Tuesday, September 14, 2021

One for the history books

Way back in 1979 I made a dance called Hold Me, which was about love, relationships, community. That was smack in the era of downtown post-modern dance so even a loose narrative, accompanied by pop music without irony was generally not on. In 1981, as part of a "retrospective" - ah, youth! - I returned to the central knock-down-drag-out duet from Hold Me which was danced to Otis Redding's I Been LovingYou Too Long.  Then in 1983 I was honored that John Sayles chose to feature the duet in his film Lianna. Cut to those calendar pages flipping - for almost 40 years!

Recently, as part of 2 retrospectives of Sayles' work in Paris and Bordeaux this fall, my producer sister Maggie was interviewed by the programming consultant Victor Courgeon. He asked if he could access original footage of the scene from Lianna before the dance had been cut into the narrative of the full movie. Apparently, with his dancer girlfriend Pauline Domejean, he had begun learning the duet from the movie. But they couldn't figure out how to extrapolate movement transitions when the camera cut to, for example, Lianna at the light board, weeping. 

Of course I hunted up a performance video from 1981, featuring untrained dancer David Porter with me reprising my role, and sent it to the French duo. In return they sent me this clip of them in their apartment. Naturally, I found this inter-generational, international transmission quite touching - one for the history books.

As to film festival acceptances, there have been many, partly owing to the proliferation of online festivals since the pandemic, and owing to how quickly my little films seem to have proliferated! I was heartbroken not to be able to attend a little festival tour in Greece, but coronavirus cases were way up. (One can only hope that years from now, such references to the pandemic will seem dated.) 

Nowadays, when I receive festival awards like Second Audience Choice, and Best Female Director, Honorable Mention rather than boosting my self esteem it makes me smile: more happy big fish in more small ponds (see whimsical laurels below.)  Nonetheless, I continue to be a firm believer in making my work accessible to some stranger who might be touched or surprised, and online screenings mean anyone can see at anytime, which is about as accessible as you can get.

Laurels aside, I was gratified to hear from a presenter in Spain that Dancing is an Old Friend is the "best corona film I've seen - and I've seen lots!" - and from another in Italy who said about Through Mabel's Eyes: "Your work is poetry, and a joy for eyes and soul." If correspondence rather than champagne toasts feels a little socially distanced, well it is. But I'm sure glad that about 15 years ago I chose to shift to making movies which now get shared all over the world at little cost: my heart goes out to performers who've lost touring opportunities, and who - because of the aforementioned, someday-to-be-past-tense pandemic - have had to re-invent themselves under the gun.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Till next time

As I gather my thoughts to post the next update, here's the latest.


[9/14 Note: Wait a Minute now has 2,160 views on YouTube
and has been accepted into its first festival!]

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.