In her short and impressive career, filmmaker Jenna Elizabeth has managed to garner a strong reputation for her fearless exploration of the dark side of beauty. The granddaughter of legendary jazz drummer Chuck Flores, Jenna got her start in the creative industry from a young age, when she started a film club and festival at her high school which led to her producing her first film at the tender age of fifteen. After graduating from Emerson College in 2006, Jenna went on to work in film restoration at Lowry Digital where she was a part of the rematering of the complete collection of James Bond flicks. It was this experience that convinced her of her passion for the craft.
Six years later, Jenna has worked in London on movies like the Joy Division documentary, Control, and Arthur and the Invisibles, and has managed to rack up quite a following, working with publications from W Magazine to Dazed & Confused and designers like Yves Saint Laurent and The Lake & Stars. Her films and still photography constantly push the boundaries between light and darkness and the abstraction of beauty. In her latest project, the filmmaker teams up with Victoria’s Secret bombshell Chanel Iman on a short film entitled Thirst.
Co-produced by Reece Hudson and Bullett Magazine, the film depicts Iman as a scorned lover, seeking revenge on her cheating boyfriend in a rather un-conventional way. After sedating him, Iman writhes sensually over his unconscious body (clad only in lingerie of course) and tortures him while making love to the camera in a way we’ve never quite seen before. Frequent collaborators, the pair (Jenna and Chanel) have obviously struck a balance between model and muse. Here we talk to Jenna Elizabeth about her penchant for bondage, her relationship with her subjects and what’s on the horizon for this burgeoning auteur.
Portable: Tell us a little bit about Thirst. It has overt themes of female sexuality, violence and bondage, which are prevalent throughout your body of work. Why do you think this particular short garnered so much attention?
Jenna Elizabeth: I feel like right now we are in an age when everyone is being told, “You must have digital content!” People are going out of their way to have motion. However, that’s not necessarily a good thing. There is a lot of work I’m seeing that would be more captivating if it remained a still photograph. I think if you are going to put it in motion, it should be engaging and provide a narrative… Otherwise, it is just a masturbatory reflection of a very simplified concept. Thirst was pivotal in that it provided narrative, and also had an incredible production value. Everything was shot on the RED EPIC, and the score was original and composed to the exact edit of the film. We were blessed to have Stenfert Charles who scored Martha Marcy May
P: There is no doubt that Chanel Iman is a stone cold fox and you’ve worked with her a lot in the past. What is it that draws you to her as a subject?
Jenna Elizabeth: Chanel resonates with me because she has traditional editorial elegance yet also has this tremendous commercial appeal — she doesn’t feel isolating to the rest of the world. It is a rare hybrid. I’ve always identified with a Helmut Newton archetype — where the women feel available, engaged, yet incredibly surreal in terms of location and tone. Nothing feels compromised. The subject looks engaged and in control of their body. Chanel has this panther-like mobility, and the first time I saw it I was blown away. Often times you meet pretty models, but they are limiting and offer you one pose fifty times over. Chanel is captivating and is willing to work every angle to get something interesting. Each take is better than the last.
P: You also recently premiered a short film, Third Degree, which deals with the effects of fame and hype. What sparked your interest in that subject and how did Brady Corbet (Thirteen) become involved?
Jenna Elizabeth: Brady is a good friend. He is the most honest person I know in terms of being able to properly defend a film or negate it for that matter. Brady’s intelligence of the industry attracted me. He isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. There are a lot of inconsistencies within film, and I felt like he would be able to speak to that in a matter that transcended a particular moment of now — but rather the archetype of celebrity culture. Every decade has its fallen hero. [When researching] we looked at interviews with River Phoenix and other notable teen idols that possessed that rare level of expectation. I was particularly drawn to this idea of wanting to know about a celebrity — why culture cares at all frankly, and if it is at all our right to know.
P: You’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with some fantastic photographers and filmmakers. Is there a particular person or experience that you feel shaped you as an artist?
Jenna Elizabeth: I’ve been very fortunate to meet and work with people I have tremendous respect for. I feel like your work is defined more by what you turn down than what you say yes to. I’ve made particular decisions, against popular consent and I’m happy it’s resonated on a consistent level. I owe a major thank you to Greg Kadel. Although many people have given me their level of respect, Greg was one who took it a step further and said, “I believe, here are my tools. How can I help?” He really brought me to the next level in terms of bridging my resources and providing support. I hope I can do the same to someone in the future. It’s a rare connection.
P: What’s next for Jenna Elizabeth? Any exciting projects coming up?
Jenna Elizabeth: I am launching a film with Erin Wasson soon. I’m a big fan of hers so it was cool to meet a fellow woman that sort of immediately connects at the level of pushing expectations, and has this strong energy. Also working on a rather large project… But I can’t speak too much about it until a little later. It was really the impetus for me to move to New York. Sometimes you think that you are ready for something… But the timing is off. For me, I’ve wanted to make this for seven years so it’s incredible to finally be able to bring it to fruition.