Los Angeles, CA
Melissa Ferrari is an experimental animator, nonfiction filmmaker, magic lanternist and scholar who seeks to acquaint folklores of the past with contemporary culture. In exposing peripheral histories, she aims to unveil the wonder that lies in the shadow of nonfiction, rather than fiction. Her practice engages with the politics of contemporary cryptozoology and skepticism, the history of phantasmagoria and documentary, and the mythification of current science and pseudoscience.
Originally from Virginia, Melissa is now based in Los Angeles where she is pursuing an Experimental Animation MFA at CalArts. Her films have been shown internationally in venues such as the Ottawa International Animation Festival, Black Maria Film Festival, Slamdance Film Festival, Automata L.A. and the Imagine Science Film Festival. Melissa’s scholarship focuses on the ethics and research methodologies of animated nonfiction filmmaking. Recently, she has presented her research on animated documentary at the 2018 Ecstatic Truth Symposium in Lisbon and the 2018 Society for Animation Studies conference in Montreal.
Previously, Melissa worked as an animation artist at Dusty Studio in New York City, where her work was featured in The New York Times Op-Docs, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Nautilus, TED Talks, PBS and the Hamburg International Short Film Festival. Melissa received a BA in Philosophy from Tufts University and a BFA focusing in animation and printmaking from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
My work traces the history of philosophy and natural philosophy through a nonfiction lens. Experimental animation allows me a freedom to form connections between various disciplines and to acquaint folklores of the past with contemporary culture. In exposing peripheral histories, I seek to unveil the mystery and wonder that lies in the shadow of nonfiction, rather than fiction. In my studies as an experimental animation artist and philosopher, particularly with a focus in the philosophy of experimental documentary, I have developed a compulsion towards alternative modes of nonfiction storytelling and the idea of truth as stranger than fiction. Research is a significant aspect of my filmmaking practice as I often draw on historical sources and academic journals in the development of my work. My aim is to explore nonfiction subjects by intertwining obscure, true events with the tangible, handmade quality and resulting emotional content of traditional animation. My first film, “From the Dizziness of Freedom,” used stop-motion puppets to trace the function of mazes and labyrinth in the history, spirituality, mythology and entertainment of societies across cultures. Drawing from Viktor Frankl’s philosophies on logotherapy as well as the history of existentialism, I contextualized mazes and labyrinths as philosophical architecture that embodies the history of human meaning and metaphysical thought.
Acknowledging the emotional potential of compelling facts, I aim to create experimental nonfiction film that connects overlooked parts of history with contemporary culture in a way that critically re-evaluates perceptions of the past and the present while simultaneously kindling the viewer’s sense of wonder and discovery. Comparative mythology, archaeology, scientific skpeticism, prehistoric anthropology, various modes of cryptozoology and Adrienne Mayor’s interdisciplinary writing on the role of mythology in science are major influences on my experimental animation work. Embracing comparative mythology to explore the concepts and forms of various legends and lore, I seek to excavate underlying philosophical and anthropological continuities across cultures and time periods. I am particularly fascinated with considering the visual histories of myths and unearthing the concepts of these stories as remaining relevant today. Research in “paleocryptozoology” and “geomythology,” interdisciplinary disciplines that call on scholars from the arts and sciences to reconsider ancient mythology in the context of an explanatory science, have been a central focus of my work, as well as the consequential anticipation of modern day science as future mythology. I am equally compelled by the tension between the continuing history of pseudoscience, contemporary belief systems, and scientific rationalism. Folklorists, skeptic scientists and philosophers such as Peter Dendle, Don Prothero, Daniel Loxton and Michael Shermer greatly inform my approach to understanding layers of reality within cryptozoology.
My recent film “Phototaxis” draws parallels between Mothman, a prophetic and demonized cryptid in West Virginia lore, and Narcotics Anonymous, the main treatment program in West Virginia’s addiction epidemic. Rooted in nonfiction through a curation of archival text, this film contemplates synchronicity and the role of belief systems in perception; the tendency to assign supernatural meaning to tragedy and the unknowable; and anonymous and apocryphal oral histories. To visualize these narratives, natural materials and pastel-on-paper palimpsest animation are woven together using a multiplane and analog overhead projection.
I am particularly drawn to working in a handmade, hybrid approach, and experimental animation allows me to embrace a range of media such as drawing, printmaking, sculpture, and handcrafts. Combining traditional hand-drawn animation with physical objects, as well as animating outdoors, helps me discover new textures and perspectives for my work while manipulating natural light as an additional dimension of time. Ultimately, my practice is compelled by a desire to critically traverse philosophical ideas and nonfiction experiences in an art made by hand.
MFA Experimental Animation Candidate
California Institute of the Arts
B.F.A. Fine Art, Animation
School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Hand Drawn Animation, Stop Motion Animation, Flash Animation, Filmmaking, Drawing, Etching
Animation, Printmaking, 16mm Filmmaking, Drawing, Sculpture, Flash Animation, Hand Drawn Animation, Stop Motion Animation, Etching, Linoleum and Wood Block Printing, Lithography, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Flash Animation, Hand Building Ceramics