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ND/NF Women Directors: Meet Jessica Oreck

Women and Hollywood By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood March 21, 2014 at 10:00AM

"I knew I wanted to keep making films about ethnobiology."
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Still from "The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga"
Still from "The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga"

Jessica Oreck makes projects large and small that instill a sense of wonder and invite viewers to question their relationship with the natural world. Her most recent feature-length documentary, Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys, premiered in competition at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. Her first film, the award-winning Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, played theatrically around the world and aired on PBS's Independent Lens series. She is currently in post-production on a new feature film and several short animated projects, including the recently released web series Mysteries of Vernacular. Jessica considers her second home the American Museum of Natural History, where she has worked as an animal keeper and educator periodically since 2006. (Press materials)

The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga will play at New Directors/New Films on March 22 and March 24. 

Please give us your description of the film.

The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga is about the way that humans look at and interact with wilderness. It's about memory, folklore, traditions, war, human nature. The usual.

What drew you to this story?

You know, at this stage, it's sort of hard to say. I started this project more than 5 years ago. I was just finishing my first feature, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, and I was sort of casting about for something else to work on. I knew that I wanted to keep making films about ethnobiology, but I don't remember exactly what it was that set this project in motion. I just remember diving into the research with this deeply seeded idea. Most of my ideas are like that -- they just sort of germinate overnight -- like some tooth-fairy muse has planted it deep in my brain.

Much of my creative process is very intuitive -- I often don't remember writing or editing, or even working at all. It feels like I am just channeling some other entity. I realize how unhip that sounds, but it's honest.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

There are always difficulties. Our camera started having speed and registration issues about halfway through production. And everyday we would pack a five-person crew into a crushed and cramped car in extreme heat, bumping over nearly non-existent roads. We would get stopped at borders, lose equipment in the mud, get food poisoning, get lost. But overall, I think those things sort of blur in my memory, and I am left with a misty, romantic nostalgia for that place and time.

What advice do you have for other female directors?

Just dive in.

What's the biggest misconception about you and your work?

I don't know! I've never really considered that. I tend to make work that's pretty open to interpretation. I hope I encourage people to take away what they will from the films. So I supposed there are plenty of readings that wouldn't necessarily align with my goals, but I think I'm okay with that. 

Name your favorite women directed film and why.

Beau Travail and 35 Shots of Rum. I can't even begin to summarize why these are my favorites. They are just perfect.

This article is related to: Jessica Oreck, Women Directors, Interviews, New Directors/New Films, The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga