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first time's a charm, 130919 – a portrait of marina ambramovic

In a single take, Artist-turned-Filmmaker Matthu Placek captures the legendary pioneer of performance art Marina Ambramovic in all her naked glory.

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130919 – A Portrait of Marina Ambramovic, showing in this year's Sundance Film Festival is an ode to the career she has made using her body as her medium, where the New York-based performance icon appears standing in the rundown building in Hudson, New York, the future site of the Marina Abramovic Institute. During her expansive career, Abramovic has set herself on fire, had a loaded gun pointed at her head and even enacted her own funeral in an attempt to explore the physical limitations of the body, as well as the body’s potential to be a vehicle for spiritual transformation.

The film features an original score recorded by Ambramovic's dear friend Serbian singer Svetlana Spajic and arranged by music producer Thomas Bartlett, that recalls the cycle of birth, maturity, decay, and rebirth. Having previously worked with the likes of Julian Schnabel, Richard Prince and Marc Jacobs, this is the first of Placek's series of 3D video portraits exploring his ongoing pursuit to immortalize his subjects in a single composition.

On the heels of a successful reception at the Miami Basel, Placek took some time to talk, bundled up in winter wear over a hot drink to talk about his first steps into the film world at the Sundance Film Festival.

How has it been to show art on the Big Screen at the Sundance Film Festival?
Proper film screenings are all new to me. The film is showing in the the New Frontier section and in the Shorts Narrative competition. I knew a few people from New Frontiers because it’s very art-world related. The film is also showing on the Oculus Rift, this new personal gaming technology, which is great because the film is a very one-on-one experience and ideally I wanted to show it to one person at a time. It really shows her vulnerability as a 67-year-old woman who has exposed herself with arms stretched to come in.

You shot on location of the future Marina Abramovic Institute site in New York, can you tell us about why you chose this?
It was important to shoot there as part of the story. It was shot stereoscopically with two red cameras in a 3D rig, a huge crane and about 120 lights. They had to get this crane through a 5ft wide door and it took them almost two hours to wiggle that thing inch by inch. Then when they got the crane in I was worried the floor would cave in this derelict old building. But it's so much a part of Marina's story, it had to be shot there.

Where did the concept for this film come from and why Marina?
I've known her a few years now and I truly believe in her and her work. As our relationship grew, I really wanted to tell her past, present and future. I wanted to do a portrait of her body, her body of work, so I thought it should be tangible you should be able to touch it or feel it, which is where the 3D aspect comes in. My 3D guys did Gatsby, and they said this is the most challenging film they've ever made because it was one take.

Speaking of, why was it important for you to shoot in one take?
I started do one takes to learn and have respect for the film medium. It related to the way I take still portraits. But it took a lot of preparation. I wanted her lit from centre, but the camera goes over her at one point, so that took hours and hours of shifting things and walky talkies back and forth to avoid a shadow. But shooting is easy and that is where the spontinaity comes in and I get something I didn’t plan for.

Why is this portrait to you?
To me a portrait is really intimate and personal and really shows the subject. Like, spending 30 minutes with someone, that's a picture not a portrait. I had known Marina well enough that I wanted to explore this with her. She is also at a major transition in her life where she is pretty much done preforming and is now focusing on the institute. I was happy that Marina said I did her justice, she even cried when she saw it for the first time at the Miami Basel in December. That's the best compliment.

What's next for you?
I’m planning three more portraits in this format, its going to be an ongoing series with different subjects.

@MatthuPlacek