Film editor Èlia Gasull Balada had quite a 2017. Esquire and the The New Yorker included one of her most recent films, Icaros: A Vision, in their lists of the best films of the year. After an extensive festival circuit, Icaros had its theatrical release in the United States that summer and soon afterwards in Canada and England. The film will be released in Mexican and Italian theaters this upcoming spring as well.
With a solid experience in cutting trailers, music videos and commercials for production companies and directors such as Part 2 Pictures and Matthew Newton, Gasull Balada balances her career between feature and documentary films like the Documentary TV Series, This Is Life with Lisa Ling, and the highly anticipated social and political wonder, THE KING. Consistently ranging from documentaries to fiction work, Gasull Balada’s versatility makes her undoubtedly a multi-faceted editor.
Following a period of filming in 2014, Gasull Balada’s talents were recognized when she was recommended to edit the feature film Icaros: A Vision. When meeting with Abou Farman, the producer, as well as with the co-directors, Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi, they clicked and immediately decided to start a collaboration together. Èlia was very attracted by the synergy that existed between Caraballo, Norzi and Farman. Norzi has a background as a conceptual artist and Caraballo was a photographer and a video artist in a duo collaboration with Farman, who is also an anthropologist.
Icaros: A Vision follows the life of Angelina, an American woman who travels to the Amazon in search of a miracle after exhausting all her medical options back home. In her search, she finds a group of foreign individuals seeking transcendence, companionship, and the secrets of life and death. Eventually, her perceptions are altered by the ancient psychedelic plant known as ayahuasca, as well as through her bond with Arturo, a young indigenous shaman who is losing his eyesight. When Gasull Balada embarked on this project, she faced the challenge of editing a long meditation between dreams and reality. One of her primary tasks was finding a way to escape the conventional and create an original universe that could faithfully represent the vision that Leonor and Matteo had. In Gasull Balada’s words, Icaros: A Vision “stays with you and brings you to the Amazon in a way that you don’t expect.”
At the outset of the film’s editing journey, Gasull Balada was working closely with Caraballo; unfortunately, Caraballo passed away before the editing finished. The film is partly based on Caraballo’s life experiences with cancer and her passing opened a big reflection about life and death for Gasull Balada. They had worked very closely till almost the very end and witnessing the departure of a young artist and creative force was a life lesson for her.
“Leonor’s commitment and vision came from the pure essence of being an artist. It is not easy to make films that talk about difficult subjects like death and she gave everything to it. Icaros wants to explore the mystery of something that goes beyond the rational. The challenge lied in bringing the audience to dark and unexplored places and blurring the boundaries between dreams and reality. From there, we tried to find moments of truth that could become moving sensorial experiences and could lead to reflections about what it means to die,” she said.
In the wake of Caraballo’s passing, Gasull Balada, Norzi and Farman kept working together to complete the film. Because of the extraordinary and unfortunate circumstances of the project, the edit of Icaros: A Vision was a long process, providing Gasull Balada a long window of time that allowed her to experiment widely with the footage.
“It’s not common to get enough time to experiment until you exhaust all the possibilities. With this film we really pushed ourselves to try many different things until we got to places we felt very confident about. The vision was slowly constructed and we think that Leonor is very pleased with what we did,” Gasull Balada commented.
“Èlia was a crucial part of our film Icaros: A Vision, which had a successful release in North America with full accolades from the press — The New York Times, Variety, The New Yorker, The Hollywood Reporter, and more. As an editor, she is technically skillful, but that is not what stands out about her. She is someone who finds solutions where none seem to exist because she is both patient and experimental. She can layer images and meanings together. That is what worked for us in our film, that deep layering of meaning and images that make a film transcend the occasion of its shooting. She also has a keen eye for detail, which for an editor means making the right decision about when to cut. Elia’s relationship to cinema is a creator’s relationship. She is committed to an aesthetic and moral vision. She ‘sees’ the film… that is, she sees through the material of the film into its deeper meanings and builds the film from there. This was a difficult film in a difficult circumstance, where the main director was on her deathbed right next to Elia as she was editing – I truly don’t believe any other person would have made it through those conditions, let alone accomplish a masterful edit,” said Farman.
Norzi and Caraballo had in mind a very clear aesthetic that it was partly influenced by the experiences they had had with ayahuasca and the Shipibo Conibo imaginary, but they wanted to bring in other elements like animation and some of the previous video art that Caraballo and Farman had created. Gasull Balada faced the challenge of finding a cohesive language that could interweave the original footage shot for the film with all this other material.
“We played with many different elements in this movie but two of them were essential to me: Nature and the Icaros, which are the songs that the shamans sing during the ayahuasca ceremonies. The jungle embraces the journey of Angelina and Arturo, as well as all the other passengers, and it is also the stage for The Vision and the sequence of hallucinations that compose the story. We experimented a lot with how the forest was going to be present throughout the film and how it would be an essential layer of the whole sensory experience. And we did the same thing with the Icaros. There’s no additional music besides the shamanic songs and those help the audience to vibrate and to navigate through different moods. The harmony of the jungle, and the wisdom of the Shipibo Conibo people come in a full circle that starts and ends with Nature. It’s based on the concept of unity and that was our guide during the editing process. Later on, the work that Tom Paul did with the sound design brought the film to another level and created a full immersive experience,” pointed Gasull Balada.
Icaros: A Vision went on to premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival in the International Narrative Competition. At the Crested Butte Film Festival, Icaros: A Vision won the Special Jury Award. It went on to be an official selection at the Mill Valley Film Festival, the Warsaw Film Festival, and the Santa Fe Film Festival, and screened at International Film Festivals like La Roche Sur Yon, Guadalajara, Habana, Cleveland and Istanbul, among many others.
By Sean Desouza