Isabella Rossellini’s search for the meaning of maternal instinct in “Mammas” looks at nine animals where things like polygamy, lying and dying convince her that “anything goes.”
The program timed to air Sunday (Mother’s Day) on the Sundance Channel is just the latest offbeat offering from the model-actress, who gets in costume and plays the parts of the animals.
In “Mammas,” Rossellini dresses as a mother spider, wasp, hamster, toad, cuckoo, dunnock, oil beetle, piping plover and cichlid fish to show how each brings her young into the world.
The shorts also launch on sundancechannel.com on Sunday.
“Mammas” is suggestive, but the episodes are mostly for comedy and entertainment, Rossellini said. They are also food for thought, the 60-year-old Rossellini said.
Several women biologists, challenging popular thinking about maternal instinct, recently studied how animals behave, Rossellini said.
Many people believe all mothers are altruistic, nurturing, protective and unselfish, but they are not, she said.
“Some mothers eat their babies if there are too many in a litter, other mothers abandon their babies into other birds’ nests for mothers who are not even of the same species to raise; mothers do not get pregnant always with the belly, but sometimes hold the babies in their mouth, they are cheek pregnant or back pregnant,” she said.
“This is what I am telling in the films. I’m saying that conventional idea we have that mothers are ready to sacrifice themselves has been proven incorrect.”
Rossellini is enrolled at Hunter College in New York, working toward a master’s degree in animal behavior. “I have been interested in animals since I was a child,” she said.
“Mammas” didn’t start out as a Mother’s Day project, Rossellini said. It was shown at the Berlin Film Festival in February.
It usually takes about two months after a debut to get it out and that happened to be really close to Mother’s Day, which seemed like perfect timing, she said.
“Mammas” is the third in a series requested by Robert Redford for his Sundance Film Festival in Utah. It started with animal sex in “Green Porno” and moved to animal seduction in “Green Porno Seduce Me.”
In all of them, she plays the animals in bright costumes and demonstrates what happens. It has endless room to grow, Rossellini said.
“They put ‘Green Porno’ on the Internet six years ago and it got millions of hits,” said the actress (“Blue Velvet,” “Death Becomes Her”) and former model. She writes the scripts, sketches a costume she thinks will work, narrates, directs and plays the animal in every short.
There’s a playful connection to Mother’s Day, Sundance Channel general manager Sarah Barnett said. “Isabella gives you a different perspective and a sort of delicious new way of engaging with the idea of being a mother.”
“Mammas” is a work of visual seduction told by “a distinct and remarkable story teller. She has this unorthodox form and at the same time it’s incredibly accessible and surprisingly funny,” Barnett said.
Rossellini is the daughter of Oscar-winning actress Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini.
“Mammas” airs at 5:30 p.m. Sunday on the Sundance channel.