A visually lyrical ode to its subject, Morrisa Maltz’s documentary “Ingrid” is deeply personal film about one woman who retreats from much of puts all her attention on making — making art, hand-building her house, raising her own food.
Ingrid Gipson is a German immigrant who came to the United States in 1960, just 19 and just newly married to an American serviceman. They settled in Dallas and had a son. That marriage fell apart, and Gipson married again, and again had a son. All the while she built a high octane career in Dallas’ flashy fashion scene, garnering attention, success and considerable flash.
But then something made Gipson reject it all. She moved, alone, to an isolated property near Okalahoma’s Ouachita National Forest which is where we first see her, gathering river rocks (illegally, it turns out) to continue her obsessive construction on her house and outbuildings — a compound filled with sculptures and structures,
“Ingrid” is Maltz’s first feature documentary, a detour from her artistic practice that’s focused on video art. Now based in Dallas, Maltz will be on hand July 31 when Austin Film Society screens “Ingrid.”
We caught up with Maltz and asked her a few questions.
Sightlines: You’ve said previously that your film “Ingrid” came about because of a personal journey to find “people who make things but do not consider themselves artists, in order to ask them why.” What was behind that journey and why choose Ingrid as a subject?
Morrisa Maltz: I started making things in high school after my father passed away and haven’t stopped since. As an adult, as I started making money from my career (albeit still a very modest one) I started to lose whatever that was that you start off with — that feeling of needing to make things. I was yearning to find that again.
For numerous reasons, I think living in LA and making things can also be quite draining on the creative spirit. I began to feel lost as to why I started doing it in the first place. If I was going to lose my need to make things in my late 20s, I knew it couldn’t hold through my whole creative career. So I started looking through newspaper articles and corners of the internet for people that made things without the want of money or fame — sometimes known as “outsider artists” — just to pick their brains about why they liked making things. I thought that was a good way to exercise what I was going through. Maybe I could connect to my human need for it again.
I started visiting people for two years in between other work and projects. At first, I didn’t intend to make a doc, I was just curious and asking questions. I visited around ten subjects in various parts of America. I found people in Montana (I actually loved this one and if for some reason you end up in this area of Montana, please go visit him), Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey — one of my closest friends (Meera) actually went into the forest in New Jersey with me the day after her weddin because I had gotten so obsessed with visiting one on my list whenever I had the opportunity to travel anywhere.
While in Dallas (making my short video on self-taught maker Jack Evans) someone told me about Ingrid. I think the more you delve into a subject, the more avenues pop up and people turn you on to things. I drove out and met her and there was this immediate connection and fascination. Ingrid was the first woman who had peeled off from society to create in this manner. All the other people I visited were men. I started visiting her on and off for a few months.
At first I thought to make a short film about her, opening up the idea to a feature if there was enough material down the road. I knew she would be the kind of person whose full story would take a while to get to know. I secured financing for a short, and about six months into filming I realized I could turn it into a feature.
S: How much did you shoot, and how many days did you spend with Ingrid? Did she place any restrictions on what you could film or what you could ask her about?
MM: At first we scheduled the dates with a small team going and kept it more structured. Towards the middle we were just winging it when people were free. We were building the edit as we were filming so it helped to be able to be more organized when we actually had a day to get out there. Ingrid lived about four hours from Dallas so we could do a quick trip in a day if we needed to grab something.
Although, for the goat birth, I was out there for a week just waiting for it to happen. This ties into what I was most hoping to capture. Getting a woman that has been a hermit for years to open up about her life and really trust me was the major challenge. Ingrid had never opened up to anybody and I needed her to intimately express her feelings about herself and her past. It was hard to just make that happen. She had to really believe in our friendship for it to be genuine. During the goat birth, I had to stay with her and wait — and this allowed for us to spend a lot of time together that she would not have volunteered to spend. Before this trip, a lot of her personal life was sort of off limits. She finally opened up about a lot of the things she hadn’t wanted on camera before (about her childhood, her family, and her nazi parents). Everything that happened in this week is what we most wanted to capture to fill out the story and it happened by mistake, because the baby goat took too long to come out. We wrapped on that trip.
