My Walk Home
For Alex, a simple walk home from work is anything but safe. Danger could be around any corner, for a woman walking home alone, at night.
Lindsay Heatley is a writer and director, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her work centers around stories of underrepresented communities. Her short films have covered topics from immigration to drag performance. Lindsay’s most recent film, My Walk Home, is a story about the harassment most women encounter in their day to day life She hopes to continue using her skills as a writer and director, to share stories of oppressed communities and peoples, through the medium of film.
1. I was really struck by your film. It was such a familiar experience and completely resonated with me and I believe it resonates to many people, specifically women. How did you develop the story?
First of all, thank you! This story was created to share this universal story with those who don’t experience the fear of walking home alone at night. The story was born out of a conversation I had at work. A group of male coworkers, who I consider close friends, made the comment that women seem to have it easier than men now. Basically implying the problem of sexism, and all the connotations that go with it, seems to have been solved. For me, film is the best way to put someone in my shoes. To share a personal experience with someone that can’t experience it because of gender, race, or class. Something as basic as walking home alone can be terrifying for women, it’s ingrained in our society. I chose this specific topic because it speaks to the larger issue of violence towards women that is accepted in our society. We learn to deal with it instead of society trying to solve it. The purpose of this film was to share this experience and I’m glad it resonated!
2. I loved the use of camera movement. The scene where you can’t fully see if a person is walking behind and the camera moves back and forth, swaying on the main character, like eyes darting frantically. Can you tell us how you went about achieving the sense of anxiety in the film?
I wanted the audience to be in the main character, Alex’s head. My DP, Neil Solberg, and I felt the best way to achieve that was tight, handheld shots. I wanted the audience to see the micromovements she was making to protect herself. When you are being followed you don’t want to attract attention. You try to keep calm, not give off any sign of fear, but internally your heart, your mind, everything is racing. I wanted the audience to feel her adrenaline pumping in her veins, to feel and share her fear. To be right in her face, that was the best way to share it. So much credit goes to my actor, Sofia Embid. To share that much emotion with a camera directly in your face is truly a credit to her acting ability. She nailed it, we just had to point the camera.
3. There were so many aspects that made me think of how a simple task can go differently depending on who is the protagonist. And how something so horrifying can happen so often that it becomes a regular part of a persons life and they learn to adapt to it. How has the reception been from men who have viewed the film?
The reception from men has been incredibly positive. When I first came up with this story, I just assumed it was common knowledge. If you’re walking home alone, you carry keys in your hand, pepper spray, you’re ready to go into war. What shocked me most, was how few men knew about this common female experience. The men who’ve seen it have had emotional responses. It is incredibly encouraging to see them truly grasp the experience we feel. When my DP read the script he was almost as adamant as me that the story be told! I am heartened to say it has been a very positive reception.
4. What do you hope the audience will take away from this story?
Universality. I want the audience to understand what it feels like to be Alex. To understand and apply it to their life. Look out for each other and understand that everyone is on a different journey.
5. Do you have any future film / art projects you can tell us about?
Yes! I was able to develop my first feature film script, Las Muertas, over the summer. It is a dia de los muertos centric horror film exploring a young woman’s grief over the loss of her sister. I am currently in pre-production and hope to begin shooting in 2022.
With the reopening of live events in Berlin we will be slowing down our Gimme 5 features for the summer and picking up with the regular schedule in September.
Our summer edition will be 3 films
June : Pearl - Kyra Garéy, Anastasia Cazabon
July: My Walk Home - Lindsay Heatley
August: Il Mio Sangue E infinito Nell’oscurita - Coco Roy
For our June edition we have something a little different - a music video- made by GRRL HAUS programmer Anastasia Cazabon and long time GRRL HAUS collaborator Kyra Garéy.
Since we have been so busy programming our summer/fall screenings we decided this would be the perfect time to share our own creative work on Gimme 5.
Enjoy the dreamy summery music video below
1. What was the inspiration behind the song Pearl?
Kyra: Pearl is a song about the desire to relive moments of happiness and togetherness.
About a love that was lost shortly after finding it.
Like a pearl,that love belongs to the sea, and that is where he returned to.
All that she is left with are the precious memories.
2. How did you come up with music video concept?
Anastasia: Kyra already had the underwater music video concept while making the song Pearl, so she came to me with an idea fully formed. We then brainstormed and worked together to come up with a dreamlike aesthetic.
I've made many music videos and I love when artists/musicians come up with their own concepts to work off of, so it feels like an exchange of ideas and a collaborative creation .
Making art with friends is one of my favorite things to do. I find so much inspiration from my friend community and having a creative base . We push each other to think differently, grow, and explore new ideas.
3. Where was the video filmed?
Anastasia: We made the film last summer in beautiful southern Italy. The underwater shooting took about 5 days and we shot off of the beaches of Gaeta, Sperlonga and the island Ventotene. And a pre - production rehearsal shoot in a hotel pool.
All of the singing studio shots were done in Berlin.
4. Can you tell us about the whole production process?
Anastasia: The whole production process was very intimate and organic. In that we only had one camera person (me) and one subject (Kyra), and then my partner Mattia was our location scout and production assistant.
Me and Kyra worked off of each other and it was a complete collaborative production.
We would dive underwater and she would improvise moves. She came up with underwater dance choreography while I would swim along side of her. I had started off with a snorkel set while filming, but after seeing her dive down and hold her breath so long, I decided there was no excuse for me not to follow her (and the snorkel set was getting in the way). So the shooting also became a test in stamina.
When we got back to Berlin we did all the close up singing shots. For this I was inspired by Henri-Georges Clouzot's unfinished film Inferno. Specifically the experimental lighting shots of Romy Schneider.
About the artist :
Kyra Garéy is a unique presence in the Berlin songwriter / psychedelic folk / rock underground scene. As the daughter of a German father and a Tartar mother, she was encouraged to play the piano, guitar and be active in Theater at a young age, sparking her passion for music and art.
This was followed by a Theater study in London (BA Honours at Southbank University), several invitations to jam sessions and concerts in renowned Moscow clubs such as B2, Bluebird, Bourbon, Roadhouse and the founding of her first band here in Berlin.
In addition, Kyra graduated from a media composer education and training as a sound engineer, that led to experimenting with electronic music.
With a saturating soulful blues, folk and rock sound she refines her skills day by night, creating a diverse repertoire of compositions.
Her songs are a journey through time, a road trip through the beauty of desolate highways on the search for meaning and love, through the vastness of the universe, through the mystique of the deserts, mountains and steppes where lost souls and spirits live but also the shamans linger.
An infinite story of self-discovery filled with passion, dreams, fragility, suffering, anger, desire, sexuality, love, consciousness, growth, joie de vivre and strength.
About the director: Anastasia Cazabon is founder and executive director of GRRL HAUS CINEMA. Along with being a film curator she is also a photographer and filmmaker. Her photographic work has been exhibited internationally, with solo exhibits at National Museum of Gdansk, Photo Edition Berlin and Monat der Fotografie-Off Berlin 2018. And selected group exhibitions at Eleni Koroneou Gallery (Athens, GR), Phifest (Milan, IT) and Photographic Resource Center (Boston, MA, USA).
Among the publications where one can find her work are GEO Magazine, Aesthetica Magazine, Adbusters and Photo World Magazine.
She has curated shows for GRRL HAUS CINEMA at venues such as, the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Alamo Drafthouse New York and the Brattle Theatre.
Anastasia is based in Berlin and is a graduate of Massachusetts College of Art and New England School of Photography. Her work can be seen at www.anastasiacazabon.com
Keep your mouth shut, my dear
COVID-19 VS BDSM.
