Interview with Filmmaker Mathias Jener (SUPERHUMAN)

SUPERHUMAN played to rave reviews at the June 2021 ENVIRONMENTAL Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

We were watching the current situation with climate change and thought that we wanted to take action and raise awareness for the topic.

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

More or less one year.

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

Awakening, change in perspective

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

The hardest thing was to show something that cannot be shown. CO2 is not visible and it was hard to find a solution to make it “visible”.

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

We had goosebumps and were incredibly proud to hear people that we do not know say those things about our project. Sometimes after watching your own film a hundred times you lose the connection to it.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

About 7 years ago while we were traveling through europe. As for so many our first attempts on film were vacation videos.

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

The Place beyond the pines

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

Filmfreeway is a great and super easy opportunity for filmmakers to submit their work on a budget.

9. What is your favorite meal?

Kebab

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

Yes, we already have to upcoming projects planned. We are just waiting for the corona crisis to finally come to an end and we are also waiting for some technical gear to get started.

Interview with the ONE STEP AT A TIME film team (Kyle & Seton Roberts, Tom Schellenberg)

1. What motivated you to make this film?

Tom: The motivation came from our desire to make the biggest impact we could for KOSHISH.

Kyle: For me, the initial driver behind creating the film was to capture the unique events that would inevitably take place in our attempt to portage canoes to Mount Everest Base Camp. Whether we were successful in our journey or not I had a pretty strong feeling it would be worth documenting.

Seton: I never considered that I would have the ability to film something like this. It wasn’t until Tom and Kyle invited and encouraged me to join them did I find the motivation within myself to tell their amazing story.

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

Seton: For my involvement in this project I specifically spent approximately 28 months from the inception of the documentary to the release.

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

Tom: Universal Compassion

Kyle: Vulnerability and compassion

Seton: Love and Determination

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

Tom: The last memory card of footage was compromised which documented our trip back form base camp and had footage with the KOSHISH organization after the expedition. This made it challenging to complete the documnetary as we wanted and forced us to find a new end point for the documentary while trying to incorporate more about the cause without the footage we lost at the end of the trip.

Seton: Definitely the immense difficulty of editing that I did not foresee. I began this project imagining that I was going to do everything myself. However, I really struggled when it came to post production. Thankfully I eventually found Tuxedia production to assist in the completion of the video and sound editing. They were essential in the completion of the film.

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

Tom: I was very emotional listening to the audience talk about our film. I felt so supported and encouraged in our purpose to change the world for the better. To feel that after the effort that has gone into this expedition and the making of this film makes me feel so proud and like we are on the right track. Good things happen when you do good things.

Kyle: This was honestly one of the most rewarding aspects of being involved in the film for me. It was unbelievable to watch complete strangers speak so highly of the film and our efforts.

Seton: It was so strange to hear so many kind words. Honestly, I had to pause the video multiple times because the feedback was so touching and I am not used to hearing strangers say so many positive things about my work.

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

Tom: This question will be best answered by Seton. I wanted to make a film to help get the message of The Weight We Carry out in order to make as big of an impact as we could as an organization. This was all about raisining funds to support KOSHISH in building a Women’s Mental Health Center in Kathmandu, Nepal. I went to my younger brother Seton about a year before the expedition and said to him, “you know you can do this tip to don’t you?”. He was shocked at first to believe that he could have the physical ability to join Kyle and I. We asked him to come, film the expedition and help us create a documentary. He did an incredible job.

Seton: I have always been in love with films and decided about 4 years ago that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I set myself the goal of making a feature film and being accepted to a film festival. Who knew I would have reached my goal already.

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

Tom: Probably Home Alone.

Kyle: Into The Wild

Seton: Drive.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

Seton: I found the FilmFreeway platform extremely accessible as someone with very little experience in the film festival world.

9. What is your favorite meal?

Tom: Turkey dinner.

Kyle: My favourite meal is a vegetarian chill served with cheese and fresh homemade bread.

Seton: Shepherd’s Pie

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

Tom: There will be another expedition for The Weight We Carry to continue on our purpose to change the world for the better. This will most likely bring another film 😊.

Kyle: Firstly we are determined to finish off this current project. We have raised $150 000 and a large portion of the money raised was done so with the reach of the film. Once that money has been implemented to building the Women’s Mental Health Centre we will announce another expedition. It would be a privilege to be able to do the next project with my two younger brothers again (Seton and Tom).

Seton: I am sure that there will be another expedition and I definitely want to be a part of it to chronicle that journey as well.

Interview with Filmmakers Zach Duer & Scotty Hardwig (MASS)

MASS played to rave reviews at the June 2021 EXPERIMENTAL Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

Zach Duer: This work is a happy accident. In working on another virtual choreographic performance piece, I made a programming error and accidentally set thousands of avatars performing the same movement to all have the same starting place, but starting at different times in the animation. The result was so striking we made it into its own piece.

