In 2014 I began filming a shot-for-shot remake of Titanic (1997) by James Cameron. I started it as a quick experiment while teaching myself filmmaking for the first time. It became a dynamic long-term project that has involved over six hundred-fifty participants from twenty cities across the United States, Chile, and Mexico. I am producing Titanic (2014-ongoing) with a modest budget—oftentimes thanks to the support of art residencies and grants—while also producing some shoots and performances in public spaces. I produce, direct, star and make all of the sets and props with paint and materials found in my immediate surroundings. The actors, crew members, and participants are friends, family, and people that I recruit in public spaces. All of the scenes are different (ranging from animation to live action), and all the characters change throughout the film. I am always Rose and the director.
My fascination with the film started when I was 11. I saw it in a small theater in Valparaiso, Chile, and since then I have watched it more than eight hundred times.
My fascination with the film started when I was 11. I saw it in a small theater in Valparaiso, Chile, and since then I have watched it more than eight hundred times. My brother was also obsessed with it; he would build models of the ship while I would recite the lines by heart. I was struck by the perfection of the special effects in Cameron’s film, fascinated by the impossible romance between first-class feminist Rose and third class artist Jack, and by the striking image of all of that iron going under the ocean, leaving tiny freezing humans floating in hypothermia, waiting to die from an exploded lung.
La muerte de Jack: In one of the last scenes of Titanic, Jack and Rose are struggling to survive in the freezing water after the ship has sunk. Jack offers Rose a floating door to hop on, and sacrifices his own life by doing so. In my remake, this scene occurs in a pool in the south of Chile. I play Rose, and Jack is interpreted by a ten-year old boy—Balthazar Bitran, my cousin, who is a fantastic actor. I am lying on an inflatable bed that squeaks and the quality of the camera is terrible, but Balthazar’s phenomenal acting erases all loose ends and the low-production value of the scene.
I am lying on an inflatable bed that squeaks and the quality of the camera is terrible, but Balthazar’s phenomenal acting erases all loose ends and the low-production value of the scene.
Sometimes people cry while watching this. There is something about the combination of ingredients in the remake that preserved the emotion of the original film. There was a shift between the dynamic of the couple; now, Rose seems more like the mother of a dying child. Additionally, I believe that there is an additional moving emotion that comes from the pathetic and forever-failing nature of a remake.
The inflatable sinking: The inflatable jumpy castle Titanic ship that I installed at Socrates Sculpture Park was attracting all the children at the park. Parents were signing waivers to allow their children to play and be a part of my remake. All was going smoothly until an air motor failed, which made the plastic structure deflate quickly. The ship was collapsing onto over a dozen children that were playing in it. Panic set in, children were screaming for help, the parents were desperate, and my team and I were trying to save the children from asphyxiation. Luckily, the five cameramen that I had recruited for the day continued filming during the disaster, and the accident turned out to be a perfect commentary on the sinking itself.
Kiss on the bow booth: Towards the end of my residency at BEMIS in Omaha Nebraska, I did a public performance within the context of “Barter Town,” an exchange-only fair organized by artist Heather Hart. I proposed a kissing booth, in which I would offer to tongue-kiss strangers in front of a painted backdrop of the bow of the Titanic. I had toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, release forms, and two cameras. That day I made out with twenty people in order to reproduce the iconic kiss from the film. With some people I had chemistry, with others it was awkward and discoordinated saliva trades. In any case, the complete collection of kisses offers multiple emotions: tension, humor, tenderness, and grotesque moments.
Claudia Bitran (U.S.A.-Chile, 1986) is a multidisciplinary artist who works primarily in painting and video. She holds an MFA in Painting from Rhode Island School of Design (2013), a BFA from the Universidad Catolica de Chile (2009), and will be a Spring 2021 artist-in-residence at Pioneer Works, New York. Recent exhibitions include Spring Break Art Fair (2020), Muhlenberg College Gallery (2018-2019), Practice Gallery in Philadelphia (2018), the Brooklyn Bridge Park in NY (2018), Roswell Museum and Art Center in New Mexico (2017), and at Museo de Artes Visuales in Santiago, Chile (2016). Bitran has participated in group exhibitions and screenings at Postmasters Gallery (2020), Cindy Rucker Gallery in NY (2019), Echo Park Film Center LA (2019), Experimental Video Art Film Festival at Tribeca Film Center in NY (2018), Galería Nemesio Antunez Chile (2018), LeRoy Neiman Gallery at Columbia University in NY (2018), Anytime Dept Ohio (2017), Taipei Contemporary Art Center Taiwan (2017), The Parlour, Bushwick Brooklyn (2016), Museum of Contemporary Arts Quinta Normal, Santiago, Chile (2011), and at Matucana 100 Art space, Santiago, Chile (2011), among others.
Bitran has held residencies at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine (2014), the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Nebraska (2014), the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program in New Mexico (2016), Smack Mellon Studio Program in New York (2017), and Outpost Projects in New York (2018). Bitran currently lives and works in Brooklyn, and teaches at Pratt Institute and Rhode Island School of Design.