A submissive man wants to serve his mistress, but he is also a clean-freak with germ phobia. He is worried when having a session, "Is my tongue clean?"
This is a story about human suffering.
How a BDSM lover figures out their fetish during a pandemic...
We filmed this project in Japan when it had a declaration of a state of emergency. Minimum cast and staff, with one day of filming. The location is in one club in Tokyo, which also had shut down because of the pandemic.
Currently Lily Rinae finished a documentary "Born Balearic" in Ibiza, Spain. The movie is nominated in 11 film festivals which include Chelsea IFF in NY, Seeyousound in Italy and Doc'n roll festival in London. The film won "Best Sound feature" in Indie Memphis, and "Best Cinematography" in Madrid.
Her strong passion is making movies about music and....BDSM.
During COVID-19, she moved back to her original country Tokyo and is following her real passion. Her films focus on physical expression of passion and emotion.
Interview questions from Eleni Tongidou
1. From the opening scene we enter a sound atmosphere which is at once vibrant and penetrating. As a viewer I immediately connected to the sounds which act as acoustic stimuli. What is the role of sound in this film?
In my film, sound is one of the main subjects. It's not just a part of making a movie elegant or gorgeous, sound can be a primary character as well. I'll tell you a secret, the scene of a woman slurping ramen - those sounds are all a voiceover by me. I recorded it while I was slurping cup noodles at home. We did not hire a sound-recordist because of Covid-19 or just a budget problem.
2. I relished watching this film refer to Covid19, approaching it with astute humor and irony. As constructs, BDSM and Covid19 meet at interplay. A parallel is drawn; relative to the body both express through non-naturalized, constrained ways. Something that within the bdsm framework is considered liberating as it goes beyond the normative. Was a comparative dynamic between the two obvious to you?
Wow, I never thought of that. It's an interesting consideration. Love it. The way I see it is, the world of BDSM and the world with Covid-19 situations are on the same layer.
After the pandemic, there were so many rules everywhere and now our lives are controlled by them. Then I realized as a BDSM lover, this situation is very close to BDSM, discipline, rules and following orders.
The human race destroys the earth's discipline more than any other species in history. And in the end, the Earth punishes humans as a result of this human behavior.
Covid-19 trained us. It's like the film is saying, "Welcome to the BDSM stage, world. Fetish lovers are used to it."
3. In ‘Keep your mouth shut, my dear’ the perceived notion of Covid19 is communicated through simulacra; images which compose our understanding of reality. Largely our exposure to the disease has been through media representation and our understanding of the virus could change according to the imagery mediated. Additionally, as viewers we are looking at these images not as static perceptions but rather as active representations of the characters’ way of feeling and experiencing of themselves. In the end, the film shows the submissive character wearing a mask, however his mouth is left exposed. We can see him smiling. What does this scene communicate in your opinion?
"All the matter of this world is play. If you think so…" This is the written text at the end of film. What follows this line is "Any difficulty can be solved."
I believe that dialog makes people relieve worries. Do not need to take it seriously, it's just life.
4. The written text on the film is appearing in three languages. You work between countries and
have an international following. Does having a diverse audience influence your work?
I do some collage in my work. Taking all different pieces and making them into a beautiful art. Image, sound, color, angle, composition even written text could be a part of an art. The taste is mainly eclectic. I am happy that my work crosses over the border and reaches all diverse audiences. If someone sent me a love-letter, that would make my day. However it does not influence me.
5. What is new and upcoming for you? What are your plans for the future?
I just started writing scripts for a BDSM documentary. There are two main characters, one is a woman who will work as a mistress, I am looking for a mistress who is in the making and is practicing to be a professional. The camera follows her training and watches her growth process.
The other character is a 72 year old elderly submissive man who is looking for his successor and who will take over his masochism. The elderly man will teach a young masochist how to worship his mistress and how he should be as a submissive.
Japan has three world famous Shibari(Kinbaku) masters, those characters will appear too.
I made a documentary film about music in 2020.
I would like to share my film subjects setlists. I have been listening to his set for 10 years.
①Listening to Jon Sa Trinxa…
...on Saturday morning, when you're hung over and have chores to do, but can feel the warm afterglow of last night
②Listening to Jon Sa Trinxa...
...on a lazy Sunday, cuddling with warm cookies and the sun dappling through the windows
③Listening to Jon Sa Trinxa...
...on a cozy, rainy afternoon, seeing the umbrellas bloom in the road like flowers
④Listening to Jon Sa Trinxa...
...when you're blending a smoothie to start Monday fresh
⑤Listening to Jon Sa Trinxa...
...when you're lying in bed with the moon, and the world is sleepy and dreamy
While shooting on location in Berlin, a young woman reconnects with her estranged sister, unearthing the trauma that led to their rift.
Cream is a character piece that looks at trauma, coping mechanisms, differing views, the familial sphere and how we internalize trauma while projecting it onto others.
It views two siblings who exist within somewhat isolated spheres, whom until now, have failed to communicate due to the deep trauma and loss that has left them divided.
Kelsey Joan Gillis was born and raised near the forest in North Vancouver, British Columbia to Irish-Canadian parents and has dual citizenship.Though always deeply connected to performing, she spent her adolescence in the Vancouver countryside, working with animals, horses and competing as an up and coming high level equestrian.
After several years of travelling throughout North America and training with show barns, she shifted due to reasons of further self exploration and started to expand as a writer, actor and dancer, while simultaneously travelling and living around the world.
In 2019, Kelsey founded the production company Wolfling with partner Robbert de Koning. Inspired by themes of awakening, the cosmos, trauma, transmutation, erotica and the human experience, Kelsey ultimately seeks to build an artistic bridge between the world of the spiritual and human.
1. How did this story come to life? This story struck me as a classic family drama, where tragedy brings people together for regrowth. Also very much about people’s attitudes towards sex work, and to women taking control of what men had monetized throughout the years (women’s bodies). How did all of these elements come together?
The film itself developed from an opportunity to do a camera test, and the story itself was an idea that had been percolating for a while. I had been previously inspired by a friend who had worked in the adult film sector of the industry and had done so for a while. Though, they were mostly satisfied with their occupation, they felt unable to share what they were doing for a living with their family, which put tremendous pressure on them. I believe they did open up to their immediate circle, several years down the line, and that transition wasn't unsimilar to what we explored in Cream. I wanted to start the continuous conversation on sex work in this film in particular, and will be exploring it in other projects to come to varying degrees. There is both a dark and light side to the sex work sphere, light being the work as an anecdote to the patriarchy and the the dark side being the slavery and trafficking of human beings. Though both are often thought as related, I do perceive them as coexisting independent satellites, that have depending on situation, sectors, place and persons involved, common exchange. I firmly believe that sex work is work, while trafficking is trafficking. In Cream, the focus was on our protagonist Alexis and the fact she felt very liberated in control, and empowered by her choices, even in the retrospect of trauma. Whereas when viewed through her sister Emma’s gaze, there was an underlying tone of bias, fear, prejudice and misunderstanding. My goal was to weave the conversation, within the context of a sibling reconciliation story, which looks at two very different, yet similar, sisters who have both been struggling with the semi recent loss of their mother. Ultimately, the focus is on what unites them, the subtext being their shared and respective trauma, within the sphere of how Alexis’s work shapes conversation within their lives.
A lot of wonderful souls came together to make this little project happen, without them, it wouldn't have come to life at all. So I must give a heartfelt mention to two major contributors, our friends at Filmová Manufaktura and Cineready Rental!
2. A lot of the dialogue feels very natural and unscripted. How much was this improvisation or was it completely scripted? Can you describe the rehearsal and production process?
