Combining live action, animation, interviews and formal narration, Terence Nance’s feature film An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is a creative patchwork that delves deep into the emotional life of the main character. Triggered by the seemingly minor event of being stood up, Terence takes the opportunity to reflect and brings us on a journey where self doubt is explored in drawings, clay or papier-mâché, and regrets are best confronted in lingering sensual close-ups, tasting the misunderstanding over and over. Nance’s approach to storytelling is much closer to the disjointed and imprecise narratives in our minds than anything we’d find in a well constructed Hollywood spectacle. Here, time, place and characters are second to the themes of memory, mood and the visual manifestation of emotions, arriving at a film that feels more like being sat down and told a story, with photo albums and music playing, than the sentimental bombardment we’re accustomed to in a movie theater.
Sarah Hanssen: This film seems so very personal, but the somewhat stunted and bumbling Terrence character in the film doesn’t seem like someone who could complete a feature film. What parts of your on-screen character did you play up and what parts did you have to throw aside in the interest of the work?
Terence Nance: Well my performance is sort of my take on Mr. Hulot (by Jacques Tati) and it is the sort of mishap-prone, Barry Lyndon part of myself– I definitely exaggerated that part of me for the film. I think the more aggressive / self-assured me is in the subtext of the film but also the film is a portrait of a me that doesn’t exist anymore. I was a Student first of all and that is a very distant reality from the “me” who completed the film.
SH: Between animations, live action, music and more, there seemed to be so much precious material. Editing must have been a challenge. As you cut the film, what were the pieces you hated to see go?
TN: The pieces that took years to animate were hardest to cut from the film. After seeing it several times with audiences however, the ‘preciousness’ of everything has slowly bled out of me.
SH: How has this experience influenced your artistic goals? As you gear up for your next project, how does the feedback and success you’ve experienced affect you?
TN: Well, it is just clear that from now going forward I’m working in a context that includes more publically held expectations. I think building a creative space that allows me to ignore them is probably best. I think however the sharing experience can change your purpose for making work. I think the process has kind of steeled me against re-framing the “why” of making something.
SH: Did you ever have a moment of doubt and crisis as you made the film?
TN: Not really doubt or crisis, but I did have several moments of thinking the film would be done and then my certantity of finishing getting suddenly undermined by an unfortunate series of events. I practice Yoruba and I had a reading from a friend of mine’s priestess from Bahia (in Brazil.) She gave me a message from the Orisha that I can’t share but I can say that it put me on track to finish the film the following year.
SH: One of the missions of this publication is to create “the world that ought to be” through the arts. With that in mind, how have you improved the world through this film? Even just your own world?
TN: Well I think I finished my first feature film. It sounds trite maybe but for me the… relief I experience of just getting it finished. Just the expressing of it feels GREAT. Not from a perspective of catharsis, personal or artistic, either it just feels good to be able to make something else. So I think that is how it improved my world.
For the world in general, I think films like mine with Black people in them that are non-traditional aesthetically or thematically are sort of always at the brink of extinction. Luckily every few years a little air gets put back in the lungs of films of this nature (most recently Medecine for Melancholy). So hopefully someone who has an idea that is weird and Black will feel empowered, because my film proves they aren’t alone.
SH: While it would surely be an accomplishment if more unusual and racially diverse stories made it into movie theaters, I think you can take more credit than that. Your film won’t just inspire like minded people to make work– it reaches to a much wider audience. Films that are a genuine personal expression of the individual behind them are rare and refreshing in our media- saturated environment, but when we see one we know it. For those of us who want to pursue our own creative art making, it is an encouragement along the way, and for those of us who get carried away in the world of An Oversimplification of Her Beauty for an hour and a half, it is something real in a world where most moving images are fakes.