5 Questions: ‘Infurmary’s’ Violet Wang

“My teeth hurt when I was editing the film.”

As a first-time filmmaker, Violet Wang cut her teeth on Infurmary — or at least shot teeth being cut. The documentary project from the UW-Madison sophomore and Associate Director for the Badger Herald dives right into a dental procedure, largely sticking to the confines of its surgery room and its tiny subject: Claire the cat. At just a handful of minutes, Infurmary is intense in its details and comforting in its confines, and with its punny title, a perfectly fine fit for the Wisconsin Film Festival’s colorful documentary shorts program.

I talked with Wang, who’s now developed a full-fledged interest in making her own movies, for “5 Questions:”

1. Medical procedures aren’t the most public experiences, either for humans or animals. What was the proposal and process for gaining access to this facility?

Me and my partner Elle Waters actually started out shooting a lot of footage not just about dental care, but also about health care, behavior training, etc. We simply think that interactions with cats are very cute. I finally choose to focus on the dental care because I think the process is very unusual and interesting. I simply emailed the clinic. I explained that the project is for a class and we are both students. They emailed me back literally in three minutes and invited me to take a tour to the clinic. I am very lucky and the doctors in the clinic were so supportive and friendly.

2. How difficult was it to stay out of the surgeons’ way while shooting?

It was quite difficult. It’s a small place for filming, especially to get those very detailed close-ups. I think the idea that it only happens once really drove me to get closer and more intrusive while filming. We did try our best to keep the surgeons comfortable and not bothered by us.

3. Did you get squeamish at any point? Your camera is unwavering at some pretty intense moments.

My teeth hurt when I was editing the film. During the shooting, we had two cameras. Elle got most of the handheld long shots and I got most of the intense close-ups. My goal was to get really close and steady shots of some details, so I mostly used a tripod even though the space was very limited.

4. You’re focusing on just one animal but obviously these procedures happen all the time. That’s something we see a glimpse of at the end when the cat’s resting again. Why did you limit it to just one animal?

The assignment had multiple limitations. For example, the documentary had to be purely observatory (no interaction, interviews with the subject) and it had to be under five minutes. That was the major reason for me to focus on this single procedure. Also we were facing time pressure, we changed our topic to a cat clinic one week before the rough cut was due, so we didn’t have a lot of time for shooting. The other major reason is that I believe it is the most visually interesting moment of all my footage.

5. Among others, you thank Hamidreza Nassiri in your credits. Did he work with you on this?

Yes, he was my Teacher Assistant for the Media Production class. He did not directly help making the film but he gave me great advice on preparing for the filming and post-production. In studying film in general, I learned so much from him and our professor Aaron Granat. I mentioned that I didn’t have any experience in filmmaking prior to this class, and right after the class I had experience in writing a screenplay, producing a documentary and a narrative short film. The most precious thing with Hamidreza is that he is always pushing his students and supporting them in various ways, even after class.