There was a script, with both dialogue and situations written in. However, as I wanted to work in improv as much as possible, the script was just used as a marker point. It was predominantly improvised and I cast individuals who I felt would play their characters close to the bone, so as to deliver as natural and honest performances as possible. The rehearsal and production process was both sweepingly chill and a bit rushed. Cream was born from a camera test that started as a scene and then expanded itself into a short. We basically had a week long window to prepare everything, and ideally, I would have loved to have been able to have done a proper full pre production on it. However, I am still pleased it turned out the way it did.
Rehearsal wise, I workshopped with each actor and discussed the scenes, context and situations. As well as I went into character and stayed in character throughout the duration of the film's inception and wrap.
3. You’re the main actor in the film, as well as the director. How was the experience of juggling these two important roles?
It was definitely a new experience, and I luckily had my amazing co- director, and ride or die partner, who was the D.O.P. - directing alongside me. They were able to focus on the more technical crew aspects, while I focussed on the cast and the mis en scene. Then we would re-group and meet somewhere in the middle before each scene.
4. One scene that effected me was the street harassment scene. Why did you include that in the story?
I actually took that scene right out of my own day to day experiences as a female and that of those who are female identifying around me. I have experienced situations like that myself, whether in physical actuality or in paranoia, in which anxiety builds, situations run though your mind and you start thinking in all kinds of scenarios.
The scene also serves as an homage to the friend whom inspired the film and pays tribute to a story they told me once. Which in brief; involved them attending a regular, vanilla acting audition with a known director, who completely creeped on them during a pre #metoo era audition. In which he dismissed their work in the room, and lewdly complimented on how familiar was with their other work, and that he considered himself a fan of their more explicit content. My friend had felt totally exposed and devalued after that as an artist, and that story has always stuck with me.
5. What are you working on now? Any upcoming projects?
I am working on a few feature scripts that I am really excited about. Unfortunately, they do have slight NDA’s attached, so I can’t really share much information about them as of yet. But I am going to delve deeper into the realms of sex work, the undergound, mythological creatures, horror, nature, galactic themes and hope to create some really cool genre pieces in the near future now ;)
NOWHERE BUT HERE is an exploration of the concept of identity and binationality through movement. The struggle to fit in, be accepted and understood.
A dialogue between cultures and identities that goes from opposition, adaptation and, finally, surrender to being oneself.
Carolina Romillo Marín is a writer and film director. Originally from Havana, Cuba, she moved to Barcelona at the age of five where she later decided to study Film and TV at Blanquerna Comunicació (Universitat Ramon Llull). After a short time in the production field, she quickly became interested in directing creative documentaries. Later on, she decided to write and direct her first short film on dramedy genre, „A different afternnon“, with which she won the award for Best Forreign New Director at Winchester Film Festival. She's currently living between Berlin, Havana and Barcelona, exploring analog film and focusing on experimental and contemporary dance films. Among her recent credits are “Inside/Outside“ (2020), Best film at MITS Barcelona 2020 and selected at many international film festivals; “Nowhere but here“ (2021); “Loving too much, too less“ (2021); and “The Power Upon Us“ (2021). Due to her multitasking nature, it is quite common to find her editing, shooting and producing her own films. She stands for strong narratives, emotional content and captivating visuals.
Interview questions from Lindsay Zasada
In your short film, several questions are presented. (Where do you come from?,
What do you leave behind? Where do you belong? What are you made of? How do you
adapt? Where do you feel at home?) Are you asking these questions of the viewer, or of
yourself? How would you answer them for yourself?
These questions are presented as an interaction between the performers as well as with the viewer and myself. Questions that I have always asked myself and have been uncomfortable trying to find an answer to them since I have always had a lot of confusion when it comes to my identity.
I was born in Cuba but moved to Barcelona at the age of five. I struggled a lot for being accepted in Spain as I was used to another behavior and environment. I have even being bullied for acting different.
Every summer I went back to Cuba to visit and spend time with my paternal family.
Alongside and over the years, I began to hear not only judicious and separatist comments from Spain but also from Cuba. My accent began to adapt as well as my behavior so I started to be something of a weirdo for both cultures.
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that I am a citizen of the world in constant movement and my identity is formed by the experiences lived in all the places that I have been able to visit. By the different cultures, ways of feeling and understanding the world of people who inspire me. I am fascinated for multiculturalism and that is why I decided to live in a place like Berlin, where so many cultures coexist and we can find a high level of freedom and respect.
When I ask these questions through my short film, I am looking for the discomfort that I feel when receiving them or trying to answer them. Questions that, although define us, it also limit us and are often unnecessary for the increasingly globalized world in which we live.
The setting is beautiful and gives the film a very ethereal vibe. Where was the location of the film, and does it hold significance for you?
The location is called "Cova del Llop Marí" and it is in Tarragona, Spain.
„NOWHERE BUT HERE" is an exploration of the concept of identity and binationality. This is why it features a cuban (Jennifer Tejeda) and a spanish (Alícia Pírez) dancer and I wanted the location to be in one of the two countries; specially in the one where I felt more confussion and discomfort regarding my identity, and that`s why I finally decided to shoot it in Catalunya.
Then I started looking for locations near the sea since this is the element that separates the two countries and at first I thought of making two pieces (one in each location) and merge them by the sea. Later I disgarded the idea of the two merged pieces and decided to look for caves until I found the "Cova del Llop Marí". A cave to represent the identity, the deepest and most sincere part of us, what makes us unique regardless of nationality.
And last but not least, the sea has always been an special place for me. A place where I feel totally safe and at home. The sea and the moon.
The film’s theme seems to include the notion of the ocean inside of us (the waves introducing the film, a rush of a heartbeat, a pregnant mother, the waves carrying the dancers away). How is this theme interpreted through the character’s dance?
As I said before, the ocean is a key element in the film and I wanted it to, little by little and as the film progresses, to gain strength.
The creation of the movement was a process that I carried out together with the two performers, working from keywords and images I gave them as well as separating the piece into three parts: opposition, adaptation and, finally, surrender to being oneself. Water is the component that frees us from prejudices and mental limitations. Depth of feelings and adaptation... It adapts to different forms and it allows you to built your own and unique shape.
I find it interesting that the contemporary dance is performed not by two people, but actually by three. How has the decision to include a dancer who is with child impacted the performance and the overall meaning or significance of this piece?
When I started to develop the concept of the piece, I didn't think about featuring a pregnant woman. The initial idea was to show a Cuban and a Spanish dancer. I quickly found out that Jenifer Tejeda was currently living in Barcelona and I did not hesitate to call her as she strikes me as an extremely talented dancer who I had previously worked with in my documentary „Danza Contemporánea de Cuba on tour" (2019). The big surprise was to find out that she was pregnant. I immediately realized that her condition would not be an impediment but contribute to the piece and the theme we were going to work with. When you are pregnant, you are somehow creating an identity and she was going to do it in a new environment for her regarding her Cuban roots. On the other hand, I believe that dance is possible and is beautiful in all its forms. At any age, in any condition and any way.
What are you working on currently and what can we look forward to from you in the future?
Right now I am fully working on the post production of my two most recent films.
"Loving too much, too less" is a short film born from an original poem and the need to portray it through camera and body movement. The piece features a dancer who just got out of a failed relationship. During the duel, he remembers and idealizes his past, trying to understand and manage his emotions, seeking some kind of satisfaction that could fill a great internal void but nothing seems to satisfy.
An ode to love, excesses and desperation to find something real; a right way to love.
"The power upon us" is an experimental video art together with ten performes who represent the planets of the solar system and the moon as the main character.
