Sunday, May 02, 2021

Confessions of an Elder Heretic

A year ago I began a daily practice of posting a 30-second video of nature on Facebook. Now that Outside #365 is about to be shared, I expect I'll still spend lots of time There, without necessarily sharing the results. I've appreciated the ongoing connection to a small group of folks - some housebound, some landlocked, some disabled or ill - all of us connected to the passing of the seasons, the motion of water and wind. With so much on hold, observing nature daily underscores how time passes, seasons change: there's a larger continuum than the arc of the pandemic. Various folks suggested I incorporate the Outsides into my work, or consolidate them into one large work. Since so many of my short films occur outdoors, in a sense I already have. Possibly in the future, it'll feel right to linger even longer on this kind of imagery - reflections in water especially - which hold such magic for me.

That's the million dollar question: what will I make next? 

The previous entry in January was about how I'd kept busy furthering the voices of others, which has continued. A few more poetry collaborations with husband Daniel: The elders have fallen ... and Evolution of a Silhouette. A short tribute to my mother, Helen Renzi, for a series on Women's Suffrage in Berkshire County. An interview with music writer Dave Marsh for a symposium celebrating his work, called The Land of Hope & Dreams. And a series of 30+Instagram portraits of students at Rhode Island College, made with my long-time pal / producer Angelica Vessella. I'm currently editing a short Behind-the-Scenes to accompany the airing of Out of Ruin on Rhode Island PBS.

A Different Day and Dancing is an Old Friendboth made in 2020, have been screening all over the world - online, which is a bit like that famous tree falling in the forest. My secret hope is that both will outlive the "COVID era" moment, since the latter is largely about friendship, and the former is about family, college enlightenment and how black lives matter. It's high time I started thinking about what new project I might initiate next ...

Although, more accurately, the million-dollar question might be: will I make something next? 

You've been here before with me. Now added to my cyclical self-doubt is a sense of the invisibility - irrelevancy? - regarding the value of the perspective of an almost-septuagenarian white woman working outside the mainstream. A friend recently countered my doubts by noting that I am one of the most focused people she knows. Yes, and might that very persistence be a way to avoid the question of whether focus is valued as an end in itself. (Valuable to whom? Compared to what?) If it weren't so painful, it would actually be laughable how regularly I return to the fundamental question: why make work?

For praise / feedback? Sure, I share the laurels from small film festivals with a certain amount of pride: they compensate for the many rejections. But what do they really mean? It's all too rare - especially online - that I get engaged feedback from a viewer, much less a critique from a re-viewer. So I ask: is there any lasting impact from the over 75 live dances, and nearly 40 short films I've made over the years? 

Another friend says: surely the college students I work with benefit from our projects together. Right, so ok I'm a teacher/mentor to some, which is essentially an extension of being a mother = invisible + underpaid. There's also a biological timeline which parallels the continuity of my creative career: in about 1985 it was time for me to start a biological family. I thought it might sharpen my creative "focus" and in some ways I was right. Now almost 40 years later, I wonder if it's time to let go, and dedicate myself to the soft focus of being an elder, a grandmother even. (Yes, Virginia, I do understand that's not in my control. But there's motion, I assure you.)

Maybe control, focus, value are all just words to distract us from how small we are and how short life is.  And that's something an old lady knows more than a young one.

Sorry to go on. Believe me, I understand it's a privilege to be able to ask these questions. But if any of you have had similar misgivings, and have any wisdom to share ... bring it on!

Saturday, January 02, 2021

A New Year

By rights this should be a long post, since technically it would cover almost 6 months of unreported activity. On the other hand, on New Year's Day I edited a 2-minute video compilation of the work I made in 2020. I propose that viewing it will fill in most of the blanks - non-verbally.


While editing, I relived some of what I learned from in 2020, and for those of you with the inclination to read on, I hereby articulate it - verbally. 

Furthering voices other than my own.

Dancing is an Old Friend, in which Jenny & Leah led the way.

4th of July in which I was inspired to share some moments - including dancing - of Nyack's Black Lives Matter actions.

Out of Ruin, in which choreographers Miki & Danielle of Island Moving Company envisioned a world which I helped to make more visible.

A Different Day in which Rhode Island College students created movement, footage and text which I directed and edited remotely.

Taking time to let images register.

Brinks, with Daniel Wolff.

Drift of the World with Daniel Wolff

Re-imagining Tradition.

Through Her Eyes: A Newport Nutcracker Re-imagined. Again my role was to further the vision of the two choreographers, who in turn were tweaking a holiday - and local - tradition within the limitations imposed by the raging virus.

Nutcracker 2020 Re-imagined. Made for Ryde Youth Dance Ensemble, with students from Coupe Theater Studio where my son Amos grew up dancing. So in this case a holiday tradition combined with a family tradition. Shot locally, performed by children and supported by an army of volunteers.

There were a few other projects in 2020 - video versions of Ayiti & Evolution of a Silhouette with poet/husband Daniel Wolff, and the live project for the teenagers at Steffi Nossen which was scratched very early in the pandemic. It bears noting that I was actually paid for many of the above; you may have noticed that so much in the arts and elsewhere has moved online, which has meant that my skills as a director and editor are more in demand 

Since lockdown, I've dedicated myself to an ongoing Facebook project: posting of nature videos taken as a daily practice and as a gift to those who can't leave home. One of the housebound friends was Aileen Passloff - known to some of you through Her Magnum Opus - who enjoyed those images until early November. In an article called "The Artists We Lost in 2020," The New York Times quoted Aileen: 

"I was as strong and tireless and full of passion, and loved dancing as deeply as one could ever love anything." 

Today I posted Outside #246.

