A feature film about utopia and fascism, following the politics and loves of four queers and transgender individuals in NYC.
So Pretty tells the story of four young feminine queer people in New York City in 2018 struggling to maintain their community amid today's turbulent and unnervingly proto-fascist world. Over the course of the film, their lives curiously merge with the German novella so schön by Ronald M. Schernikau. It's a love story, a story of building some new kind of communism, and a story of the relationship between art and life.
It's a film that envisions a utopia in the here-and-now even as the world around us appears increasingly dismal.
A German visual artist, Tonio, comes to New York City, where he meets his American boyfriend, an academic named Franz, and works on an new art exhibition built around the legacy of Schernikau. Tonio and Franz talk politics, art, and love, go dancing, drink coffee, fuck, protest, and organize alongside another couple, Paul and Erika, he a struggling film worker and she a transwoman and musician.
When Paul becomes injured by the police following a political action, their social space is momentarily shattered. At the same time, the audience comes to realize that the protagonists' lives and the film itself are morphing into a version of Schernikau’s novella "so schön." A communist-themed depiction of four lovers in 1980s Berlin, the novella has been read aloud by Tonio and Franz throughout the film in voice-over and at the gallery.
An investigation of leftist politics and femme identity in the context of an increasingly right wing world, So Pretty moves freely between fictional depictions and semi-documentary, adaptation and translation, looking towards the artistic and personal worlds its characters generate across time and culture as a space for new tensions and potentials.
WHAT'S THIS NOVEL YOU'RE ADAPTING? WHY?
so schön is an untranslated German novel by Ronald M. Schernikau, a communist gay man who became the last person to emigrate from West Germany to East Germany. It tells the story of four gay men in Berlin, telling a quiet tale of romantic entanglements, clashes with the police, and the hard day-to-day work of political organizing.
Jessie (the film's director) came across the story years ago through friends and was deeply struck by it. Its association of femininity with communism and leftism became something she oriented herself around as she went through her own gender transition as a transgender individual.
After completing her first feature film, Empathy, and searching for her next idea, it suddenly seemed obvious -- why not adapt this film to your own time and country? Why not share the transformation the novel made in your own head with the rest of the world? It seemed so logical, especially given that Schernikau himself described the text as a "screenplay" for what he termed "a utopian film."
OK, SO WHAT WILL YOUR FILM BE THEN?
so schön will become So Pretty, not a film about gay men, but a film about feminine people, some men, some transwomen and maybe some others in-between. As transgender people become more visible in the world, it's more important than ever that we tell our own stories, and that our stories are not simply the facts of our existence, but stories about what we can do and create.
This film looks at feminine people broadly defined, through the art they create, their loves, their politics, and their struggle. We'll be integrating bits of the real lives of our "actors," who are all artists in their own right. It will be sometimes thrilling, sometimes sexy, sometimes calm.
True to its title, it will be as pretty as the characters themselves and the better worlds they imagine. Shot entirely on 35mm and 16mm, plus a few cell phone videos for good measure, it's will be a cinephiles' dream rendered in beautiful, languid shots.
A New York City-based musician, writer and director, Rachika S works on a multitude of projects spanning noise, ambient, punk, and dance musics. Her solo work focuses on creating audio-visual environments that imagine new worlds and relations, and one of these music-visual pieces makes up a central scene of So Pretty.
In her solo work and as a drummer for queercore group MALLRAT, she’s performed and spoken on panels at Roulette Intermedium, Issue Project Room, MoMA PS1’s artBook, Flux Factory, Hampshire College, and Cornell University among many other locations, and has been featured in publications including Afropunk, Mask Magazine, Tiny Mix Tapes and New Noise Magazine.
Markues is a German visual artist and writer living and working in Berlin whose practice often takes inspiration from the work of Ronald Schernikau. Markues’s works create implicitly political spaces in which an egalitarian, diverse, and feminist collectivity can become tangible. Their newest work, Pressure On Boys, will play a central role in So Pretty. It highlights society’s normative expectations of boyhood not as a biological category, but as a space of shared experiences. Heterosexual and homosexual cis-kids, the late puberty of trans-men, the past boyhood of trans-women, twinks and other boys come together. Markues has had solo exhibitions in Berlin and New York City and has been awarded grants from the neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst (nGbK), DAAD, and Heinrich Böll Stiftung.
