Interview with Writer/Producer Sven Britt (A FEAST THAT NEVER COMES)

A FEAST THAT NEVER COMES was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the May 2022 EXPERIMENTAL/MUSIC Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

My album was coming together and I knew that it would be a waste to not work with my husband (Chris Masters, the film’s choreographer as well as director of the album) to build a dialectical language between words, music, and dance. A live show would be ideal (and will hopefully still happen at some point), but filming the concept—despite the challenges and costs inherent in such a process—proved the simpler solution at the time.

As the album is a interrogation of themes through the lens of four characters—though structured in such a way to invite listeners to engage however deeply they want, with all levels being equally valid—a dance film containing all four characters and four of the ten songs on the album (though the dream would have been to make an entire visual album, making only 40% of that pretty much bankrupted me, so, alas) seemed like the appropriate way to invite people in with yet another avenue of empathy to open up a broader and more diverse and inclusive audience with disparate lived experiences to meaningfully explore the work.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

The shoot lasted only 8 days, but the editing process is a whole other beast for something like this, where we’re existing in and out of dreamscapes and the real and the imagined lives of the characters. I’m not going to depress myself by looking up old emails to find out how long that took (especially as it was a passion project for everyone involved, so the pay wasn’t enough to ask anyone to turn down a higher-paying job in order to wrap up this project, especially as the album was still being finalized).

But to give you some insight into the album, Chris and I started working on it in 2014. The first rough version of the title track (and the second song in the film) was recorded in April of 2014, I believe. The process is long, but that’s simply part of it, and indeed without that long of a gestational period—real-life struggles and hurdles aside—I don’t see how we could have completed a project with this many layers.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

If I’m being serious—and I usually am—intentional and crafted. (Or perhaps: carefully crafted.) But if you catch me at a bar after a few rounds, my answer is: hot and gay.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

My work with Chris before this project was all live, so those challenges ranged from finding space and funding to work on a concert dance piece for 6–12 months to making 24 hours of music in 4 days (and synchronizing 8 distinct sound zones) for an immersive dance-theatre piece we created in Beijing…

But A Feast That Never Comes was a time-crunch from top to bottom, so the main challenge in terms of staying true to Chris’s creative process was carving out the time to construct the choreography without eating into the necessary amount of filming time, as we shot most of the dance sequences in many different locations in order to draw attention to the cyclical nature of the characters’ relationships.

On the more filmic side, the budget was quite tight and we had to be creative; the trick was to schedule all the scenes and shoot them in the same house where the cast and crew were staying. Frequently as we were wrapping one scene, some of the crew went off to organize a bedroom or the kitchen into a set for the next sequence. Which is to say, everyone involved was wearing multiple hats and working long hours as we shuffled between day and night shoots to knock out everything in our limited time.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Joy, maybe? Especially knowing that the performers are getting credit for their incredible work, wordless as they are in the film. Using four dancers who had never acted on film before could have been a risky move, but with these absolute talents, we had no doubts at their ability to make a glance or a gesture hold the same power of a scene-stealing monologue.

My favorite work, and what I personally strive to do, is to make pieces that hold up a kind of kaleidoscope to the audience. There is so much to see, and it’s made that way with intention; there is no right answer, but there’s also no right question. The witness is invited to grapple with and interrogate all of themes and motifs, which are laid out in such a way to encourage interrogation. Very little about the work is structured to give a clear, declarative answer even to the simplest questions (e.g., “is this real,” “what is the nature of these character’s relationships,” or—one that was brought up multiple times in the feedback—”what does it mean that so much of what occurs exists in a cyclical, looping environment”).

I have my own opinions about the answers to some of these questions, but I’m not terribly interested in the question of the intent of a creator. Impact over intent, which is why it’s purposefully set up as a set of nesting dolls, or a maze to reach whatever conclusion (or lack thereof) that the witness’s lived experience and personal history might lead them to.

So to hear multiple people saying that by the end they “understood the point of the film” was incredible, and it tells me that I achieved at least part of what I set out to do, because if they’d been saying that in a Q&A with me in the room, my only response could be: “well that makes one of us!”

And I think that’s the way it should be with work like this. Our own individual histories dictate how we engage with every aspect of the world, and when creators lean into that with craft and intentionality, it can open avenues of empathy to not only permit but, indeed, to encourage individualized, disparate, equally valid (and valuable) interpretations and understandings of the work.

We are all different, and any artist who ends that statement with some version of “which is why we are all the same” gives me the howling fantods. Our differences are exactly what I value, in an audience and in the collaborators in the room.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

Brace yourself, this is gonna be a sad one.

I don’t know that I even “want” to make films. I want to open up my work in an explicitly inclusive way, and filming dance (specifically, filming dance that is choreographed for the camera) can democratize a field that is often (correctly) criticized as elitist and inaccessible.

But that’s not when I knew I needed to make this work. I knew I needed to make this work when I was sitting up on a new friend’s porch in Austin between shows at SXSW with a couple of other new friends—filmmakers who were incredible interested in filming dance, and who were watching a concert dance work I had just completed with Chris (my not-yet-husband and longtime choreographer mentioned above) on my phone, pausing and discussing where to film individual segments and movements and how to light it and etc.

That was Andre and Lauren. Lauren went on to edit this film that Andre wanted to direct. I was lax in getting funds together and firming everything up, and then Andre died in a way that even I—being extremely comfortable talking about death—still can hardly bring myself to talk about.

Dear, dear Maria stepped in to direct it in his memory (you’ll see his name in the credits). I’m sorry to say that I’m not sure how it ever would have come together without the bonding of that tragedy. So… that’s why we needed to make this work.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

The real answer is probably any random horror movie, because my husband falls asleep to them on a near-nightly basis. But as for movies I actively choose to watch, it’s a close race between (alphabetically) A League of Their Own, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Josie and the Pussycats, and Spotlight. A weird list, I know. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know Maria’s answer and she’s off working in Europe right now, so I don’t want to bother her.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert about the economics or politics of the festival world, but hoo boy do these submission fees add up, with nary a cash prize (especially for work that eludes easy categorization, as this work does) in sight. Sometimes it’s hard to motivate to keep going, knowing that making any meaningful amount of money from any form of art is increasingly difficult.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

As my first time dealing with festival submissions, I’ve been astonished at how streamlined the process is. I mean, it’s almost too easy to fill up a cart, but I can only imagine what it must’ve been like, in terms of workload, to manually send materials around, even back when there were fewer festivals to consider.

10. What is your favorite meal?

I’m Type 1 Diabetic, so I’m the wrong guy to ask, but like… buffalo cheesy chicken cauliflower casserole (holy alliteration) can fill me up without me needing to worry about insulin. But if I’m willing to deal with blood sugar going high and low, then probably my husband’s baked pasta or else chicken and dumplings. Or maybe fish and chips.

Take this all with a salt lick though, as I famously lack a real appetite or passion for food (I promise this is in no way related to the title A Feast That Never Comes).

11. What is next for you? A new film?

I’m sure I’ll get around to it when this film and album is released and I can spend all my time digging into the next one. But right now, I’ve just had my first rehearsal for a new concert dance work with my husband’s company (ChrisMastersDance) for which I’ll be composing the music.

The working title is Mausoleum, so while it’s not likely to be light fare, I couldn’t be more excited. We’re attempting to recalibrate how collaborators are valued, specifically in the dance world, and have plans for a 2023 NYC premiere, followed by a tour, tentatively in San Francisco, Seattle, DC, and Chicago/Minneapolis.

If you’re interested in hyperphysical yet extremely cerebral dance work… I’d keep my eyes peeled.

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival www.wildsound.ca

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