Sundance London: Terence Nance Deconstructs Emotion in An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

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Terence Nance's An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty plays at Sundance London beginning Apri 26. Click here for ticket information.

“I didn’t know I was making a feature until I was doing it,” says Terence Nance of his innovative third film, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, screening in the New Frontier program. Nance, who earned his MFA in Studio Art from New York University, also never really set out to be a filmmaker. Or an animator. Or a music video director. But he’s all of these things, and more, with an eclectic set of interests and a DIY attitude that informs his cheerful embrace of diverse media forms with gusto.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty took root when Nance was stood up by his date and spent the ensuing lonely evening writing about his emotional experience after having been jilted and about the nature of emotion itself. That writing ultimately evolved into the film’s script, which the exuberant art student then decided to turn into a feature film. “I thought it would be a 5-minute movie, but it was 40 minutes,” he says. “That was in 2006. A year later, I came back to it, and decided to make a feature. That was the start.”

While the initial film was all live action, Nance decided to animate portions of the new version. “Some of the things that happen in a relationship are not documentable – like a dream,” he says. “For the things you can’t reenact or show, that’s where the animated elements came in. They capture an inner reality or dialogue.”

Nance liked the contrast between the more formal story and the animation. “The script is in second person, and asks, ‘What would you feel like if this happened to you?’ I wanted it to be an impartial self-examination, as if I was outside looking at myself. So the voice-over communicates what happened. But then the visuals, performance, and the music bring in all of these other elements.”

Nance says he was also compelled to create a multi-sensory experience -- visual, sensory, and rhythmic. “I wanted to show what happened in the most direct way possible,” he says, and to that end he used very tangible materials, such as puppets, paint on paper, and pencil. He’d taken a basic animation course in school a few years back – “You draw it 12 times and it moves” – and ambitiously forged ahead. He also liked the emphasis on process, which is fundamental to his overall method.

Nance’s focus on integrating handmade art into his filmmaking combined with a DIY ethos characterizes a burgeoning creative movement of young artists in New York. “This community is making art first,” explains Nance, noting that it’s not about doing spec work or getting a job. “The focus is on making something good,” he says, “and it comes out of hip hop culture,” which shares that DIY energy and passion for just trying something and seeing what happens.

Writer Nelson George recently characterized part of this movement in a piece about a group of emerging African American filmmakers titled “New Directors Flesh Out Black America, All of It,” in The New York Times, with a focus on a group of young filmmakers, including Dee Rees, Rashaad Ernesto Green, and others. Nance definitely feels the impact of this growing energy, and participates in another aspect of the community as part of a group called Cinema Stereo. The collective is designed to connect diverse creative talent and showcase new work. In their own words, Cinema Stereo announces, “We are a community of filmmakers focused on restoring the humanity and diversity of Black narratives, while making the dopest shit of all time.”

Terrence Nance is currently raising funds on Kickstarter to finish this film for the Sundance Film Festival. Click here to watch a trailer and to support his project by January 19.

Lead photo: Terence Nance's An Oversimplification of Her Beauty