here, I fly
On the busy Santa Monica boardwalk, a street performer dressed as a pink astronaut solicits for pictures. Nearby, a fisherman throws his bait out to sea.
Marco AndreiniSpecial Thanks
S.R. BindlerSpecial Thanks
Project Type:Documentary, Short
Runtime:8 minutes 14 seconds
Completion Date:April 27, 2021
Production Budget:0 USD
Country of Origin:United States
Country of Filming:United States
Shooting Format:Digital 1080p
A sketch of three Native Americans playing Nintendo 64 hung right outside of his childhood bedroom. His mother drew it. His father was in a band in the 60’s described as the “Colombian Beatles”. Writer/director Qualia has always been fascinated with the surreal.
Influenced and inspired by the dreamlike qualities of Gaspar Noe and the reflective stillness and serenity of Tsai Ming-Liang, Qualia unmasks the honesty beneath his characters by blending a naturalistic visual style and sound design with waves of surrealism in the editing room. “There’s a gap between the sensory and abstract and that’s where you find truth.”
About 3 years ago, I saw this post on reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/LosAngeles/comments/7r4lgz/astronaut_lady_santa_monica/
Coincidentally, I was also taking a documentary class in film school. I took it as a perfect opportunity to take my shitty equipment with me on the train and head straight to the pier and see what I could find.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find her, but I did find a fisherman that stood out from the rest. Fisherman Joe. I asked if I could film him for a school project, and he let me. I was a fly on the wall. It was a humbling experience. Him and his wife would go out there every weekend to fish. Sometimes other piers, but he said Santa Monica had a very particular energy. It reminded him of the good old days.
The next day, I talk to the guy on reddit that posted the picture. He gave me general times/days he would usually see her, so I took that into account and went out accordingly. It must’ve been Saturday, around noon, that I'm lugging my tiny Blackmagic Pocket cam and heavy fuckin Ravelli tripod through the crowds just hoping to see a glint of pink hair. I see my friend, Joe, fishing and ask him about any info about a pink-haired astronaut. He said he’d actually seen her that same day and he pointed down the pier.
Sitting on a bench about 100ft away, I see a white helmet looking out at the sea.
My heart raced.
She’d been this mythological figure in my head for a few days and I didn’t know what to expect. I was star-struck. I set my tripod down and started filming some people on the beach as I was trying to think of what to even say. Fuck it.
“Hey, would you mind if I film you?”
“Is tips okay?”
I nervously dig out a crinkly $10 and hand it to her. She asks if I’m going to upload it to YouTube and I tell her I’m trying to make a small documentary for class. She tells me she has to go stand in her spot and I follow. Then, I proceed to steal a bunch of cool shots of her on the pier doing what she does: pictures for tips. I’m surprised nobody stopped me and asked for a permit as they usually do.
I ask her why she chose the astronaut costume. She tells me that everyone needs some sort of character out there. She didn’t want to choose something stereotypically “pretty”; she wanted something that would stick out a bit more. Then I ask her:
“What’s your dream?”
“Me dream? Make a movie!”
I brought the footage I’d captured back to my docs class to show what I’d done so far and everyone was interested in this character of a pink-haired astronaut at the pier. Striking. My instructor gave me some advice on how to approach this and some ideas even on what could come out of this.
So, for the next two days, I filmed her as much as I could. I borrowed a GH5 from someone last minute to get some slow-motion footage and asked my friend to help film (and drive me). One of the days, we’d planned for an interview session, after it got a bit slow. So we moved over to a nearby veranda and I interviewed her.
She told me her real name, but she usually goes by Angelina. She’d immigrated from China a few years earlier and was doing a 9-5 over there with no real goals, living with her mother, and frustrated. Around her early 40’s, she decided it was time to head to sunny California with an ultimate goal of becoming a famous Hollywood actress. She’d been writing a book she was going to give to a producer friend of hers to then turn into a film with her starring in it. I’m not sure how legitimate this was, but who was I to say anything.
After finally believing I had all of the footage I needed to make some sort of short-documentary, I was absolutely frustrated.
I’d made transcripts of the interviews and organized all of the footage. I put together an assembly of what I thought things should be, but things just didn’t seem like they were leading anywhere that seemed right. It felt dishonest. And artificial. It kept seeming like I had more to film to build this whole thing up. And I did. But that was a lot of work, and my docs class was ending. I had to move on.
Fast-forward to 2021, where quarantine gives the opportunity to review a bunch of old footage of mine. I find a process documentary I made about Joe, the fisherman, but never released. I decided it was finally time to polish it up and post it. It didn’t feel right and I felt frustrated for a solid two weeks. I take a shower one day and think about playing with the idea of merging it with the unfinished doc about Angelina. It was incredibly interesting and I kept finding different ideas and themes throughout the process, but still, nothing felt honest. So I took a day and actually watched Angelina’s footage.
For the first time in three years, I was seeing the footage I shot with new eyes. I’d only scrubbed through in an attempt to find “what was needed” for whatever intellectual thing I was trying to create. I humbled myself before the project and let it find its own life within my timeline. Ultimately creating, "here, I fly".
A dedication to everyone trying to do what they love and failing to do so. Because succeeding isn’t everything – it’s the *doing* that’s exciting. That’s where I feel like I can really fly.