Jesseca Ynez Simmons on Diane Wakoski


Diane Wakoski in a still from Emerald Ice

Jesseca Ynez Simmons is filmmaker who explored the life and work of Diane Wakoski in what she calls a “docufantasy,”  Emerald Ice, which is making the rounds of film festivals right now. Here is a “teaser” for the film, followed by her answers to EIL’s questions.

Emerald Ice: a docufantasy about the poet Diane Wakoski (Teaser) from Jesseca Ynez Simmons on Vimeo.

EIL: What got you interested in Diane Wakoski, and how did it turn out that she appears in the film? 

Jesseca Ynez Simmons: Diane’s words… they are so beautiful. Do you ever read or hear something that makes your spine tingle? Something that you felt was written specifically for you? Or it was exactly what you were thinking but didn’t have the words to articulate? I am so inspired by the relationship between words and images, words and deeds, words and their formation presenting ideas difficult to film and the images and experiences we cannot put into words. These varying relationships made me gravitate towards Wakoski’s work and led to the creation of Emerald Ice

Diane Wakoski’s beautiful texts invite one to consider the ways in which one perceives, and thus conceives, their life. Diane’s biography in many of her books tells the reader that all the important information about her life is in her poems and her poems are often highly fictive. I consider Emerald Ice a documentary, or docufantasy, though it doesn’t offer the viewer the facts of her life; by only using poems for narration, the film takes Diane’s bio quite seriously. As a filmmaker, I’m really interested in playing with genres and blurring the lines between fact and fiction, Diane’s work was a perfect way to further explore these interests. 

From the very beginning, before I started filming, I wanted Diane to narrate and appear in the film. I don’t think I would have wanted to make the film if she didn’t want to be a part of it. Her being in the film connects her mythic personas to her corporeal self, her imagination to her physical life. Playing with the relationship between the two was something that was needed to make the film I wanted to make, and to make the film a collaborative experience. 

EIL: Are you also a poet, or is film your main medium of expression? And/or do you practice other arts, as well? 

Jesseca Ynez Simmons: I’d like to try but I will admit that I think I’d be too scared to show anyone. While I was editing Emerald Ice I began to feel like a poet, though I do not write poetry. The film uses about 20 of Wakoski’s poems that I cut together to make a new poem or the narrative spine of the film. There is only one poem in the entire film that I didn’t edit. When I first showed this to Diane, I wasn’t sure that she would like it, but she did and said that it made her words new in a way. Filmmaking is my main practice but I dabble in stained glass window making because of a film I had previously made on the subject. I love being a filmmaker because I get to have an intimate relationship with people and practices that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. 

EIL: How are things going for the film so far on the festival circuit? When are the next showings, and what is the next step for this film?

Jesseca Ynez Simmons: Things are going quite well. We just won the Best of Fest (Student) Award at the Inaugural Vidlings and Tapeheads Film Festival. Emerald Ice has picked up some momentum and I hope that it keeps up. At first, I was a little discouraged because I was having trouble finding the right venues and the right categories to submit the film to. I believe it’s a documentary, where someone else may not think so and believe it’s not right for programming. The Vidlings and Tapeheads Film Festival was perfect because they focus on unconventional narratives, and Emerald Ice is an unconventional documentary. 

Though we’ve been doing great in the festival circuit, one of the things I’d like to push more with Emerald Ice is to have it seen by more poets. I hope to try and submit the film to some poetry/writing conventions, etc.

EIL: What is the next step for you? Are you working on a new film? Do you plan to teach film making or continue as a filmmaker? Or a combination? 

Jesseca Ynez Simmons: I’m currently working on my next film about the West Side Chicago Blues scene. It’s still in early production but it’s been very rewarding so far. I am noticing that I like to make work about other artistic practices. I’m not a musician but am starting to feel like one. Other than this I’m currently the Filmmaker in Residence at Northwestern University. I get to teach film and work on my Blues project. Next year I hope to apply for teaching jobs while continuing to work on my films. I find teaching to be incredibly rewarding and always renewing my love of the practice. 

EIL: Have you made short films of individual poems (remixes, videopoems)? Is that a movement you are part of or follow? I know there are lots of them on Vimeo, where we can find the excerpt for Emerald Ice, and also at sites like Dave Bonta’s Moving Poems

Jesseca Ynez Simmons: The only poetry film I’ve made is Emerald Ice. That is actually something I’d love to break into more. I definitely think that I’ll be making more poetry films in the future. I already have an idea for one that I’d like to pursue after the Blues film. 

EIL: What are some things you’d like us to know about your film? 

Jesseca Ynez Simmons: I would want people to know that they should absorb the film like they would a poem. It doesn’t matter if it’s a documentary, narrative, or experimental, it’s up to the viewer to decide what it means for them. Diane writes about the importance of the reader and how they complete the poem because they’ve read it. I believe the same is true of Emerald Ice and of all films. 

Jesseca Ynez Simmons is a filmmaker and artist based in Chicago, IL. Originally from the Bay Area, she received her BA in Politics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, followed by an MFA in Documentary Media from Northwestern University. Jesseca was a finalist for the 2016 ASC Vilmos Zsigmond Award for her thesis film Emerald Ice and a 2015 Southern Exposure Film Fellow for the Southern Environmental Law Center in Birmingham, AL. Jesseca currently holds the Filmmaker in Residence position at Northwestern University. Her feelings on film are ever-changing, but today she has chosen to evoke the words of Georges Bataille: “There are explosives everywhere that perhaps will soon blind me. I laugh when I think that my eyes persist in demanding objects that do not destroy them.”

Jesseca Ynez Simmons 

Emerald Ice 

Review of Emerald Ice at EIL

Diane Wakoski at the Poetry Foundation 

Emerald Ice at Vimeo

Jason Gardinier (poster art)