11/22/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Isabella Rossellini Frolics with Green Porno but there's a Deeper Message

Isabella Rossellini really gets excited when she talks about the birds and the bees -- on a number of levels. The revered actress generated buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival recently when she unleashed Green Porno 3, an inventive short that revolved around the mating habits of several marine animals. It turned heads because Rossellini imagines herself as the animal. But the film wasn't the only thing on the creative menu. There's also a book of the same name and the work can be seen on the web.

It's all part of an effort to not only raise the level of awareness about the animal kingdom but to also shed light on many environmental issues.

But Green Porno? Hey. It won a Webby Award.

The lowdown: Green Porno--a truly provocative title--is a series of short films about animal sexual behavior. It became a hit after it debuted on the Sundance Channel in 2008. (For the record: Rossellini did not "act" in these initial shorts.) Now in its third incarnation, the artist has embraced the art of directing with the current project. The new season rises to the occasion at 8pm Monday, Sept. 21 on Sundance.

In my interview with Rossellini, the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini opened up about the importance of philanthropy and, well, sex. Read on ...


You mention a love for silent films and Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. What is about that that intrigues you?

There are several things about silent films. First of all, I grew up in Italy after the war. We didn't watch much television because they did not produce that many programs. But they did use all the silent films to entertain kids in the afternoon on television. We all ran home after school and sat in front of the television. They showed all the Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin shorts. I am very familiar with all the films in short film format.

Years later, Robert Redford called with the possibility that the Internet was a place to re-launch the short film format. I was very familiar with it because I had seen them. Also, in silent film, the camera was pretty static. And it was funny. You could make a joke just by having the camera standing still and creeping into frame. So silent films were very present in my head. Also, there was simple [production] solution. Like science fiction shorts ... the costumes, the trip to the moon. You could see the paper mache sets and it was done in a garage and it looked very charming. So that gave me the courage to do Green Porno with the same simplicity and try to recreate the charm of something you would have done in your basement. Nothing spectacular. Just funny.


So, what is it about animal behavior that fascinates you?

I have always liked animals, ever since I was a little girl. I always liked dogs and I'd run after butterflies; look at birds. I was born that way... the same way as if you were born with brown eyes. What I like about animals is that there are great mysteries about them. But also they strike me as comical. There's something that make me smile about them. I try to convey that comicity. Is that a word?

Where did the idea come from to imagine yourself as the animal in the book, in the film?

I wrote the script. Redford was saying that he also wanted something with an environmental content and I proposed Green Porno and they liked it. It became hugely successful and then the book came along and then more episodes and a DVD. It's now shown in television and Europe and all of a sudden, it got this bigger life than just being an Internet film.

For Green Porno 3 you worked closely with biologist Claudio Campagnia. What are some things you learned from him?

When I did the first series, I would have liked to have had a scientist to make sure I understood everything. Some of the books, the scientific books, used very big names, and sometimes I had a little doubt if it was really clear what I was writing. But I did not have success getting a scientist to help the first season and I think it was because I was a first-time director and because of the name, Green Porno, scared people. But when I did the first series, Claudio thought it was amusing and actually wanted to collaborate and do more. He's a marine biologist and works mostly in Patagonia. He helped me do some films about sea creatures and then, as he was helping me, he said, 'You know, this could be developed further and it can be more environmental.' And the series that he has now--animals that we commonly eat, like squid, shrimp--he talks about the effects of this fishing.

You mention that you cut out fish from your diet?

You don't have to cut fish out of your diet but you have to know what to buy. It's hard. Because at the fish market, sometimes they don't know exactly what they are selling. For example, salmon, which is probably what most people eat ... farmed salmon is generally bad because farmed salmon, once you create a density of animals you have to give them antibiotics. But the antibiotics spill to the wild population. The animals don't eat what they would naturally eat so they give it dye so the skin would stay pink. So, it's not healthy for you to eat, but also not healthy for the environment. Salmon can be eaten, but, as you know, the whole coast of Oregon has been closed because the population collapsed due to overfishing. Now there are some very good fisheries in Alaska and Canada ...

You can eat fish; you have to make sure it comes from a good place and that's the part that I find hard. I go to a fish market and I ask for salmon but I say, 'Make sure it's Alaskan salmon,' and sometimes the guy says, 'Well, I don't know if it's Alaskan salmon, what's wrong with you lady?' But yes ... I eat less fish than I used.

I understand. I live in California so ...

So you know, some salmon fisheries were closed in California as well. Several of them are full of mercury and the fisheries, like tuna, are highly endangered due to overfishing. Also, we're polluting their environment and then we are eating what they eat.

Yes. Well people need to become more educated about that and that's what I like about what you're doing.

Thank you. That was Claudio's idea. Claudio felt that scientists, including him, that Green Porno was an opportunity to change the way of communicating some ideas. We thought that Green Porno was fun; that some things can be communicated through humor. Sometimes a message is so strong; so dramatic that people don't want to hear it any more. They shut off.

And what are you most excited about next?

Green Porno was successful and it was a lot of fun to make them, so hopefully, I will able to write and direct ... not just Green Porno, about animals. Green Porno is Green Porno and I have to evolve to do other things.

Switching gears. I have to ask: what's some of the best advice you've been given about life?



Life! Well, I thought the question would be on a smaller scale like the biggest advice you had about food eating, but life? That's a big one. Well ... to have fun. Not to feel guilty about having fun.


Learn more about Isabella Rossellini's work and Green Porno here. Or visit For a quick look at what the "green" buzz is all about, watch the video below.