Which brings me to another New Year's reflection: might it be time for me to find a new way to communicate with friends, fans, family? That's where I post the news of Official Selections in film festivals in a more timely fashion, where you can find links to view recent projects, or trailers for them. You can also follow me on Vimeo. As for the list of where my work has been accepted, attached to this blogspot there's a rather impressive Filmography, if I do say so myself.

I'm not a fan of Facebook, but it's an immediate connection, albeit to a small pool of the above 3f's.  On the other hand, when I send out a reminder to check out my blogspot, I get a similarly small pool of responses. I hasten to add: since you happen to be reading this, I remain grateful that you swim in that pool, however small. And if you want to follow me on Facebook, well, you probably already do.

For now, Lord knows I don't have much interest in creating a website. So I've updated some of the links on the right which lead to actual press for some of what I've made recently: perhaps another silver lining of lockdown is that online presentations have become more print-worthy. Presumably, a few of you reading this are strangers who found their way here to learn more about me. 

For now, I'll continue with this mode of communication. In fact, during the dog days of 2020 I did archive all of the posts (which go back to 2006!) on an external hard drive, for inclusion in the archives at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts - if it ever re-opens. 

For now, I wish you the best that 2021 can offer. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

SO overdue

Like me, I suspect you've been experiencing Quarantine Time: weeks seemed to drag by and suddenly we were 100 days in.  We mark time's passing in different ways. Since March I've become quite habituated to a schedule of 3x/weekly Meals on Wheels deliveries. Partway through the pandemic I started a daily series of 30-second nature videos on Facebook most particularly for my NYC and shut-in friends, recently posting Outside #82!  In early June I hit the 1,000 mark of masks sewn for Nyack MaskMakers, and was told we'd stockpiled enough for the next surge.  A few days after George Floyd's killing, I joined a group of residents protesting nearly every afternoon in downtown Nyack. In fact, lately the balance in my life of making art and actively working for change feels just about right. Social justice IS climate justice / there's no art on a dead planet.

Then the dog days of July arrived with a hot-and-humid bang as we all prepared for some kind of opening - only to buckle down in earnest as news of spikes in the south and west make us tremble again. All this time it felt almost unseemly to be crowing here about the ups and downs of my brilliant career. Nonetheless, I decided to post, finally, to prove that time hasn't ground to a complete halt. 

Jenny Tortorello Walker & Leah Barsky who'd danced with me since they were teenagers at Coupe Studio invited me to make a dance about their friendship - remotely of course. They spent a few weeks chatting over Zoom and sending me footage via WhatsApp.  It was a truly collaborative project, and completely zero budget. For those of you who have heard me whine endlessly about music permission, you'll find it ironic that I was utterly delighted to be able to pay these accessible and talented artists for the use of their music at this moment when all artists are so under-employed. It's called Dancing is an Old Friend and it will actually premiere at Mobile Dance Film Festival at the 92nd St Y - remotely of course. Previews have been very positive - and funnily enough, there's more dance-y dancing in it than most of my "dance films."

Delighted with the response to Drift of the World (below), I was glad to collaborate on a second video with poet / husband Daniel Wolff, called Brinks. No dancing (or ducks) but a chance to create a visual world that neither illustrates nor distracts from a powerful poem concerning history and revolution, both personal and political. Zero budget again - unless you count the six-pack I had to buy (okay, okay ... and drink) in order to gather the necessary footage. Check it out.

Meanwhile there have been quite a few festival outings for quite a few of my films - remotely of course. Imagine my disappointment in not attending Athens Marathon Film Festival - that would be Athens, Greece where I've aways wanted to travel - to receive the nomination for Best Editing for Through Mabel's Eyes.  The award for Best Director bestowed by Trail Dance Virtual Film Festival for Her Magnum Opus was gratifying - remotely of course. Roxie was part of a "Watchalong" at Women Over 50 Film Festival; Through Mabel's Eyes is soon to be shared at Senior Movie Film Festival in Poland and Moscow Shorts in Russia; In search of lost time at Experimental Music & Dance Feedback Film Festival and Rogue Dancer. Tumult screened last week at ReelHeART which is based in Toronto - they even had an awards ceremony remotely of course - and is an Official Selection of Choreoscope: the first time my work has been accepted by that Barcelona festival.

And finally, I've been invited to direct a dance film with Island Moving Company back in Rhode Island, where I've had the pleasure of working so often.  This will feature choreography by co-artistic directors Mikki Ohlsen & Danielle Genest, and cinematography by Jon Gourlay who did such beautiful work on Mabel, our first project together. We've all been in conversation - remotely of course - but I am delighted to report that we'll be shooting IN PERSON albeit with masks and social distancing.  And then of course, I'll have all that luscious footage to keep me busy as fall arrives. 

And with the arrival of fall, perhaps some good news, starting with a new president. Please.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

All virtual all the time

Although many festivals are postponing their celebrations until it's safe to congregate in person, others are creating virtual festivals, making their archives viewable for free for the duration of the pandemic. One such is the venerable Black Maria Film Festival which has been in existence for 39 years, and has included Renzi work multiple times. Now you can view over 100 films as part of the virtual festival, including 3 of mine: Her Children Mourn, A Thousand Miles from the Sea and In search of lost time.

Skybridge, made pre-pandemic, will have its premiere as expected, at the Hunter College Dance Concert on May 9th at 7:30. However,  instead of being the outlier in a concert of live work before a live audience, all of the work will be shared on screen - not as expected.

A new world. Time will tell if it's a brave one.

Meanwhile, I've kept busy sewing masks and volunteering at People to People and Meals on Wheels. With all of my collaborators and locations on lock-down, I've had few opportunities to make work. But here's something "directed by" me - not a dance film but a thoughtful poem written by Daniel Wolff accompanied by some scene-stealing ducks.