Individually, each performer personifies the energy and attributes of each planet and expresses it through movement and sound, using their body as an instrument.
Together and through the interaction between the moon with each of them, they deal with the concept of power; the capacity that each of them has to influence the behavior of the other and that they have on us.
On the other hand, I am developing a new piece called "Estampida" with the dancer and choreographer Julio César Iglesias Ungo.
“Estampida” emerges from the idea of the future, in how to recover the capacity to envision other possible worlds.To deal with the feeling of exhaustion and discouragement that seems to overwhelm bodies today. We propose reviving the capacity to build a hopeful future. Against the multiple dystopian examples that surround us, this research focuses on developing our view of the future.We trust that the power of what is possible can only be boosted if we are able to imagine it, and this is an opportunity to do so.
You Don’t Have To Take Orders From The Moon
A short horror film about a tortured woman who must decide how deep into her own darkness she is willing to tread as a looming, omnipotent force promises her everything she has ever wanted.
Jaina Cipriano is a Boston based artist working with photography, film and installation. Her work explores the emotional toll of religious and romantic entrapment through immersive sets and emotional performances that mirror the subconscious.
Interview questions from Lindsay Zasada
What is the significance of color (and lack thereof) in ‘You Don’t Have To Take Orders From The Moon?’
This is a film about codependency, abuse and the absolute hold it can have over you. You don’t have the luxury of dreaming when your life is that scary. Your existence is stripped down to absolute essentials. That’s the world Cynzia is living in when we meet her. She is in survival mode.
The new girl at the end is in the honeymoon phase, being gifted and graced by these celestial, male forces. She feels chosen, special. Her world is bright, open and there is the possibility of something beautiful happening.
This transition was not actually planned for, it happened naturally in editing.
One of my favorite scenes in this film is right after Cynzia is confronted by Carol outside of her house. Can you elaborate on the significance of Carol’s association with the sun?
Carol was Cynzia’s chance to turn the night around. The actresses and I talked a lot about how everything in this film was taking place on The Last Night - meaning there is a lot of built up momentum spurring Cynzia towards her demise. Carol was a reminder of reality, hope, of the possibility of turning things around.
Carol was based on a friend I had in high school who found me crying in the hallway. She stopped to see if I was okay and I wanted to explain to her this existential fear that had gripped me in the middle of the day but we didn’t know each other well enough. She told me to call her if I needed anything and then went back to class. She meant well and her kindness was appreciated but I remember my bad feelings did not even budge.
Carol was a little bit of sun shining into Cynzia’s dark night. But Cynzia is too far gone, too impossible to understand. She needs more than a little sun to turn the night around now.
Can you tell us more about the unseen protagonist of this film and what ‘He’ represents?
He is so many things. He is the man who promises you the world - doing everything in his power to make you fall in love with him but then turns his nose up at you once you’re committed to him. He is the hungry, codependent love that empties your heart. He is a trickster, a narcissist, he is the vengeful Old Testament God I spent my childhood terrified of and praying to nightly.
Your photography work is beautiful and surreal. What influences the narrative worlds of your photographs, and how has this helped you create the narrative world of this film?
My photographic work explores the emotional toll of religious and romantic entrapment through immersive sets and emotional performances that mirror the subconscious.
I work to challenge the fear-based narratives that have been fed to me my whole life. Being raised in an evangelical cult I was unable to explore both the physical world and my internal world freely. Everything I create is to shed light on my fears.
There is incredible power in making a drama out of something painful. It frees me from my past and connects me to my future. It opens me to new connections.
What do you currently have in development and what can we look forward to from you, in the future?
Currently, I am in pre-production for Trauma Bond - an intense coming of age film where a girls night between two best friends takes a dark turn after one of them invites a mysterious newcomer who promises emotional salvation. It is based on an experience I had in my early 20’s.
I also am working towards a soft launch for Finding Bright Productions this summer - a Boston based production company specializing in custom set design for music videos. My team and I have spent the past month in the studio creating an enormous board game set for our first video!
Somewhere we cannot explain, in a future defined by past idioms, when the consequences of reality have had time to wash over, there lived five women; a family of some sort. Ascending from youngest to oldest, there was Silisa, the tiptoer; Kysham the thinker; Titsa the brave; Anyela the strong; finally Yaba the willful. No one knows how to reach this world; rather the women that live in it have learned how to sustain their livelihood. They rely on each other to survive.
For generations, these women have all consumed the sun, which is their driving force. Each day, they collect objects that fill-up their entire home, the most mysterious being the lost postcards. These cards appear in the sand each day with messages from Crimea, signaling to other worlds; other times. These messages are the portal between their world and ours; through past present and future; symbols of memories and trauma.
Silisa, being the youngest, often ran far distances and played in her own secretive universes. When her family suddenly disappears one afternoon, she is forced to fend for herself. Feeling ungrounded and hopeless, she leans on the found objects for clues. On the coastline of what looks like we could be anywhere, the activity of a small group of women are the most significant movements that are left in this world.
Interview questions by Sarah Jayne Portelli
1. What was the inspiration behind the story for Red Dunes?
My mother emigrated from the Ukraine when she was 17, and my father left Russia for Israel
when he was 12, eventually moving to the U.S. in his early 20s. Growing up, I didn’t know a lot about
Ukraine’s history. I mainly heard stories through my books of Ukrainian folklore that were mostly written
in Russian. I knew that my mother was born in the city of Dnepropetrovsk, now renamed as Dnipro, and
that they left when she was seventeen headed for Boston. When they left the Ukraine, it was still part of
the Soviet Union. Under those circumstances, Ukraine’s identity was very much dominated by a Russian
presence. Considering my father’s side–which is all Russian–I grew up mainly identifying with Russia as
my heritage, rarely acknowledging the Ukrainian side.
In order to understand more about what that part of me meant, I looked to the objects that
surrounded me. I grew up with many traditional and colloquial Ukrainian knick knacks. One that I always
held onto was the Matryoshka doll–commonly known as nesting doll–my grandmother gave to me before
passing. Each doll fits into the next, and they all have similarly painted dressings, but very uniquely
different facial expressions. Starting with a concrete image, I was inspired by the visual impact of having
five or six women who were all dressed similarly, and felt almost like a family, yet with completely
different faces. This started me on the track to develop each character of the film. In the story of Red
Dunes, we mainly follow a young girl, Silisa. When we see all the women together, they feel more like a
family functioning within the world of the film. Individually, they come to represent each phase in a
Looking deeply into Ukrainian folklore, I found that there was a lot of language surrounding the
sun. Often in stories, the sun came to represent a life form. Taking that idea, I wanted to create a world in
which the women live and feed off of. At one point in the film, they collectively eat the sun. Using that as
a framework, and with the help of my beautiful sister who assisted with set building and decoration, and
my mother who helped with costumes, I began to color the film with my knowledge of folkloric
characters, storytelling, and visual elements to bring the world to life. Through stringing together different
narratives from various generations, both from my own family and from a historical point of view, I tried
to construct a bridge between a collective state-imposed trauma with a personal one. I wanted to create a
space where various timelines converged and erupted into an amorphous time capsule.
