An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is the title of filmmaker Terence Nance’s début feature, which premiered in the New Frontier selection at Sundance this January. It is a ninety-minute dissection of Nance’s own inability to find love. Through various forms of animation, an omniscient voiceover, and live-action re-enactments, Nance provides an intimate portrayal of the women he’s pursued and the quixotic attempts with which he’s pursued them. The Sundance Film Festival described it as “explosively creative,” and, indeed, one has to set aside normal expectations of a feature film when watching Oversimplification. Hollywood structure does not abide. Rather, Nance tells his story like a singer-songwriter. It has verses, a chorus, and an occasional solo. Fact is second to impression, the narrative is nonlinear, and characters express themselves directly to the camera. When speaking about the film, Nance mentions blues musicians like Lead Belly and Blind Lemon Jefferson as some of his key influences.
“The blues evolved around the idea of consecrating a negative situation and making a nice song about it,” Nance says, “which isn’t necessarily a melodic or a formal idea in terms of how the song is structured, but that was definitely a big influence.” As with proper blues, the energy of Oversimplification is raw and heartfelt, for better or worse. The animations are stunning, and Nance’s display of creative range is mind-boggling, but the live-action sequences suffer from the lack of professional equipment and a trained crew and cast. The image is grainy and the acting is stale. This we forgive for the fact that Nance did it entirely by himself, from starring in and directing to editing and scoring the final film. The people on whom the film is based all play themselves in the re-enactments, which makes it borderline documentary.
“I call it impressionistic nonfiction,” Nance says. “I think the film achieves what I wanted it to achieve in the sense that it recreates the experience of being in a relationship. That said, I’ve realized that there’s a lot of people who do not enjoy that.” Much of the criticism of Oversimplification has revolved around it being “self-involved” and “overly complicated,” as Nance himself is under the microscope for most of the film. “I do think that it is self-indulgent,” he agrees, “but I don’t think of that as a valid basis for dismissal of it.”
Nance was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1982. His childhood is described in the film as being subject to “the Cosby effect,” meaning that it was “conspicuously devoid of angst, conflict, and repression.” His mother is an actress, his father a photographer, and his uncle a musician. “I was raised in a household where everybody was an artist,” he says, “so I was always in a place where that was the most important thing.”
In 2005, Nance graduated from Northeastern University in Boston with a bachelor’s degree in visual arts and moved to New York, where he earned a master’s in studio art from New York University in 2007. While still at Northeastern, Nance spent nine months in South Africa, where he directed a short called “Exercising Rejection.” Like Oversimplification, it was a direct account of one of Nance’s unrequited love affairs.
“When I got back [to the US], I used that quick way of processing an experience into a film to make the first version of Oversimplification,” he explains. The main focus of the film is on Nance’s ambiguous relationship with a woman named Namik Minter. To him, she is the one. To her, he is a friend. As their real-life relationship evolved through the six-year period it took for Nance to complete the film, he was able to include not only re-enactments of past events, but Minter’s reactions to the film as he showed it to her through various stages of completion, bringing a meta-perspective to Oversimplification. At one point, Minter started to make her own film about the relationship called Subtext, which has been gracefully worked into Nance’s feature.
With the film now touring the worldwide festival circuit, Nance has started working on his next projects. The first is a semi-documentary about skin bleaching called So Young, So Pretty, So White. The second will be an original feature called The Lobbyist, in which Nance plans to star as a “conman/prostitute.” How the latter will be produced remains to be seen. Oversimplification was shot on cameras that ranged from his own iPhone to a Canon 5D, and was funded largely through Kickstarter. Tackling a bigger project—like the title implies—will be a challenge, but Nance is optimistic.
“There is money out there for films,” he says. “I just believe in making the work. If you can’t find the resources to get it done in a reasonable amount of time, just make something that requires no resources. I will not be stopped from making something because of a lack of funds. If I can’t shoot this in March, I’ll write something that I can shoot in March.”
For more information, please visit Terence.MVMT.com.