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Artist Statement: Reflecting on Kutya


Lili Zay


In making a short essay film which took my darling dog as its subject, I wanted to make sure of a few things. I wanted to avoid a chummy, feel-good home video that forsook the complexities and depths of my shared life with Vincent. I also wanted to make sure that I didn’t take my subject too seriously, and wander into a swirly ramble about animal life — a topic I have spent much of college thinking about deeply and philosophically, and which I find grounds for very rich thought. However, I think I erred on the side of serious and philosophical, and I hope this is forgivable in light of how dear and serious this topic is to me. Finally, I was also wary of speaking for my dog in a way that was irresponsible and childish, frankly. Expanding the conceptual scope of the film to my relations with animals more broadly, instead of just with Vincent, hopefully offers some perspective on the topic while also demonstrating the care I want to take in relating to all animals.

In beginning this project, I didn’t realize just quite how much relevant footage I had captured over the course of many years of travels and quotidian documentation of my life. I was very pleased with how much footage I was able to pull from previous years and adventures, which I think makes the film more interesting and gave me much more material — literal and conceptual — to work with. It also took the pressure off of filming during this semester, and skirted the issue of ending up with all relatively similar footage of my dog. Thus grew the project from a focus on my dog only to a contemplation of my life with animals more broadly.

The voiceover was the last element to be completed and I was resistant to it for a while because of insecurity of hearing my own voice in a powerful, direct way, frankly. I worry still that it is too much of a monologue and not a dialogue. The “you” I address in my film is my dog — and so my interlocutor is both inside and outside the film. But my interlocutor(s) (my dog and other animals) have no way of replying to me by language and engaging in a conventional dialogue. This is a tricky place to be in as the filmmaker. Although I think my voiceover invites viewers into a line of thought or questioning, it does not address them directly and interpolate them. It is more self-questioning, exploratory, and intellectual in a way that aligns with the voiceovers of essay films directed by Chris Marker, Harun Farocki, Agnès Varda, and others. It is also playful in moments, I hope.

Not that all essay films have voiceovers, but I felt that this was one of the most accessible ways for me to make my film essayistic. The images in my film are also essayistic in that they do not form discreet scenes and aren’t chronological or continuous. The footage draws from places I’ve travelled over several years: Palau, Fiji, South Africa, New Mexico, Maine, Vietnam, and North Carolina. This global scope, which I am lucky to have accessed in previous years, relates my film to other essay films which were born of a globetrotting filmmaking career — I have in mind Kristin Johnson’s Cameraperson (2016) and Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983). From those two films I borrowed the intermittent use of black leader to signal a pause or change. My film is in a few parts or chapters, organized by similarity of shots and themes. I would call the sections: water, land, sky, domestic animals, wild animals, dogs, Vincent. The film moves from the universal to the specific, and invokes the idea of evolution early on to parallel this directionality. Finally, although I set out to make a portrait of my dog, this project ended up taking on larger ideas. 

I was also inspired by the work of Terrence Malick, which I say modestly, because I know it can’t achieve such a level of beauty and artistry. Nonetheless I hoped my images and voiceover would bring viewers into a similarly poetic, musing, awe-struck kind of state — which is at least what I experience when watching Malick’s films. I of course also wanted to honor Montaigne’s original essay project, which was fundamentally linked to his relationship with a friend, Étienne de La Boétie. In making a film about my dog, I am also thinking about friendship, specifically that which exists between humans and extra-human creatures.



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