2. Why was this story important for you to share with an audience?
This story was incredibly important for me to share because I wanted to look beyond my own personal
family history and engage with a culturally traumatic moment that I felt so distant from. A few years ago,
in 2014, I visited my paternal grandmother in Florida for her seventy-fifth birthday dinner. At the party,
my sister and I spoke to a family friend, who is Ukrainian. When my sister gently asked about her
feelings on what was happening in Ukraine, she burst into tears. It was then that I began to look further
into the crisis and uncovered more about Ukraine’s history. It was at this time that Russia unlawfully
annexed Crimea, and began to move into the territory, causing mass displacement and dislocation of its
original inhabitants. Individuals of Crimean Tatar descent were the most scrutinized and tortured by the
government.. The Black Sea was a contentious space where much of Russian dominance was beginning
to become more visible, such as the construction of the Kerch Strait Bridge in 2018, and the takeover of
offshore oil rigs along the coast. But beyond the contentious conflict in 2014, for the last century, people
of Crimea and political dissidents of the Ukraine have been forced to flee for the sake of their livelihood
After my grandmother’s death, a few years later my grandfather suffered from a stroke which resulted in
dementia. As my Ukrainian side has slowly passed, I am attempting to hold onto moments of the past that
can help shine a light on the present situation. I have the stories that my mother tells me, but beyond her
time, I am unable to see everything through my grandmother’s eyes; or the eyes of previous generations.
Through a cultural and familial connection to Ukraine, I hope to uncover elements of my family through
both personal and historical moments in time. Telling their stories allows for collective reconciliation, and
for others to understand the true meaning of losing the security of one’s motherland. Finding a connection
between mothers and the motherland provides a sense of humanity toward the refugee crisis that is still
going on in Europe and around the world.
3. Some directors like to have the score for the film, or the key tracks recorded before they get
onto set and then direct the action around the mood and movement of the track. So I want
to know, that came first, the sound track or the visuals?
Based off of the timeline of the film shoot, the visuals c ame first in the process of production. When I
made the decision to shoot 16mm on a Bolex, I knew right away that trying to make a film with dialogue
would be nearly impossible. Therefore, it became clearer to me as I worked on the film, that I would have
to craft a complex and atmospheric soundscape to balance out the fact that my characters never spoke to
one another. On set, we captured some diegetic ambient sounds, and certain actions, but eventually, I
designed, found, or foleyed most of the sound you hear in the film, except for the music! That was done
by the amazing Maeve Schallert. The way they were able to enhance the mood of the film was so
incredible. We collaborated after I shot and mostly edited the work, and through a few trials of songs, we
eventually ended up on a few that were worked in throughout the film.
In terms of sound design, I was incredibly stressed out at first. I had shot my whole film and hadn’t
started editing or sound designing yet when the first lockdown of Covid-19 hit. I was at Bard College at
the time finishing my last semester, and it was really chaotic figuring out how I would even proceed with
editing without the facilities. Luckily, I was able to sound design the work on my own laptop. Through
different resources, I decided to create a soundtrack that would ground the viewer more in the world of
the film. I was interested in the relationship between cacophony and silence; how sometimes the
unspoken is more important than any words. I tried to create sonifications for fantastical environments
that created dissonance between sound and image. Rarely would there be a moment of syncresis in the
work, but when there is, it is made more quiet than any other sound. Uncontrollable transmissions from a
radio and mysterious sounds of machines that have not been touched for years echo over the film’s world.
Voices only come in narrating forms, both in Ukrainian, voiced by my mother, and in English, voiced by
my sister. I used sun sonifications and planet frequencies to create moments of tension or highlight the
parts of the film where the women directly interact with the sun. Sounds taken directly from the Black
Sea or offshore oil rigs were interspersed. I believe in a soundscape that is as deeply curated as its visuals.
4. Is there a particular reason, other than aesthetics, that you chose to have your stories
brought to life on the screen in 16mm film format?
I just recently graduated from Bard College and was a film major there. When I first arrived at the
film department, there was so much I didn’t know both creatively and technicaly. I was so naive! Having
to understand all the different technical aspects of all types of cameras, lights, mics, etc. was definitely
overwhelming, but exciting. I felt a little intimidated by my lack of technical knowledge that I feel as
though it weighed on my creativity within film. It wasn’t until I took my first 16mm course that I felt like
I broke new creative ground for myself! My professor, Ephraim Asili, gave us many constraints when
approaching assignments. We were learning the basics, and had to do in camera editing as we shot.
Basically, that means you shoot your work in the order you want your piece to go. It helped me develop
an eye for editing and understanding how to push the boundaries of creativity. I love the limitations that
16mm gives you. I need structure to get to a creative place most of the time. With 16 mm, even though
there are constraints, there are also endless possibilities. It also just aided the narrative flow of the film so
much. My incredibly talented director of photography, Peymaan Motevalli-Aliabadi, was so incredible to
collaborate with and had such a unique sense of light and space!
5. Is there a difference in the way you have to direct actors when shooting on 16mm film
format compared to digital formats? If you have only directed for 16mm film format,
discuss briefly what challenges you have faced directing for 16mm film format, if any.
Absolutely! Directing actors is a huge challenge with 16mm, specifically if shooting on a Bolex with only
300 foot rolls. Each roll of film only records three minutes of footage, and the mechanics of the camera
only allow for a shot to be taken for thirty seconds maximum. Prior to even getting to set, I had to make
an extensive shot list where I detailed how many seconds could be allotted to a certain take, and how
many takes we were able to get off it. Since 16mm is incredibly expensive, we had to be both frugal and
deliberate about how we took certain shots. It forced Peymaan and I to really hone in on what we were
trying to capture. In regards to working with the actors, we had to be really communicative with their
movements and actions. Prior to set, we had a couple rehearsals where I gave them character sheets to
work on and think through. Through a lot of discussion and questioning, especially from my youngest
actor, Lida Strodl, who played Silisa, we were able to explore while also have a plan for each take. On set,
we would practice takes over and over before taking a shot. Since there was no dialogue, I had to ask my
actors to focus more on their facial expressions without over-exaggeration. It was definitely a challenge,
but taught me more about how to express my own creative vision and really build a relationship with my
Born in Boston, MA, Dalia Glazman always had a passion for storytelling. She would spend hours in her own spaces crafting worlds for her characters. This has now manifested through her filmmaking. During her time at Bard, she investigated her Russian and Ukrainian heritage through manipulating elements of time, researching family history, and weaving in cultural references. She is most invested in merging different time periods to create new fantasy worlds in her experimental narrative works. Glazman mainly works in 16mm film and always creates her own sound designs. For Glazman, sound is the backbone of a narrative.
Music Inspiration while making the film: Funny enough I was so inspired by Neil Young's guitar riffs from the Dead Man soundtrack! They're so atmospheric and it's crazy how he just completely improvised as he watched the film. It was really interesting and definitely had an impact on the music for my film. Specifically, Guitar Solo No. 1 & 5 were the most inspirational for me.
"Dirt", a screendance project created in June 2020, is a collaboration between choreographer Helanius J. Wilkins with videographer Roma Flowers, and composer Andy Hasenpflug.
Through the fusion of text, movement, layered visuals, and sound, this work presents a meditative exploration of identity and Blackness in a heightened time of unrest and uprisings fueled by issues of police brutality and systemic racism in America.
Helanius : https://www.helaniusj.com
This interview is with Roma Flowers, Helanius J. Wilkins and Andy Hasenpflug
1. The integration of movement, music, and visuals haunts us as the shadowy black and white images pass and dance before us. We are witnessing viscerally the struggle and pain of being Black in America, and yet there is life taking root that hints of change.
Is the message of "Dirt" one of despair, hope, or a mixture of the two? Or something else?
Roma: I began in the place of the text Helanius shared with me and conversations with him. He was drawn to the idea of dirt and we talked through its initially negative derivative ideations: “treated like, looked upon like dirt”, “walked upon like dirt”, “decaying into dirt”, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” to dirt’s more mundane associations, the color of dirt (like the color of black skin), dirt that’s manipulated to make walkways and roads covered with asphalt. When the school where I work engaged that first covid hiatus, I used that newly emptied time to work in my garden and spoke of the idea of dirt also as a restorative, a source of nutrients and life, it’s texture beguiling to my bare hands, the welcomed presence of earthworms. The idea to render visually all those ideas with the idea of the black body and the violence that is perpetrated upon it, and yes, as you gathered, a sense of revival, of rejuvenation, of hope.
