Elena Bollette is a 25-year-old typographer and writer from Belgium. After living and studying in Barcelona for two years, her journey brought her to the Magic City. She spent over a month riding a bicycle around Liberty City, Miami. Interviewing locals, shooting, and taking photographs. Returning to Belgium she edited the footage and wrote a book, both called White Water. The book and the movie tell the story of June, a young man born and raised in Liberty City, and Ella, a foreign young woman teaching writing practice there. I chatted with Elena about what inspired her to do the project, the details of how she made it all happen, and what she is planning next!
Elena in Liberty City, Miami. 2018
What inspired this project?
Before the idea came, I was researching human beings: how humans connect with the spiritual, death, technology and their own destruction/creation. I was using diverse sources but mostly poets, photographers, writers, directors and was trying to connect them visually. Somehow, I have been hit by three works : “La Jetée” and “Sans Soleil” by Chris Marker – the narrative path is incredible. “Lost Highway” by David Lynch – the feeling of loss is so deep. And “Another Country” by James Baldwin, this book changed my life and I cannot even explain it or relate the connection with my project, I just feel something really strong about it.
Of course, I was moved by Barry Jenkin’s movie “Moonlight”. The movie’s photography was a revelation: it shows Liberty Square (called The Pork’n’Beans), and something in the architecture, the weather, and the vibe called me.
Tell me about the process of the project?
The whole project took about eleven months. First I had the story in my mind in July 2017. I decided to travel to Miami and I stayed a month in January 2018. Simultaneously I was working on the story and the writing. When I came back to Brussels, I had to edit all the material I had. It was kind of natural to edit the movie and choose fragments of interviews or photographs since I knew where I was going.
Of course, I had challenges. Like understanding the way people live in the neighborhood (and in Miami) without any anthropologic status, just human curiosity for my writing process. Meeting people for interviews and discovering their own vision about the community, the Pork’n’Beans, the discrimination and racism, the connection they potentially have with the water, the ocean, the swimming pool, considering my project was connected with it as a main bloodline. One of the biggest challenges was finding someone able to play the male character of the story (June – interpreted by Steven Barkley) and also someone able to play the voice (Cornell Thomas). I didn’t know who would do that before I got to Miami. I was just going there and letting myself be surprised by what I would find. At the end of the day, these surprises shaped the realistic aspect of the movie and the novel.
I must say that all the help I had from Miami people or in Belgium was incredible and so full of energy!
“this neighborhood deserve a beautiful visibility.”
Now that everything is done, you’re back in Miami and you’re preparing to show everyone how the project turned out, how are you feeling?
I have mixed feelings. I’m glad to be here and enjoy so much coming back to see everyone in Liberty City but the goals are not the same, I am basically here to say thanks. I feel I was blessed during my process, and now I don’t need anything from here except sharing the love I received and trying to put the project on another level. Even if this is a fiction, I feel this neighborhood deserve a beautiful visibility. I love the people, the houses with all their colors, the cars from different eras, the music, the barbecues, the chill, the kids. Basically the vibe. I think people are great but the situation is really tough. Anyway, this is complicated.
I agree with you 100% Liberty City has so much beauty, I’m glad you see that. What is coming next?
I am thinking about making a part II to this story. But I don’t think it continues in Miami. It could be New York. I’m not sure yet. This is not set. I’m working on short stories from a male vision about relationships, and I’m trying to use photographs but also poetry. I would like to do something else in Liberty City, closer to a documentary vision. I’m just not set now.
From my perspective, it kind of saved my life. I was in a “dry-low-creativity” time, mostly studying and trying to graduate, and this project came like a breathe and an obsession, it freed me from a lot of demons. I think it can be really important for others in many ways. If you are a creative: it shows you can create a lot with a low-budget, everything is possible if you have a fire inside and a lot of energy and love to share. If you are from Liberty City, I think this is just a way from me to show love, hug everybody. You can take it or leave it. But also it might make people think: “oh, why this girl from overseas doing this? Maybe it should be me? I want people to be proud of where they come from, and also travel and discover other cultures, and bring light to their own creativity.
What is the biggest problem facing our world today and how do we solve it?
I’m not really optimistic about the human capacity to solve the biggest problems. We’re facing different problems with fear and hate of the one another, which bring us to wars, fights, murders, for nothing. Also, the environment is totally damaged and we’re destroying the Earth’s natural resources. However, I can see a lot of beautiful energy and initiatives from a lot of people, and hopefully, this is going to cause changes.
Who inspires your personal style?
I don’t know if only one person inspires me, but I’ve been influenced by Paul Auster, James Baldwin and Mishima for my writings. I also am a big fan of Baudelaire’s poetry. Also hip-hop music has a big influence on me, the lyrics with their mix of poetic vision and rough reality.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the world on a project who would it be?
With you! When? How?! Say yes!
I have no one specific in mind but I would like to do a similar project with rappers and include music as a new aspect. I would also love to continue to work with people that never done projects like this, seeing what we can do together, taking work to a higher level, and just discovering everybody’s potential.
Hahaha, the answer is YES! 💜
Elena Bollette has been telling stories since she was seven. She enjoys traveling and meeting different people, listening to their stories. She graduated as a typographer and a graphic designer from the Art and Visual School La Cambre, Brussels. She uses typography (text & font design) as a tool to highlight writing expression and giving it a shape. She believes writing is not only perceived as words but as a whole product, and uses different mediums like photography, video or interviews to tell a story. You can find out more about the White Water project and connect with Elena on Instagram.
White Water is a hybrid project: a novel book and a short movie filmed primarily in Liberty City, Miami. This event will screen the movie, followed by an introduction to the novel and the movie. When: Wed, February 13, 2019 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM EST Where: CIC Miami 1951 Northwest 7th Avenue #Suite 600 Miami, FL 33136more »