Report from NYC’s 2017 Socially Relevant Film Festival by Lindsy Bissonnette
Mesmerizing and moving, SPLit — the Closing Film in the 2017 SRFF — is an experience unlike any other. And not for the reasons you would think. Writer/director Deborah Kampmeier completely changes the game with this film combining aspects of theatre and film, and creates an atmosphere of unease, tension, and personal revelation. SPLit grants audiences the unique perspective of watching a performer struggle through her own performance, and begs us to face our own struggles as well.
This film is a crucial wake-up call to the parts women carve away in order to survive the patriarchy. It is the story of “Inanna” (Amy Ferguson) who fights an internal encroaching darkness and struggles giving herself over to her male counterpart. An actress by day in The Descent of Inanna, and a stripper by night at a local bar, she finds herself lost in a world of confusion and self-consciousness both on stage and at home with her emotionally abusive partner “Derek” (Morgan Spector). Derek is a mask maker, on more level than one, and a deeply disturbed man. Throughout SPLit, we watch him unravel into a world of self-loathing and self-pity, and as the film gains momentum, he drags Inanna down with him. This film demands that women reclaim these slices of themselves, and in the process teaches them that it is the journey makes you whole.
Before seeing the film, I knew nothing of the story of Inanna (a Sumerian myth about the goddess who is the Queen of Heaven). Although it is not explicitly covered in the film, the myth covers Inanna’s journey from heaven to underworld to visit her sister, Ereshkigal (Queen of the Dead) after the recent death of her husband. Once Inanna reaches the underworld, Ereshkigal locks seven gates and Inanna is forced to enter them one by one. At each gate she removes her crown, scepter, clothes and other items — per her sister’s request — until she is completely naked. Once Inanna enters the underworld, Ereshkigal turns her into a corpse and hangs her from a hook on the wall. Ereshkigal, though in distress, is moved by Inanna’s empathetic servants who have come to collect her body. Ereshkigal gives them Inanna’s corpse, and she rises from the dead.
In the film, an actress named Inanna struggles to connect with her emotionally raw character, and finds herself unable to perform nude in rehearsal. As she continues to avoid the tension and darkness of her character — due to her self-consciousness and hyper self-awareness — she evades the honesty of the scene resulting in the cast’s distress. The director of the play, “Athena,” (Joan MacIntosh) is convinced that Inanna is perfect for the role, but “Iris,” (Raïna von Waldenburg) playing Ereshkigal, has her doubts. With the help of deep breathing exercises, Iris’s fearlessness, and nude mirroring techniques, Athena instills in the cast that they are each strong enough to confront their own demons and face those who have done them wrong. Through these revelations, the cast bonds without her, and Inanna is sent in a downward spiral.
Between Inanna’s toxic relationship with Derek and her frustration with herself in rehearsal, she begins to slowly and painfully drown in loneliness. For comfort at night, Inanna places books on top of her to help her fall asleep, which are later seen, in a beautiful nightmarish sequence, as the women in her cast. Meanwhile, Derek continues spinning out of control, turning every conversation into a direct attack on her. He continues to stifle her voice both physically and emotionally; he convinces her to quit stripping and tries to get her to also quit the play. Thankfully Inanna fights back, but you’ll have to watch the film to find out how.
This story is incredibly important. Inanna, despite her comfort while at her stripping job, feels betrayed by her own body; she is a slave and a stranger in her own skin. As she continues to lose herself in the presence of Derek, he claims more and more pieces of her both emotionally and physically. This is something any woman who has struggled to love herself can relate to, and this story is a reminder that even though we are in the 21st century, we are doomed to repeat the past, as the Sumerian story of Inanna is an ancient one.
Director Deborah Kampmeier has created an almost unbelievable film experience. With beautiful imagery and dreamlike sequences, guided by precise color schemes and chilling music, audience members everywhere will find pieces of themselves in Inanna. Her need for love, her desire for confidence, her inability to express herself, facing stifling oppression… this story forces audiences to be honest with themselves and begs them to never submit to oppression again.
© Lindsy Bissonnette (3/22/17) FF2 Media
Top Photos: Amy Ferguson as “Inanna” in rehearsal and in costume as “The Queen.”
Middle Photo: Ferguson with Morgan Spector as her abusive partner “Derek.”
Bottom Photo: Derek’s masks in his studio.
Photographs courtesy of Candy Factory Films
FF2 NEWS: Congratulation to Deborah Kampmeier and the cast of SPLit for winning the “Best Ensemble” award!
FF2 BONUS: Read a preview of SPLit posted on 8/28/15 by FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner. Read Jan’s interview with Kampmeier about her first film Virgin posted on 3/11/05!
SEE FOR YOURSELF!: Want to rent or buy SPLit? You can get it here on iTunes! https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/split/id1212025686