Helanius: In my imagining and approach to making this work, Dirt makes visible a fully sensory experience illuminating the complexity and resilience of being Black in America, an experience that is not easy. While not striving to offer a specific message – “message” was not a driver for me - a through line in the work is resilience as it relates to “birth/rebirth”. In this sense, the work reflects a journey that embodies both despair and hope, darkness and light, struggle, and growth.
Andy: To me, it is both light and dark, but not despair. The dark is honesty and struggle, not defeat. The light comes largely from the artistic fascination of the imagery, especially of the roots and the plants and how one thing impossibly transforms into another.
2. It’s evident that this work is very much a collaborative piece. It feels like a soul wrenching visual poem. How did all of your elements (movement, music, and visuals) come together? Was this planned out and structural, or more of an improv with free form?
Roma: We found ourselves at the very beginning of the pandemic and with the recent murder of George Floyd, with a heaviness in our minds and hearts. Forced into isolation, Helanius approached both me and Andy with this idea of collaboratively creating a dance video remotely (we were /are all in different locations Helanius in Boulder, Andy in Pittsburgh and myself in Fort Worth).
Andy started sending me short music clips that I would add prerecorded imagery as well as footage I recorded myself (imagery of Helanius had been gathered from either performance videos or improv video sessions he and I had held in Boulder a while ago and rehearsal footage David Dowling had shot) and submit back to the two of them for responses and feedback. I edited all my footage in response to my conversations, Andy’s scores and my own artistic impulses. It was a constant back and forth, with us progressively shaping the work with constant communications. I think were eight iterations before the final version.
Helanius: On one hand, Dirt emerged out of a long history of making artistic works that bridge the arts (dance) and social justice. My projects are rooted in the interconnections of American contemporary dance, cultural histories, and the identities of Black men. To do this work I engage in collaboration with artists from a wide range of disciplines, including film, video, music, and design. On the other hand, the making of Dirt was directly inspired by the onset of pandemics (COVID-19 and systemic racism) and my need to turn to art to make some sense of what was going on around me and for reflection toward healing. Specific to Dirt, my collaboration with Roma Flowers and Andy Hasenpflug involved a process that embraced both structure and improvisation. The structure was provided through being connected by the theme – the uprisings, Blackness, and identity, and a journey that lead to “birth” – which we considered through multiple conversations from different angles (societal, political, personal experiences, my memories of growing up in the south – Louisiana). Our conversations included linking to projects we have worked on together in the past and were working on alongside Dirt. The improvisation component came in “the how” our unique reflections and perspectives were able to allow us to complete each other’s sentences and create a project that holds space for reality, abstraction, navigating belonging, and potentiality.
Andy: As a (mostly) dance composer, my work is usually the product of someone else's vision and approval. Working with Helanius and Roma is one of the most truly collaborative teams of my career. I could count on one hand the number of collaborators that are as affirming to work with as Helanius and Roma. In this project, the artistic visionary (and movement creator) was mostly Helanius, but I came up with the musical structure and Roma made the real magic with the video and imagery. The music is not an improv at all.
3. What is your preferred way to show this piece? When I first saw the work - I imagined the film being projected in a gallery/museum setting with dancers performing among the projection. And when further researching your (Roma’s) work I saw that much of your work is projection/lighting design in performances. Is this piece performed live? And what is your idyllic way to present this work?
Roma: The original plan was to present the work as a Screendance/video art project to be streamed. We were well within the mindset of the socially distanced world during its creation. With that in mind, Dirt has been submitted to several Screendance festivals. More and more though, I’ve really come to regard it as a work of video art more so than pure Screendance, and to that end have also submitted it to experimental and video art festivals as well. Interesting that you imagined the work in a gallery/museum setting because lately I’ve been imagining that it would work wonderfully as a gallery/museum installation work though I haven’t yet pursued that platform.
Helanius: For me, the making of screendances is an organic extension of my art investigations and making. Although film and video has long been a part of my work, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on my work, and the performing arts in general, ignited a renewed interest in the creation of projects meant to be witnessed and experienced as screendances, and projects not necessarily intended to be incorporated into live performance. In this sense, I envision ideal spaces as museums/galleries, art houses, movie theatres.
Andy: Any way that looks and sounds good and people can focus on it.
4. What do you hope viewers will take away from this piece?
Roma: I hope viewers will regard the confluence of the imagery and the sounds as a truly evocative experience that is connected to contemporary and shared perspectives and that allow for that unique and singular space that the viewer occupies, that can resonate with the personal.
Helanius: Viewers will come to the work with different life experiences and relationships to understanding race. I can only hope that through this work I have created a brave and courageous space for considering experiences that may not necessarily be one’s own, and for confronting a slice of the realities of being Black in America in a way that hopefully yields awareness, self-reflection, understanding, compassion, empathy.
Andy: Certainly, the messages are powerful and thought provoking - So that, of course. But I do not believe that social meaning equals good art. A good piece could be about nothing, and a terrible piece might have a lofty agenda.
So, in addition to the message, I hope people take away as much as their commitment to attention, thought, and emotion can handle. I am proud of the imagination, technical skill, intelligence, originality, and artistry of every aspect of this piece. I hope people can be moved by that.
5. Can you tell us what you all are working on now? Do you have any projects on the horizon?
Roma: Helanius, Andy and I have an upcoming endeavor that will feature live dance performance (with projections) on the horizon called Kanaval.
Dance artists Tom Truss & Matthew Cumbie are in the beginning stages of developing a performance work based in part on the correspondence and relationship between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne to which I will be contributing video projections.
A colleague of mine here at Texas Christian University, Dr. Suki John is developing a live dance performance work that follows the story of a Jewish family from their lives in pre-war Germany through the horrors of the Nazi holocaust with a view connecting that to other historical and contemporary manifestations of political persecution and genocide, e.g., Japanese American relocation, current US immigration actions, the plights of the Rohingya and the Uighurs. The plan is for the work to tour primarily to high schools in Texas. Again, I am contributing video projections.
Helanius: In the immediate moment I am working on an expansive, multi-outcome project, The Conversation Series: Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-Body Belonging, a dance-based geopolitical “quilt”, stitching together uncertain relentless trajectories to disrupt the erasure of silenced stories. Among the outcomes are choreographic works and a feature-length documentary film. In addition to this project Kanaval, an evening-length dance performance project that reunites me with the collaborative team of Flowers and Hasenpflug. I suspect that a version of this project will also lead to us creating a new screendance, particularly given the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Andy: Happy to be working on another project with Helanius and Roma entitled Kanaval.
Also working with the choreographers Lindsay Fisher, Kari Hoglund, and Alanna Rygelski on dance films, and scoring a David Skeele horror film called The Margins. Can't wait to get back to live performance work when this pandemic ends!
Playlist (per Andy):
Andy's SoundCloud is : https://soundcloud.com/andy-hasenpflug
My favorite album of this year is Dizzy Strange Summer by Genevieve Artadi
and I have been listening to the band Africa Unplugged a bunch.
