Calafia is a short experimental animation combining 360 HDR images, computer-generated elements and archive photographs of Native American women. Calafia seeks to relate visually to the origin of the name California. According to sources Baja California was first named after the fictional Island of California first mentioned by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo in his book Las Sergas de Esplandián. The mythical and paradisiac island was ruled by Queen Calafia and a population of black Amazon warriors.

The film would like to reclaim the myth of Queen Calafia in an abstract visual style, being aware of the problematic and complex layers of history of colonialism, erasure and the impossibility of appropriate visual representation. The film uses the technique of a rapid succession of juxtaposed single frames to create a unique strobe effect. The mythical presence of Queen Calafia is reminiscent in the natural elements present in the environment in a ritual spatial order. Images of Native American women create a strong visual presence and augment the mythical natural scenery. A third layer is a historical map presenting California as an island, complicating once again questions of myth, history, and colonialism.

  • Szilvia Ruszev
  • Project Type:
    Animation, Experimental, Short
  • Runtime:
    1 minute 50 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    April 23, 2019
  • Production Budget:
    1 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Szilvia Ruszev

Szilvia Ruszev is media practitioner and scholar focusing on the notion of montage. Her artistic work relates to very personal moments, certain states of emotional solitude in relation to the Other. Her professional work as film editor represents a comprehensive approach to independent filmmaking with more than 30 films to her credit. Her broader research interest focuses on nonverbal forms of knowledge acquisition, montage theories, and politics of post-cinema.
Szilvia, born and raised in Hungary and Bulgaria, studied Film Theory at the Eötvös Loránd University (Hungary) and Film Editing at the Film University Babelsberg (Germany), where she worked as a faculty member for six years. As editor, she collaborated with internationally acclaimed directors such as Peter Greenaway, Anders Østergaard, and János Szász. Her award-winning work has been part of numerous international film festivals and exhibitions such as Karlovy Vary IFF, TIFF Toronto, Berlin IFF. Currently, she is pursuing a Ph. D. degree in Media Arts + Practice at the University of Southern California.

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Director Statement

I am fully aware of the fact that my European and White origin sets me in a complicated and sensitive position as a filmmaker. Nevertheless, this short experimental film is a sincere gesture of my excitement for the myth of Calafia, the Black Amazon Queen in a situation where there are several competing theories for the etymology of the name California. By reclaiming this myth, I hope to nurture the visibility of people and ideas rendered historically obscure.