Edem Dela-Seshie is based in New York City. Currently working for Showtime Networks and previously at Cinetic, he also is a frequent fixture in the fashion scene as a model. He is also in pre-production on his own short film, a queer-black-feminist reworking of the revenge thriller.
Thomas Love is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History at Northwestern University. Based in Chicago, but currently living in Berlin, he studies exoticist aesthetics in the queer subcultures of post-1960s West Germany. He has received a Fulbright grant and a DAAD fellowship for his research. He has also worked as a film programmer at Northwestern University’s Block Cinema and as a model and performer for the artist Irena Haiduk’s Army of Beautiful Women. With a BFA in studio art from The Cooper Union in New York City, he continues to maintain an artistic practice alongside his scholarly work.
Based in New York City, Jessie is best-known for directing the feature film Empathy, a documentary in the style of a narrative film that follows a heroin-using queer sex worker from city to city as she tries to quit heroin and to organize her life. The film was awarded the Prix du CNAP at FID Marseille in 2016 and went on to play festivals around the world. She also works as a film editor and colorist, editing films such as Sasha Wortzel and Reina Gossett's Happy Birthday Marsha, Josephine Meckseper's Pellea[s], and Jeremie Brugidou and Fabien Clouette's Bx46, and coloring a large number of films, perhaps most notably portions of Beyoncé's Lemonade.
Bill Kirstein is an award winning Director and Cinematographer living and working in New York. An accomplished narrative filmmaker with a background in music videos and commercials, his work with such internationally renowned artists such as Beyonce, Pharrell, Usher, John Legend and Terrence Malick, also reflects his uncanny ability to dispel preconceptions of iconic subjects and to portray instead the more unexpected. He brings this spirit of discovery to his fiction and personal work too; specializing in those moments where reality and fiction start to collide with surprising effect. Rovinelli and Kirstein previously collaborated on both Fuck Work and Empathy. So Pretty is his third feature film as producer.
A graduate of Sciences-Po in 2007, Judith Lou Lévy created Les Films du Bal in January 2011 after working for various producers and directors such as Gilles Sandoz, Dominique Lancelot, Isild le Besco and Bertrand Bonello.
The company's ambition is to create new contemporary mythologies by cultivating the inventiveness and talent of young auteurs with the aim of bringing them to as wide a public as possible. She is currently also producing new films by Benjamin Crotty (Fort Buchanan) and Mati Diop (Mille soleils).
Please turn your eyes towards the right-hand column and take a look at the rewards we're offering in thanks for your support!
These range from early access to the film and custom signed postcards to special offers from our contributing artists, such as an original, unreleased Rachika S song sent straight to you, or an original artwork by Markues (above, left) or Thomas Love (above center, right). Markues' work, I am both (2018, 40x30cm) features a Schernikau quote from his first work, Kleinstadtnovella, rendered in watercolor. Love's pen-and-ink sketch comes from his series Ambiguous Geographies, and features a scene from so schön. Thomas' work is currently still a work-in-process, and an update with the completed sketch will be posted in the very near future!
For the very, very dedicated, we are offering a 35mm print of the completed film for personal and archival use. Please contact for pricing and delivery questions.
Rachika's song is a surprise! Donate to hear it!
Risks and challenges
Every film is a leap into the unknown and a prayer that what's in the collaborators' heads makes it onto the screen, especially with small independent films such as this one. With Rovinelli's work, that leap is magnified by her insistence on using chance and 'reality' to play a strong role in her films.
At the same time, her previous feature proved that this method works for her, and that she can successfully pull off a feature film with a micro-budget, all while turning the strange twists of fortune a film encounters into an important aspect of the film itself. With the slightly expanded budget of this new film, she should have no problem once the film is funded!
The film has already received in initial funding from the Centre Nationale des Arts Plastiques (CNAP) in France, which allowed us to shoot the images and footage contained in this Kickstarter. The success of these initial shoots made it plain that the film would be possible and capable of achieving our high hopes for it.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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