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Posted at 10:43 AM ET, 04/22/2008

Isabella Rossellini's Going Green, In a Porn-y Kind of Way

By Liz Kelly

Isabella Rossellini: Come fly with me. (Image courtesy Sundance Channel)
Catching Up With...

What do you get when you cross Isabella Rossellini with the green movement? Porn.

That doubletake you just did -- that's what Isabella wants -- and, in this case, she's hoping that short film aficionados and fans of her work will embrace her latest project, "Green Porno." In the series of eight short films Rossellini wrote, directed and starred in for the Sundance Institute she plays a range of cartoonish insects having sex.

"Personally I've always had an interest in animals and everyone is interested in sex, so I thought that writing little shorts about how bugs mate would not only get a laugh, but would also be interesting," said Rossellini Monday in a phone interview.

"My hope is that people laugh watching my film and then say, 'Hmm, I didn't know that about a fly or an earthworm.'"

Maybe. My initial reaction was more "Hmmm, I didn't know that about Isabella Rossellini." Not surprising considering the actor -- daughter of screen legend Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini -- has carved an unconventional niche for herself in Hollywood -- from her stellar turns in David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart" to her nuanced performance in 1994's "Immortal Beloved" alongside one-time boyfriend Gary Oldman.

But -- another surprise -- don't ask Rossellini for advice on being green. Despite the green-centric focus of the new shorts, she says her mission is to entertain, not preach.

"I'm a filmmaker and a storyteller and I want to make people laugh," said Rossellini. "I'm not here to preach anything or give advice because I wouldn't be a good source."

Though she became absolutely authoritative when I asked her about her children and the challenges of raising a kid in the entertainment industry, where tabloids and paparazzi lay in wait for the slightest bold-name stumble, Rossellini took exception to my assertion that children of the stars have a hard time of it.

"I don't think you can say that of Chelsea Clinton or Jane Fonda and Bridget Fonda or Laura Dern or John Lithgow, who was more successful than his parents, but comes from theater."

Read on for the entire interview (after the jump) and more of Rossellini's thoughts on fame, filmmaking and being green. And stay tuned for the debut of her eight short films at sundancechannel.com/greenporno on May 5.

Oh, and happy Earth Day.

Liz: Tell me about "Green Porno."

Isabella Rossellini: I was contacted by the Sundance Channel with whom I have a long relationship -- for voiceovers, the festival, the institute -- so they know me. They told me they had a budget to do experimental films for the third or the fourth screen, meaning the Web -- your laptop screen or your cellular screen. Redford and the Sundance Channel believe that maybe there is a chance to relaunch short film, which has disappeared from the market.

Short films were very popular at the beginning of the cinema, in the era of silents with the Charlie Chaplins, the Buster Keatons, Oliver Hardy. But then they ceased to exist. They're only used by students to show their talents, but not professionally used because there's no outlet for them.

But the idea was that when you watch on your cellular phone something, you are watching it while you are distracted -- waiting for the bus, walking in the street -- so your attention is short. So maybe you could make short films, but very colorful films because the screen is small so you have to do something that can be seen very clearly on a small screen, not a big one or a flat TV or anything like that. And so that's what I was given as an instruction. And I knew that Sundance was green -- the mission of Sundance is to be an environmentally-concerned channel.

So I had the directive of being green, short and colorful. So they gave me the art direction -- because my films, I don't know if you've seen them, are very close to animations. Basically huge paper cutouts with me dressed up like bugs. They're very colorful.

Personally I've always had an interest in animals and everyone is interested in sex, so I thought that writing little shorts about how bugs mate would not only get a laugh, but would also be interesting. My hope is that people laugh watching my film and then say, "Hmm, I didn't know that about a fly or an earthworm."

Liz: So there are seven films in total?

Rossellini: Eight. We did -- let me see if I can remember -- firefly, spider, dragon fly, mantis, bees, snail, fly... there's one missing. Worm.

Liz: Now you actually play the male insect in the movies?

Rossellini: When we first did the films, Sundance asked me to first do a series of three as a pilot, which included the spider and spiders -- first of all there are many different spiders and many different ways to mate, but we had to generalize -- and most of them have these modified little legs and the male spider is much smaller than the female and the female just stands still waiting to trap prey with their web. So it was easier for me to be the male because it was easier to move me since I'm a human being and can move and just do the female as a gigantic paper cutout laying still.

So that's how we started. But when we looked at the film people laughed because I played the male and not the female. It never occurred to me because I was playing a bug and I thought that was absurd enough. But it was double absurd because I also switched sex. So then it sort of remained because you make people laugh. But a lot of animals are hermaphrodites -- both male and female.

