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Extreme closeup: Isabella Rossellini
'I just wanted to do something that was funny about science'
Isabella Rossellini: "I like animals but a lot of people don't. But everybody seems to be interested in sex."

Even when you’re talking about bugs, sex sells.

Green Porno, produced for the Internet and TV On Demand by the Sundance Channel, began in 2008 as a series of short, comical films about the curious (to us, anyway) mating habits of animals. It was a runaway smash.

The series, re–titled Seduce Me for the 2010 season, is written, co–directed and hosted by actress Isabella Rossellini, who’ll bring the newest set of shorts to the Savannah Film Festival Friday, Nov. 5. That evening, she’ll receive the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Rome–born Rossellini, whose parents were a beautiful Swede (Ingrid Bergman) and a dashing Italian (Roberto Rossellini), had many years of success as a model, appearing on the cover of, among others, Vogue, Marie Claire, Elle and Vanity Fair. For 14 years, she was the international spokeswoman for the cosmetics company Lancome.

Her vast filmography includes Stanley Tucci’s delightful comedy Big Night, the zany Death Becomes Her (alongside Meryl Streep and Bruce Willis), the Beethoven drama Immortal Beloved and, perhaps most famously, David Lynch’s psycho–sexual mystery melodrama Blue Velvet. In that 1986 classic, Rossellini played torch singer Dorothy Valens, a woman with a voracious – and quirky – sexual appetite.

Blue Velvet screens Friday, right after Seduce Me.

There’s nothing glamorous about Rossellini onscreen in Seduce Me. Whether she’s playing a bedbug, a garter snake or a duck, she’s dressed in simple, primary–colored costumes. As she’s explaining the creatures’ seduction rituals, she and a couple of silent actors (or actresses) demonstrate, using foam rubber, carboard and papier mache.

Rossellini’s love for animals will again be in evidence, early in 2011 on the Discovery Channel. She’ll narrate a one–hour special on urban wildlife – rats, pigeons and the like.

And she will, not doubt, make it all sound sexy.

Where did the Green Porno/Seduce Me concept come from? Was it your idea, or were you approached?

Isabella Rossellini: Sundance cast the net out to people who were at the festival – and they liked a short film that I had done previously, which they had bought for the television channel. They contacted me and said they were interested in experimenting with the Internet. They wanted a possible series for the Internet that was identified with the tradition already established by YouTube. It seemed that there was a tremendous appetite for short films.

They said to keep in mind that people would watch short films on their IPhone or some other device, on a small screen, so you’re not going to shoot Gone With the Wind or Apocalypse Now. And also that Robert Redford was inclined to finance experimental films if they were environmentally–oriented. Because that was one of the missions of Sundance.

So with that in mind, I looked at several short films and decided that animation looked very good on a small screen. So that gave me the art direction – a very colorful film. Then I thought – environmental, well, I’ve always loved animals. And I could do a series about some of the strange behavior of animals, especially sex. Because sex is always interesting, for everybody. I mean, I like animals but a lot of people don’t. But everybody seems to be interested in sex.

And that’s how Green Porno came about.

Were these factoids that you were already aware of, or did you use an animal behavior expert?

Isabella Rossellini: I had always taken courses in biology, so I did have some of the information. When I started writing the film, and putting it together, I also researched more. We came out with eight for the first Green Porno series, and it was instantly very successful on the Internet. And so then they commissioned me more. And now we have done 28 of them.

Seduce Me is still part of Green Porno. Some people were offended by the word “porno” – we were looking for sponsors, and some said “we cannot sponsor anything with the word porno in it.” So we looked for a different title.

Was it your intention to educate and entertain at the same time?

Isabella Rossellini: I wanted, in a minute and a half, two minutes, to have two reactions: A laugh, and then a “Wow! I didn’t know that.” And I think we succeeded

I saved watching the one on bedbugs for last, because they kind of creep me out. Then I learned, from you, that the male actually punctures the female – he pierces her body – with a sharp appendage. What I find interesting about the short – and many of them – is that it’s sexually explicit, but it’s not.

Isabella Rossellini: No, it never is. Children see it. I know that a lot of teachers have shown it in schools.

It’s not called a penis, but that’s what it is. It’s an organ to penetrate. Incredibly enough, the female has evolved into this incredible thing because she doesn’t have a vagina, or an opening that’s connected to her eggs. She has a blood system that will carry the sperm to her ovaries. Which is very unusual. It’s not something that you would see a lot in other animals.

In this country especially, you’re associated with Blue Velvet, which is a very dark and sexual film. Do you think, therefore, that it was logical for Sundance to have you do these films about animal sexual habits?: “Isabella Rossellini. Sex. People will get it.”

Isabella Rossellini: (long pause). You know, Blue Velvet happened 20 years ago. So I do know that Blue Velvet is one of my most famous films. It’s almost 25 years ago.

But you know, in the logic of your life, I didn’t say “Oh, I’ve done Blue Velvet, let me continue on the theme of sex, but this time addressing it through the animals.” I never really thought about it. It was a different project. It came from a different thing.

When you’re at a festival, and you’re talking to the press, they just pick a highlight of your life. And they find a continuity. Maybe of course, it’s a continuity in everybody’s life. But it isn’t conscious, or deliberate, or because I’ve done Blue Velvet, let me do something sexual. I just wanted to do something that was funny about science.

I also knew that sex sells. Sex is interesting. If I was going to do it about all the different mouthpieces, all the different mouths that exist, maybe Sundance was going to be unlikely to finance it, because they don’t have an audience.

They’re screening Blue Velvet here. Is this the film that follows you around – the one you get asked about most often?

Isabella Rossellini: I’m definitely delighted to have been part of Blue Velvet, and I’m very proud of it, especially since it was controversial when it came out – some people really disliked it – and now to think that it’s considered a great American classic. It’s a great pleasure

And also David Lynch’s work, that he has been recognized as a great American artist.

Seduce Me screens at 2:30 p.m., followed by Blue Velvet, Friday, Nov. 5 at the Trustees Theater. Isabella Rossellini will be in attendance, and at 7 that evening she’ll be presented with the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award.