some stargazing or a sunset view – I’d always recommend a sunset. In terms of brick and mortar spots, though, I’ve recently been focusing on ordering from this list of Black-owned restaurants (made by Kat Hong): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/18w-0RBhwBBlXDN9kRV9DVSCAGSCjtHb9K0Pq2YBv18U/htmlview?usp=sharing&pru=AAABcpn5lc0*sJ26Ezo5AMI8iN_ejF0VoQ
And then for places local to me, there’s the best cold brew in the city at Muddy Paw Coffee, waffle-iron latkes and babka at Freedman’s, and jewelry sidewalk sales and handmade dresses (and masks!) at Matrushka.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Octavia E. Butler has been teaching me a lot lately through her words. I started out wading into her work for research but after absorbing “Parable of the Sower” I went all in. Now is the time. Her science-fiction work deals with catastrophe but is rooted in hope. In the bleakest possible futures her characters can still see the greatest peaks of human potential. The hope is not directed outward toward a savior or material success, but inward to individual responsibility and, when that’s squared away, to the strength of community. Then to the stars and other dimensions. Activists and visionaries like adrienne marie brown have based new methods of seeking societal change on the ethos of Butler’s work. She reminds me that storytellers have a responsibility to envision the world we want to make.
Cameron Arnett Stephen Tonti