Beyond the Square
Ivan Herrera, winner of last year’s Jury’s Choice Award at the TIFFxInstagram Shorts Festival, discusses the medium’s infinite potential with music video director Nabil
In 2017, any smartphone can be a window to a world. For emerging filmmakers, the power is even greater. That’s why this year marks year two of the TIFFxInstagram Shorts Festival, which allows directors to upload any short-form video onto Instagram. This year’s festival will be judged by a panel that includes Isabelle Huppert, Lake Bell, John C Jay, Karan Johar, Director X, and Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders. Submissions have been extended to August 1.
Last year, filmmaker Ivan Herrera, who is based in the Dominican Republic, entered his haunting film La Pasión Original, which ended up winning the Jury’s Choice Award from a distinguished panel that included Xavier Dolan, Ava DuVernay, James Franco, Priyanka Chopra, Ben Richardson, Rachel Ryle, and music video director Nabil Elderkin. Later that year, Nabil and Ivan would end up working together on two of Nabil’s music videos for John Legend and Vince Staples — proving that one great post can take you anywhere. TIFF asked the two collaborators to tell us the story of their friendship and how Instagram is a life-changing medium for any storyteller.
How did the two of you begin working together? Nabil, what did you see in Ivan's work that you responded to? Ivan, what did you learn from working with Nabil?
Nabil: Well, I met Ivan on couple projects prior. He was my producer for a Beats by Dre commercial and a Little Dragon music video (“Pretty Girls”) I directed.
Ivan: The Vince Staples’ video for “Prima Donna” was a great project to produce for Nabil. A 10-minute short film and music video sounded like a promising combination that I wanted to be part of. I knew it was an important project for him, so it felt really good to have him come shoot in the Dominican Republic. A couple of months later, Nabil called and asked to prepare the shoot for the Dominican Republic portion of John Legend’s “Love Me Now” music video.
Nabil: I liked that he was a creative producer and also a director himself, which helps with the creative process.
Ivan: Working with Nabil taught me to raise my standards.
Nabil: Basically, we became friends — good enough that he convinced me to buy some land in the Dominican Republic and build a house close enough to a great beach we both like to surf at.
Vince Staples' "Prima Donna," directed by Nabil Elderkin.
Ivan, in what way did winning the jury prize at the 2016 TIFFxInstagram Shorts Festival impact your career?
Ivan: Winning the jury prize for La Pasión Original made me believe in my vision, and also proved that the concept is the most important thing, not the budget. It confirmed that Instagram is a powerful tool where, no matter where you come from, if your work is strong enough and impacts the right people, doors can be opened.
How do you both use Instagram as a way to communicate the way you see the world?
Nabil: Instagram is my diary and daily expression. I like to keep my account more spontaneous and about daily moments. Sometimes, but rarely, do I post my work unless I want to shed a light on it. It also serves as a great way to meet people and find inspiration.
Ivan: With my account, I’m not only saving a moment that will remind me of a feeling, a colour, a smell, a location, or a specific moment of my day, but I am also telling a story, which is what I love the most. I have a very eclectic account because it’s a reflection of my eclectic life; what I see and what I do. I like to take pictures of the simple things.
In what ways does an Instagram post reflect a new way of storytelling?
Ivan: Instagram is like a book, but you’re using images instead of words. I feel that anyone can learn about my life, the things I like, and the situations that capture my attention from looking at my account. I also enjoy how you can transport yourself to a different place and time, while also learning about other cultures.
Nabil: I see how it can be a way for anyone to show their work in a democratic way. It costs nothing, we all have a device (our phones) where we can record and edit content, and usually, great content shines. Careers have been made from this platform, and mine has definitely grown with its access.
Ivan Herrera's award-winning video of the TIFFxInstagram Shorts Festival.
Ivan, how did you first discover Nabil's work? Which films or filmmakers have inspired you to pick up a camera?
Ivan: I discovered Nabil with his Frank Ocean music videos for “Novacane” and “Pyramid.” I can’t remember any particular director or cinematographer who inspired me to grab a camera — at least not in my early days of filmmaking. Of course, there are a few who have inspired me along the way: Tim Burton, Eliseo Subiela, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Jacques Audiard, Danny Boyle, Mark Romanek, Terrence Malik, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, and the work of Nabil, as well.
Nabil, where are you getting your inspiration lately?
Nabil: My inspiration remains the same. I have been fortunate enough to have the financial and creative ability to travel constantly and see the world. I am actually currently on a plane, leaving Ivan in the Dominican Republic. I went with him, his family, and a couple friends on a tube ride down the most amazing river. It was empty and enchanting. While going down the river, I thought of an idea for a short film/music video. I pitched it to Flying Lotus. I will probably will come back to shoot it next month!
What's the best thing you've seen on Instagram this month?
Ivan: The account of @ivar.wigan is fantastic!
Ivan: I like more cinematic aspect ratios — 2.35 or 1.85, but I think that using a 4:3 aspect ratio can be helpful too. I like to experiment and try things, so I can see myself doing some 4:3 projects one day.
Nabil: I'm not a big fan of the square, or even the 4:3 film format, but to each their own. I love widescreen. It lets my eyes relax and be submersed in the film.
Your 60-second iPhone video could be the start of something big. Submit to the TIFFxInstagram Shorts Festival and get your work seen by our distinguished panel of judges. Submissions end August 1.