To discuss Saintonge’s work as an editor, one must first look at how her experiences as a director inform her approach to filmmaking. We discussed some of her projects and experiences that have shaped her approach to editing.
This collaborative process can make it difficult to distinguish whose voice sculpts the film. But when Stefani Saintonge is behind a cut, you feel it.
Stefani Saintonge: I directed Seventh Grade at a time [when] I was scared of the medium. I didn’t have much experience. I wanted to show I could do a narrative film. Maybe it wasn’t coming from the best intentions. There’s this way of doing narratives—I thought you had to do it that way. And so I was very, very careful not to take risks. I still love this film, but I’ve had to grow to appreciate it more. I see Seventh Grade as a departure from what I was making in grad school.
LT: Were there certain stakes involved in making Seventh Grade that didn’t exist when you were making films in grad school that encouraged some of that hesitancy?
SS: I had a director of photography, an editor, and a producer for Seventh Grade. I was spending a lot more money. I wasn’t controlling every part of the process, and that felt less organic. In grad school for documentary film, I would shoot footage myself. My thesis, La Tierra de los Adioses , was [shot] in Mexico with one of my good friends, Chantelle Flores. She was doing the sound and interviewing, and I was shooting and editing. It was a very intimate process. Fucked like a Star [2018; directed and edited by Saintonge] was like this too.
[Between 2015 and 2017, Saintonge took a number of trips to Haiti, visiting without her family for the first time. What resulted is Fucked like a Star. Much of the eight-minute experimental short brilliantly juxtaposes shots of the domestic lives of Black women (braiding, threading, and spice making) with archival footage of worker ants, contextualizing these everyday gestures as not only foundational in a cultural sense, but integral to survival.
This particular film evolved out of a collaboration between Saintonge and the film’s executive producer, Zuri Obi. It marked a return to the nonhierarchical manner the filmmaker employed while in grad school, but once Saintonge got her hands on the edit, the pair decided together to credit her as the film’s director.]
LT: How much of Fucked like a Star was preconceived versus developed through the edit?
SS: Zuri Obi, a good friend, was finding subjects and shooting them, and I ended up editing. I didn’t plan how the edit would go when we were shooting. All that was preconceived about the film was looking for and shooting work that is gendered, such as cooking and doing hair. That’s how I approach most projects—I see what the footage is telling me and find the rhythm based on that.
LT: Music plays a big role in Fucked like a Star. Once you get into the edit, do you chop to a playlist of songs?
SS: Zuri chose the first song (“Nan Point La Vie” by Siwo), and I loved it. It helped me get started [on the edit]. The rest was in reverse: we reached out to people for music. The middle section is the ants’ copulation part, so I wanted to find something waltzlike.
LT: Fucked like a Star is told in four parts. I’m curious if the chapters were a consequence of the edit.
SS: At some point the film felt like a long montage, so Zuri suggested chaptering it. That was an “aha” moment. The chapters suggest a storybook, and it worked well because we’re referencing a text, Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby. Segmenting the film forced me to come up with a new feeling for each chapter. It started to feel more like a film and less like a music video.