Rob Ulitski - 13th Jan 2021

Celebrated designer and DJ Virgil Abloh collaborates with Josiah Wise - aka Serpentwithfeet - on Delicate Limbs, and with Kordae Jatafa Henry on the remarkable visual for the track.

The video opens with Wise and his lover in a bucolic setting. Their life is meditative and uncomplicated, built around shared moments of quiet, before the growth of an alien plant spurs Wise to dart into the forest alone.

The resulting narrative builds to an introspective climax, complete with stunning visual effects work and animation, in a style reminiscent of the work of visionary collective Encyclopedia Pictura. DoP Andrew Truong enables Henry's rich and complex world on screen, revealing the narrative through subtle camera moves and clever composition. 

KORDAE JATAFA HENRY:

It was important for me to see gay Black men taking up space in the paradigm of love and life.

"I was invested in working with Virgil Abloh and serpentwithfeet to tell a story of a Black folklore. It was important for me to see gay Black men taking up space in the paradigm of love and life. Through this process I had to uplearn about Serpent’s experiences as a queer Black man growing up in Baltimore and how important it was for us to lean into this. I started to ask more questions about what Black fantasy could encompass, what worlds could we invent and what atmospheres we already occupy.

"I had never heard of works like the Conjure Woman written by Charles W. Chesnutt that started from old Negro spirituals. So a lot of this process was about embracing what I did not know and what I would be able to carry from these readings of otherworlds, and what was already existing in the feeling of the music.

"What became clear was that we needed to find moments to create a space of joy and love even in a time filled with visible degrees of uncertainty. I ended the treatment with images of Kerry James Marshall works as a reminder that this film is about what happens when we simply 'come together' (Fred Moten). This is where we started. Serpent and I spoke about speculative folklore but more so about envisioning Black love in other worlds and in this one. Combining live-action with real-time animation to tell this story was really only an artifact of that process. The process of “coming together”.

"The entire project is always oscillating in between uplift momentum and downward fall. For the past year or so I’ve been exploring this idea of using new animation tools for storytelling in a way to include a range of conversations into Black cinema. By no means can I say I'm close to answering that question of 'Am I making it with this?', but at the very least I want to add to the conversation that includes a variety of tools that are available to young Black filmmakers.

"I’ve always admired Bradford Young’s ability to be technical but not rely on it, rather relying on his intentions and how being in the moment has more richness to the process even when it feels like creative free fall at the moment. I heard someone once say that our work is always ahead of us. And I feel like this at this very moment. The work is starting to live in and breathe in it’s own way."

A lot of this process was about embracing what I did not know.

EVALINE WU HUANG (PRODUCER & PRODUCTION DESIGNER):

"Kordae texted me one evening in April just incredibly casually - he had an idea, and would I have time to chat? I knew K in grad school and was aware of his talents, but to be honest I was floored by the pitch for Delicate Limbs. Creative filmmaking is such an ambiguous proposition that walking in on a beautiful and thoughtful project always feels like a winning lotto ticket.

"As a production designer and producer, my approach is always to work backwards from the foundation. You never have a complete roadmap, but making the right bets is critical to getting your story across. There then follows this process of ciphering production that belies the underbelly of beautiful things. You’re racing time and money against creative and to be honest, there will never be enough. It was wildly extravagant to shoot 16mm at a heinously remote location for less than a minute of screentime. That wasn’t even the most humbling decision -  I first encountered the lover’s tree on a shoot years ago when it was lusciously green against a late winter sunrise. I went back last summer to a bare, brown, and sun-scorched skeleton. An enormous branch had been struck by lightning, and I had to shovel a truckload of cow dung off the roots.

"Weeks later, I saw Kordae had animated the tree healing itself in the most ethereal way. We had weeks of post left to go at that point, but after that moment it was kind of a foregone conclusion. It is rare, no matter where you are in your career, for your creative bets to pay off so cleanly. 

"We would both like to thank Virgil Abloh, Josiah Wise, Shauna Slevin, Kazz Laidlaw, Joel Quartey, and Elena Argiros. This project was made so true to the intended creative vision thanks to their warm support and belief."

Credits

DirectorKordae Jatafa Henry
ProducerEveline Wu Huang
Executive ProducerEveline Wu Huang
Production ManagerAde Macalinao
Director of PhotographyAndrew Truong
Focus PullerFelipe Larrondo
GafferAnderson Ko
Art DirectorEveline Wu Huang
WardrobeJessica Willis
ColouristGabe Sanchez
CommissionerElena Argiros
LabelColumbia
Other creditsCasting Director: Samantha Blake Technical Direction: C/O Actual Objects Rick Farin Claire Cochran 3D Scanning: Human Engine 3D Scan Support: Ainslee Robson Title Design: Justin Sloane Covid Compliance Officer: Aaron Meritt Steadicam: Brian Sergott Stills Photographer: David Okolo Seamstress: Hasmik Kourinian Key Grip: Jordan Fliehler Special Thanks To Adebayo-Oke-lawal & Emily Bode

Rob Ulitski - 13th Jan 2021

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