There were a few things that Ingrid didn’t allow us to capture. For example, her actually killing the rabbit isn’t shown. Other than that she did give us mostly cart blanche.
S: While Ingrid does open up a bit about her upbringing in Germany, and a little about her marriages and children, there’s still much we don’t know about her. There’s none of the exposé/big reveal of a typical bio doc.
MM: My goal with the doc was not to specifically make a documentary on just Ingrid — I was also aiming for the viewer to have space within the film to have their own existential experience and contemplate their own life choices. I wanted the audience to talk about it afterwards and encourage a philosophical discussion. This meant that we spent a lot of time out in nature (sometimes spending days filming ants and spiders) by Ingrid’s property, trying to make really visual imagery that matched the feeling of the world Ingrid inhabits. It also meant that I wanted a lot of the footage of Ingrid, herself, to be meditative, her meticulously working mixed with cuts to rapturous long nature shots.
I didn’t want the film to be a bio doc — I was hoping it functioned more like a poem or journey for the viewer. My background is as a visual artist, so I wasn’t approaching the film from a typical documentary background. I also think the angle I was using helped my relationship and building the film with Ingrid herself. She respected me as an artist, and knew I wasn’t trying to expose her, but rather to comment and show her life choices in a way that could inspire or soothe others.
S: How does the film “Ingrid” fit within the trajectory of your artistic practice?
MM: “Ingrid” felt like a natural move in my artistic practice.
If you’re familiar with the work of Maya Deren or Pipilotti Rist, there are certain artists who are more avant-garde filmmakers that my video work was similar to. It’s just them and a camera. For years after college I had an art studio where I would build sets, dress up and make whatever I could make with a camera and myself. It was just a lot of hands-on, weird experimental videos that would play more in a gallery or museum setting.
For me, “Ingrid” is a very experimental and visually compelling film — the imagery is incredibly important. As silly as it sounds, a lot of shooting “Ingrid” was me and the DP [Director of Photography] running around, looking for ants, and bugs — things that we were not sure how they would fit into the narrative. But I had confidence that collecting a lot of visuals like that would end up playing a huge role, and it did.
Documentary is a really great format coming from experimental vide, because I was piecing stuff together in the same way. Collage may actually be the best word for it. And you can continue to film and build a story, and that’s a lot of how my video art was made. I would just film a lot of strange visuals in my studio and then figure it out in the edit. Documentary really matches that format of video art making.
S: What’s next for you?
MM: My next project is a narrative/doc hybrid called “The Unknown Country.” I received an Austin Film Society North Texas Pioneer Grant for it last year and we were just selected for the 2019 IFP Narrative Lab.
Spurred by the discovery of a forgotten family photograph, our protagonist, Tana, embarks on a journey that will take her from Minneapolis all the way to the Texas border. Along the way she will reconnect with members of her estranged Lakota family, she will bond with strangers, she will feel threatened, she will endure the highs and lows of prolonged solitude, and ultimately, she will achieve her goal.
This narrative/doc hybrid is an exploration of the American Midwest and the people and places found within it. This film is largely based off of the solo road trips i’ve done in this region of America in the last 5 years. I’ve spent years building friendships with the non actors portrayed in the film, people I’ve met in my travels — waitresses, motel owners, gas station attendants, and time spent with Lakota families in South Dakota. Nearly all of the characters Tana meets on her journey will be played by non-actors local to this region. These characters will be woven throughout the film in segments that go beyond their momentary interactions with Tana, to extended vignettes from their daily lives. Our time with these individuals offers a rare, unflinching view of the humanity contained within this remote stretch of land, pushing an honest lens into this cross-section of America.
The film stars Lily Gladstone (“Certain Women”) and is produced by Laura Heberton and Lily Gladstone. We have been filming for the last year and will finish production in Texas this fall. We are aiming for the film to premiere in 2020.