And I don't play always the male. I play the female bee.

Liz: In the process of doing these shorts did you come to admire on particular insect more than others?

Rossellini: No, I always enjoyed animals and the mysterious world of nature and variety of nature, so it's the great wonderment I like, not that I like one more than another. All of it is so incredibly interesting and varied.

Liz: So tomorrow [we spoke Monday afternoon] is Earth Day. What would you say to people out there looking to dip their toes into the green movement and maybe do something to get just a little bit greener in day to day life?

Rossellini: I am no preacher of any sort. I am concerned -- like a lot of other people -- about our planet, but I am no authority on telling people what they should do. I'm a filmmaker and a storyteller and I want to make people laugh. I'm not here to preach anything or give advice because I wouldn't be a good source.

Liz: Fair enough. Where will we be able to see the movies?

Rossellini: The idea to do the films was Robert Redford's hope that through the third and fourth screen we could re-launch the short film format. And since Sundance's mission is to be green and experimental in independent filmmaking, they have budgets that are set aside to experiment. So that's where "Green Porno" came from -- an attempt to do films conceived and designed for the small screen. So, it's going to be shown on the Sundance Web site -- go directly to sundancechannel.com/greenporno and it will take you directly to my films.

Liz: Did this spark any more directing aspirations? Are you looking to get behind the camera again?

Rossellini: We hope to see what the reaction to these little films will be and then Sundance -- the attempt was to create content for these new distributions. What's not existing right now is a business model. If you want to see a feature film, you pay $10 a ticket and that money goes back to the industry. If you do a TV film there are advertisers or cable fees and that money goes back to the makers. But distribution on the Web and on the cell phone, there is not yet a business formula that has taken hold and so part of the research and experiment is to have content and see how many people watch it and if a lot of people watch it, can you make a business out of it and get advertisers. But that's beyond me. I'm not a business person.

But I think Sundance will look into that and so far the "Green Pornos" have been very successful. Not directly to the audience because they're coming out May 5, but they've been shown at festivals and were very well received. We went to a lot of conferences to talk about the possibilities the new formats are offering. So in that way they were a great stimulus to conversation. And I expect or hope that Sundance will like to collaborate with me further. But then we will have to sit down and think what the next step is to this experiment. Part of it is not only what comes to my mind, but also to experiment with different formats in the hope that we find a business model. That's the only way you can perpetuate and do one, two, three, four, five films. Otherwise you run out of money.

Liz: Short films are experiencing a renaissance on the Web, courtesy of sites like YouTube.

Rossellini: The problem is business model. And it might stay that way -- that in your cellular phone is just a recycling bin and feature films that should be released on a big screen, but you missed it so you see it on your small screen. Or amateur-ish content. It's fun. But I don't know if you want to have people that are professionals at making short stories -- will they be able to create that world? We don't know.

Liz: I wanted to change the subject and ask you about your daughter, Elettra, who is following in your footsteps as a model and is also a very serious student.

Rossellini: Elettra didn't follow my footsteps -- I wasn't a very serious student!

Liz: Well, maybe just the modeling side. But I have to ask -- since we see so many children of celebrities who seem to stumble and have a hard time negotiating their way to adulthood -- how did you manage to keep your children so grounded? What's your secret?

Rossellini: I don't have a secret, but I do disagree very strongly with what you said. I don't think you can say that of Chelsea Clinton or Jane Fonda and Bridget Fonda or Laura Dern or John Lithgow, who was more successful than his parents, but comes from theater. I do think that a lot of -- it is the same percentage of children of doctors who want to stay in medicine or children of lawyers who want to stay in the law -- and some of them stumble and some of them don't, because that's the way life is. But I don't think it is different.

I think this celebrity thing that you're talking about is something that has been manufactured not by the people that are celebrities, but by the press that has created an industry of paparazzi and none of that money goes to the people who are celebrities. It goes to the paparazzi, so it has nothing to do with them. People want to be actors, want to be filmmakers, want to be singers because they like the art they do -- they don't work to be celebrities. It just comes with the job.

But in terms of people succeeding or not succeeding it is exactly the same as with any other discipline. And most children want to remain in the domain of their parents because that's what's familiar. I myself remained in films and my parents were from film.

Visit sundancechannel.com/greenporno to learn more about Isabella Rossellini's "Green Porn."

By Liz Kelly  | April 22, 2008; 10:43 AM ET
Categories:  Catching Up With..., Celebrities  
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