Roma Flowers, USA
Roma Flowers, Director/Editor, is a lighting and projection designer, video artist and filmmaker. A recipient of a New York Dance and Performance Award (aka “Bessie”) for her lighting designs, she has designed for Jordan Fuchs Dance, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, American Dance Theater, Jane Comfort, Creach/Koester Dance, DanceEXchange, David Dorfman Dance, Doug Elkins Dance Company, George Clinton, Jubilee Theatre, The Joan Miller Dance Players, Lawrence “Butch” Morris, David Murray, Meshell N’degeocello, ODC San Francisco, Otrabanda, Shapiro & Smith, Gus Solomons, Doug Varone and Dancers, Via Theatre, and Kevin Wynn. Recent theatrical and dance productions include Helanius J. Wilkins' A Bon Coeur, for which she was the recipient of a Knight of Illumination Award (KOI-USA) for her immersive projection design, Houston’s Catastrophic Theatre Company's production of TOAST, and Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Resident Choreographer Robert Garland's Nyman String Quartet #2 for DTH. Her screen dances have been included in festivals in the US, Brazil, Canada, and Portugal. Currently, Roma is a faculty member of Texas Christian University’s School for Classical & Contemporary Dance.
Helanius J. Wilkins, USA
Helanius J. Wilkins, Director, a native of Lafayette, Louisiana, is an award-winning choreographer, performance artist, innovator, and educator. He lived in Washington, D.C. for eighteen (18) years and founded EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, an all-male dance company of predominantly African American men that existed for thirteen (13) years (2001 - 2014). His honors include the 2008 Pola Nirenska Award for Contemporary Achievement in Dance, and the 2002 and 2006 Kennedy Center Local Dance Commissioning Project Award. He was a three times finalist for the D.C. Mayor’s Arts Awards and Bates Dance Festival named him their 2002 Emerging Choreographer. To date, he has choreographed and directed over 60 works, which includes two critically-acclaimed musical productions for Washington, DC’s Studio Theater – “Passing Strange” (2010) and “POP!” (2011). Foundations and organizations including New England Foundation for the Arts (National Dance Project), National Performance Network (NPN), the Boulder Office of Arts & Culture Public Arts Program, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts have supported his work. He is based in Boulder, CO where he is Associate Chair and an Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Composer/Percussionist Andrew Hasenpflug started his career with the drum set, attaining success with the New York revival of “Tomfoolery” before embarking upon a master’s degree in classical percussion.
Since then he has accumulated an extensive list of credits in theater, dance, jazz, rock, classical, patriotic, and commercial venues. These include the US Air Force Band, Denver Contemporary Dance Co., Rosanna Gamson/Worldwide, Equity Library Theater, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, and jingles for Kroger food stores and Hoolihan’s restaurants.
He has worked as an accompanist for dance at the American Dance Festival, the Doug Varone summer intensive, the American Colleges of Dance Festival, Slippery Rock University, Columbia College Chicago, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, the University of Cincinnati, Helander and Co., Kim Robards Dance, the University of Colorado, SUNY Purchase, Marymount College, and the Lou Conte Studios.
Compositional commissions have come from the Seldoms, Dance Alloy, LabCo, Ursula Payne, Tom Truss, Jennifer Keller, Zephyr Dance Company, The Overture Academy Cincinnati, Chasala Dance Company, Helander and Co., and the University of Cincinnati. His teaching credits include The University of Cincinnati, Columbia College Chicago, and Slippery Rock University.
He has recorded with the United States Air Force Band, Rick Lisak Band, Sylvain Acher and Fabien, Divide by Pi, and Hasenproject.
Mr. Hasenpflug currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he freelances and works as the music director for the dance department of Slippery Rock University. In the summers Andy is the musical director for the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC.
DIY DOC : Trendy Shit Town
DIY Doc is an episodic documentary series exploring Boston's underground music scene. In each of the 4 different homes we visit, struggling DIY musicians invite you in for shows and interviews as they strive to play their music and pay their rent with the immense uptick of gentrification in Boston. "Trendy Shit Town" is the first house in the series. It focuses on trans musician Fen Rotstein, who lives at Trendy Shit Town and helps to book shows there.
Breana Del Gatto
Breana Del Gatto is a recent graduate from Emerson College in Boston, MA with a BA in film and video and a focus on documentary. She grew up with two feisty, New York Italian born and bred parents who moved to the CT suburbs when she was 9. Raised in a household surrounded by outspoken Italians with a sailor’s mouth, she didn’t have much hidden from her and has always been interested in people and things that go against the current. She is curious about the world around her, carrying one of her various film and video cameras with her whenever she leaves the house. She’s impulsively free-spirited by nature, and loves going to shows and movies alone, talking to strangers, and going on impromptu adventures. She is interested in using documentary to highlight the stories of the unique people she meets on her journeys, with a heavy creative focus on D.I.Y and low budget production and style.
1. Initiation and concept: How did you begin this series? What brought you to tell this story? How did you develop the concept?
As a senior at Emerson, I got into the BA Capstone program, and had an opportunity to be in a semester-long class surrounded by other filmmakers, a knowledgeable professor, and priority access to our school’s professional camera equipment. I was fairly new to Boston ,as I had just transferred from school in New York City. I knew I wanted to do a documentary of some sort, but was struggling with what. So much about Boston was still unfamiliar to me, but one concept wasn't, D.I.Y. As an adolescent in the suburbs, I grew up listening to underground music, and always longed to explore D.I.Y scenes. However, the access was limited. If you didn’t have friends that liked going to shows, you hardly knew anyone who even went to shows, and you didn’t know any musicians, how the hell were you going to find out where the shows were, when D.I.Y music was all about privacy and secrecy? That’s why when I finally got to NYC, I went to as many shows I could find, even with my limited access. Coming to Boston 2 years later, I was especially unfamiliar with basement venues there. Funny enough, I got added to Boston’s D.I.Y facebook group by a boy I met on tinder (that I never actually met, but hey, thanks dude!), and my Boston music world opened. I knew I wanted to do my documentary on Boston’s scene, as D.I.Y had been an inspiration for me growing up and I wanted to be able to use my privilege as a film student and access to equipment and an audience to highlight the work being done to keep the scene alive.
I had about 5 months to hand in a finished product to my professor, though I knew I’d be working on the project beyond the Capstone deadlines. I spent about the first month of production just doing research. I met up with everyone and anyone I got in contact with involved in the D.I.Y scene to give me insight and point me in the right direction. I filled up notebooks with transcriptions of our conversations, bands to reach out to, show bookers to contact, and houses to check out. Those amazing people who responded to my first post in the Boston D.I.Y facebook group and sat with me while I picked their brain helped me gain the basic foundation for the story I was trying to tell, and this film literally would not have happened without them.
2. Production : Can you tell us about how you managed a documentary crew? Were you connected to the subjects? How long was production?
This was my first time managing a documentary crew, and it was an amazing experience. I always gravitated towards documentaries because you can make great work with a small team, and you can really hand pick that team to make it full of people you trust, and genuinely enjoy working with. I never felt like I wanted someone on a crew just to fill a spot. Documentary gives you the ability to be D.I.Y, work with limited equipment, and crew and still tell an amazing story. We had SO much fun, especially during filming. It was hard not to, as all the subjects were open, hilarious, and usually smoking or passing around communal beers. Not to mention, every time we shot at a house, we made sure to shoot during the day when a show was scheduled for that night. So as a crew, we also got to enjoy the party and music that began when the show started. It was definitely nice to be able to share a beer with your subjects after a long day of filming.
We all felt very connected with our subjects. They were so expressive, passionate and free spirited, and we were all so genuinely fascinated with everything they had to say. Even more now in post, I’m stunned at their creativity, insight and knowledge of the music world, the scene, and commitment to what really matters when it comes to making true art. If COVID hadn't kicked us out (of school, and effectively Boston), I would have taken the opportunity to come back for more follow up interviews, and to genuinely just hang out. I truly felt like I made new friends throughout this filming process.
