Friday, March 06, 2015

March Manifesto

I like to think of these posts as one half of a conversation.  I send a more-or-less monthly description of what I've been working on, thinking about, showing in public. Typically several hundred of you click to look, sometimes to browse other videos, occasionally to make note of a local screening and try to attend. Some comment in person or electronically, on what they see. I value each of these responses, especially since I don't share work live much anymore, 

Submitting to a film festival is another kind of conversation, one which can feel quite one-sided - especially when the response is a rejection.  Since I aim for a tone somewhere between conversational and self-promotional, I don't tend to write about rejections in here.

I have my theories about why my recent work might not be programmed: not dance-y enough for dance film festivals, not film-school enough for typical film festivals. Another explanation is that I'm interested in movement, not necessarily what other people might call dance. Some audiences watch dance in order to be awestruck by technique. I've come to realize I'm aiming at something more like recognition: I know that; I can do that; it feels like that to me, too.

And then I often choose to work with people who are not highly skilled - the lovely young dancers from Pennsylvania in Plow, Plant Reap below, the women and girls from Las Madres which screened last this weekend as part of Rivertown Artists Workshop.  Recently, I was asked by a friend, on the assumption that all choreographers aspire to productions at The Joyce Theater and the like: do you mind these community projects?

Mind them? It's what I choose: the chance to make work that expands the notion of who can dance, why are they dancing, who sees dance? In fact, it's also one of the reasons I've chosen to make short films instead of presenting live work. Films are portable; they get shown in theaters, community centers and museums; they travel the world via the internet. Recently I've been thinking about how it changes the conversation depending upon where they're screened.

If dance film festival audiences come with certain expectations of what dance is, more traditional film festivals can also be niche-specific. The conversation there can easily devolve into sheer "technique" as well: what kind of camera did you use? what references to film history can you spot? 

I tend to make work quickly, on a low-budget, and with a skeleton crew - usually just me, and a cinematographer, occasionally with one all-purpose production assistant. That's not how the big boys do it. But part of my point is that I don't want to play with the big boys. To paraphrase McLuhan: the method is the message.

So if the big boys don't invite me to play with them (see rejections, above) I shouldn't complain.  And when I do find a venue/community that accepts me year after year - Black Maria, Trail Dance, Sao Carlos in Brazil, Columbia Gorge - I hold fast.

My latest addition to our conversation is currently in post-production.  During one of those endless February snowstorms, I shot a short with the delightfully skilled Carlos Gonzalez & Tina Vasquez.  We cannibalized movement material made decades ago for the duet inspired by Daniel Wolff's poem On Looking Through a Book of Indian Miniatures - which did show at the Joyce! Then some generous neighbors let me shoot in a location that resembled a honeymoon spa. In that environment, the somewhat arcane kama sutra positions become the erotic explorations of any curious couple.

That ought to give us something to talk about!

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