Director Marco Porsia talks about his Swans documentary, which will be shown in Orlando this weekend
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Courtesy of Marco Porsia
This weekend, Local Arts are hosting the Modern Music Movement and Uncomfortable Brunch are hosting a one-off Florida showing of the new music document Swans: Where Does a Body End? The fly-on-the-wall film takes up the impressive and complicated story of Swans, the monolithic ensemble under the direction of Michael Gira and a changing cast of employees over the decades. The film is based on the double poles of interviews with Gira and his musical fellow travelers – who worked fully with this company – and an invisible cache of performance videos that date back to the band’s early years in the 1980s. Director Marco Porsia answered a few questions from Orlando Weekly.
Where did the original inspiration for this film come from?
Swans had a huge impact on my childhood, and I’d traveled to see all the tours since I was 19, from the Burning World Tour (which I actually saw in Miami Beach of all places). I had even flown to NYC to see the last show there in 1997 without thinking that I would see Swans over 40 more times after that day.
I originally wanted to do something for the last tour in 1997 to sort of document it, but I just couldn’t make it. Then I met Michael during the many Angels of Light tours he took in Toronto in the 2000s.
We became friends, and when I saw him reactivate Swans, I knew immediately that I had to turn this new chapter. I started getting involved on various tour dates and shooting as many live shows as possible. I made a few live tour films first, and then in 2014, after seeing so many incredible Swans shows firsthand … I realized I wanted to tell the full story of Swans. So I told Michael about my idea of making a document about the band’s history without knowing where it might lead us, and he agreed.
How could you collect so much previously unseen archival material and photography to use in film?
Early on, before I even started interviews, Jarboe told me there was a huge box of VHS tapes, all live shows from the ’80s and’ 90s that had disappeared when she and Michael broke up. Michael didn’t know where that box was. About a year later I got a call from Michael saying he found him! So I raced to New York for rehearsals and was tasked with digitizing hundreds of hours of archival footage that had never been seen before!
The photography was often generously donated by many photographers who were there at the time documenting the band, such as Wim Van de Hulst, Beth B., Michael Cohen and many more. Many photos also came from Jarboe’s personal collection and other band members.
How did you convince so many artists, musicians and former Swans members – I was happy to see Jarboe participate in the project – to be interviewed for the film? Many of these people are known to be interviewavers.
I just started asking everyone on my list, around 50 people, and surprisingly, most people immediately said yes. My first interviews were with JG Thirlwell, Thurston Moors and Lee Ranaldo, who share much of the story with Michael and Swans. Jarboe was of great help from the start, offering her archive to use, as well as her memories and advice. I had to wait a while before I could interview Jarboe and Michael. They were the last to be interviewed so I had to include them in the film that I had already edited. I did a 6 hour interview with Michael. Afterward, he told me that he felt like he had read his own obituary.
What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
The biggest challenge was to bring the film to a manageable length. My first cut was almost 5 hours long! I was able to bring it to just under 3 hours. But from there I had to do a 2 hour cut for festivals and for that I had to ask a friend of mine to suggest the cuts because I just couldn’t do it. It was painful, but I kept the 2 hour and 45 minute versions for the Blu-Ray and DVD versions. There is also a deluxe version with over 2 hours of bonus material for additional scenes and archive material. I
I would say another challenge was financial. In the end, I had to finish the film with my own money and put many thousands of dollars on my credit cards. But I was determined to finish it off and make it look so good, both visually and acoustically.
What would you say to introduce this film to the Orlando audience since you will unfortunately not be there for the screening?
[This film] was really a love work. I wanted to live up to my favorite band that grew up to this day and I feel like I am in the right place at the right time to be able to do this. I have often felt that I had a lot of difficulty getting through it, much like Michael did during his artistic career with Swans. I hope you enjoy the movie!
Swans: where does a body end? Screens on Saturday May 1st at 8pm in Will’s Pub. Tickets are $ 10.
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