The production spanned over 2 and a half months or so, before COVID finally kicked us all out of campus, shut down productions, and stopped all D.I.Y venues from operating, perhaps one of the saddest parts since most of the people in these houses can only pay their rents due to show revenue.
3. The Series: This short was an examination of one house venue . I’m very interested to see how others venues were. Were you able to document other spaces? How were they different?
I documented a total of 4 spaces during my time there. Episode 2, which I’m working on right now, explores “The Farm/Last House”, run by a 27 year old, slightly nihilistic, but loveable writer, with a disdain for college kids, who books shows at the legendary Allston showhouse. The next house is “1881”, very much a party house and one super friendly towards college kids. We actually interviewed them the day a huge show was shut down due to Covid, which became one of the first house shows cancelled due to climbing Covid tension. Finally, we documented a house of older punks in the scene, people ranging from their 30s to 40s, who all live together.
They grew up in the Boston scene, are still a part of it, and still make music in it. Their insight was incredible and being some of the scene’s veterans, they provided us with so much unique information.
4, Influences: What are your documentary influences and how are you inspired by them?
I’m inspired by low budget, stylized, music heavy documentaries. Music is so important to me and while I am interested in exploring direct cinema, I feel my personal style is better suited to musically charged, D.I.Y, creative hand-heavy content. I enjoy low budget docs like “The Wild Wonderful Whites of West Virginia”, which is made up of a bunch of funny, dark, and wild characters backed by a soundtrack from Hank Wiliams 3. While funny and comedically stylized, it remains eye opening, touching, and troubling. Another favorite is Crime Scene Cleaners Inc, by D.I.Y outcast documentarian David J Sperling. It follows around a narcissistic, sarcastic “asshole” who cleans crime scenes for a living. Funny, disturbing, and weird as hell, it was made on a budget of $500. My absolute favorite documentary at the moment is Terry Zwigoff’s “Crumb”, and is definitely what inspires me most. The film took 9 years and left Zwigoff almost broke. It explores controversial artist R.Crumb and his troubled brothers, and is backed by a soundtrack from R. Crumb’s own band, “R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders”. It’s humorous, beautiful, engaging, and somehow, one of the most disturbing documentaries I’ve ever watched.
5. Future: What are you working on next? Are you continuing with the series?
I’m continuing the series. D.I.Y DOC has projected 4 more episodes: 3 on houses, and a set of mini docs (or one big one) exploring various college bands we got a chance to interview. I’m almost done with episode 2, on show house “Last House” and resident Kevin Fanning, and am set to release it March 18th!
I Exist On the Internet
Through the construction of her digital alter ego, Ambie Drew – a product of amplified, kitsch and stereotypical femininity, encountered through an objectifying female gaze. In this new single-channel video work commissioned by Vivid Projects, she utilises her internet conceived alter ego to examine a fragmented existence in a synthetic digital realm.
My practice explores fabricated femininity, gender and identity in the digital age. How do we exist through our ‘digital selves’ and lead secondary lives online? We exist in a human body, but what would it mean to live through an artificial, digital body? Or to fabricate our online personas in reality? I examine this through the construction of my alter ego, Ambie Drew, whose sole existence is to achieve a synthetic perfection. My work takes form as a series of short, looping, experimental films that are presented as large, multi-screen installations. Exploring ideas around artificial intelligence and digital enhancements in an online environment to create a fluid overlap between fantasy and reality. I manipulate myself through the use of beauty tools and products to play on an amplified, kitsch and stereotypical femininity. Analysing the consumption of beauty through an objectifying gaze to capture the visceral and grotesque nature of feminine rituals.
Interview questions by Kate Fitzpatrick
1. Much of your work examines the construction of the alter-ego Ambie Drew through objects and space. What was your initial inspiration for the digital alter ego?
Ambie Drew was the username I used online for sites like MySpace, Bebo and MSN when I was a teenager over 10 years ago. It became the name that was only ever attached to my online presence. As a teen I spent a lot of time in my bedroom experimenting with makeup and costume to alter my appearance for fun, taking selfies on my webcam that I would manipulate in photoshop and post online.
When I started studying Fine Art at university, I began to explore Ambie Drew’s existence and performance online. Why was I so compelled to take images of myself becoming different people? Eventually I became interested in research concerning gender roles, identity and online environments and realities. I play with the idea of multiple selves and the slippage between in reality and online using Ambie Drew not only as a material/object but also a vessel to create my work – she is a chimera of sorts that my making centers around.
2. The use of color and texture are vivid and captivating throughout the piece. What was your process behind constructing the look of the film?
Colour and texture are key components of my work, more so than the storyline in a sense. Which has come from developing my practice from a Fine Art educational context rather than traditional filmmaking. Colours, textures, objects and materials are the things that I pull together at the very beginning of conceiving the work rather than scripting or storyboarding. I’m interested in communicating a narrative via these materials and objects over forming a cohesive storyline since my film work always tends to follow an experimental, abstract narrative.
Anything that sells the future is always bright, clean and optimistic. The aim for ‘I Exist on the Internet’ was to have that look but with a sense of dystopia bubbling beneath this poppy pink aesthetic. The internet is a vast environment that is constantly evolving at a rapid rate, so I wanted to visualise the back and forth between our consumption of data and how it translates back into reality and the ‘third space’ in between.
At the time I was watching a lot of anime; films like Akira, Perfect blue and the animated series of Aeon Flux which subconsciously fed in to the work. I had also read ‘The Internet Does Not Exist’, by Julieta Aranda which heavily influenced the text that accompanies the film. There were scenes that were built up from the text which was something I hadn’t done before. Aranda wrote “We thought there were windows but actually it’s made of mirrors.” I knew from the very beginning I wanted to incorporate filming through/with mirrors in ‘I Exist’ which achieves this almost multi-dimensional effect. It was also my first time using green screen which meant I could layer objects and materials in a really exciting way.
3. What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process?
It’s cliché to say but I enjoy the entire process it’s hard to choose a favourite. I think the moment where it all starts to come together in post-production can be the most rewarding/daunting part of it. I’m not only behind the camera, but I’m also in front of it; so since no one else is involved in the process it can feel like I’m in an echo chamber so I definitely have moments of doubt! For this film in particular, I only had roughly a month to create it so it was super rewarding when I sent it off to Vivid Projects before the opening night of the show. It’s the first film I was commissioned to create so I was very nervous but it got a really great reception. So, there’s that sense of relief but also being able to step back from it and enjoy it as a finished piece is such a good feeling.
4. I Exist on the Internet was commissioned as part of an exhibit on the World Wide Web, which has changed dramatically since its original conception. What do you find the most disconcerting about our current digital era? Or the most inspiring?
Like anything, it has its pros and cons. The internet is now embedded in our daily lives whether we like it or not, it is everywhere, all around us, at any given moment. I find I’m either hyper aware of that or I’m totally consumed and can spend hours scrolling through social media. We are consuming information at a rapid rate and stuck in a never-ending loop and drip fed subliminal images and ideas which is definitely disconcerting. One of the more problematic issues is how untamed the internet can be, for better or for worse. The algorithm is deeply flawed with prejudice, reflecting the society that produces it. Whilst we are the people fighting against it, the ones at the top are the people with the power and control over the algorithm. We find ourselves once again trying to defeat a binary system.
5. What are you working on next? Will it be in a similar theme?
Yes, I’m currently making work at the moment that I have been developing over the past year. Mainly ideas that were postponed due to Covid. It will draw from ‘I Exist on the Internet’ and whilst it isn’t a continuation you will definitely see the dots that can be connected between the two.
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