Scotty Hardwig: Like Zach said, this work appeared somewhat by accident as we were experimenting with motion capture rigging onto digital bodies for a VR suite called Time Garden. As an artist and a scholar, I’ve always been interested in the glitch art movements of the 1990s, and I was drawn to the imagery of this particular scene because it seemed glitch dance at its finest. It also spoke to me against the backdrop of living through this pandemic, because we see a mass of mossy green bodies all overlapping and reaching upward. It feels like closeness and hope, albeit dystopian, in a time when we have all been so isolated.

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

Given the above, about 2 hours. The related piece from which this spawned started more than 2 years ago and has occupied thousands of work hours. It’s hard to separate them.

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

upsetting beauty

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

Zach: Mapping the captured movement of Scotty onto the virtual avatar.

Scotty: editing together the scraps of imagery and video into something that felt cohesive — as we said before, the creation of this piece was kind of a mistake, so re-crafting that detritus into a polished product was tricky

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

Zach: I love to hear the off-the-cuff impressions that people get! Something that the work resembles to them, or a connection they made, or a feeling they had. After making something and spending time with it, it’s hard to come back to that same first impression, and it’s so amazing to hear!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

Zach: In 2007-2009 when I was doing a master’s in music composition in electronic music and I got tired of asking audiences to only engage their ears and no other parts of their bodies. It goes beyond films too!

Scotty: When I was in graduate school and learned about this beautiful art form called screendance — I had never encountered it before, or hybrid video forms in general, and immediately fell in love. Ever since, I’ve wanted to expand the definitions of what a moving body can be, and what dance can become in digital and filmic space.

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

Zach: I have no idea.

Scotty: Probably Star Wars… the one with the Ewoks.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are your feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

Scotty: I like FilmFreeway a lot — it keeps everything super organized, and has lots of helpful tools for managing submissions. All in all, it’s a great platform.

9. What is your favorite meal?

Zach: Homemade tostada monstrosities that I’ve made since I was a teenager

Scotty: I’m a huge fan of cabbage and asparagus — anything containing garden-fresh vegetables is basically my jam.

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

Zach: So many things! Machine learning and choreography is the most salient

Scotty: Zach and I work together a lot, so we are currently working on a machine learning AI system for recognizing human movement. I also perform and teach a lot internationally, so I’ll be performing in a virtual work called ENGRAM 4 this July at Bates Dance Festival . After that, Zach and I will be in Salt Lake City for a research residency working with Drones as interactive performers in a dance. We’re super excited to get back into live performance this summer!

Interview with Filmmaker Aristarchos Papadaniel (C. P. CAVAFY | THE CITY (Wherever I Turn My Eyes To))

C. P. CAVAFY | THE CITY was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the June 2021 EXPERIMENTAL Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

The initial motivation was C. P. Cavafy’s classic poem “The City”, which I had the inspiration to set music to and perform it. After that I wanted to visualize this sound recording and shared that idea with my friend and excellent cinematographer Panagiotis Kountouras.

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

What you see is a one-day shoot that was enriched with 3 small parts of animation in post-production.

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

Audiovisual epigram.

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

Our initial thought was to make the film shooting in an abandoned industrial environment. In the meantime, in a place called Mati (Eye) in Attiki, in July 2018 the deadliest fire in Greece, and internationally in the last decade, took place. Our perspective towards the project was completely changed since we decided to film in the fire-stricken location a few days after the event, making this way a poetic live-action documentary.

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

The impact the film had in so many different ways was really touching. By the way, I think that the idea of making these audience reactions videos is brilliant! And makes your festival experience stand out. Thank you for your role as a mediator between us and the audience in such an innovative way -especially during these trying times.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

When I realized that through my drawings as a kid I wanted to tell stories. The drawings became comics, the comics became animated shorts and TV series and now even books, songs and live-action films.

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

Walt Disney’s “Fantasia”.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are your feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

FilmFreeway is a very helpful platform for filmmakers, especially in finding festivals as yours -the Environmental Film & Screenplay Festival- specializing in subjects of our interest and our film core thematic.

9. What is your favorite meal?

My favorite “meal” is Panagiotis Kountouras’ latest short film “IVAN”, which as its two screenwriters Taxiarchis Deligiannis and Vassilis Tsiouvaras describe is “a meal of raw reality”.

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

Two films in fact, produced by Syllipsis. A new animated short “The Song of the Fates” supported by the Greek Film Centre and the Greek Ministry of Culture and another live-action film co-directed once again by Panagiotis and myself, based on Iakovos Kambanellis’ poetry and Mikis Theodorakis’ music from their masterpiece “Mauthausen” in a new version vocally performed by me and Aris Zervas, an excellent cellist.

Interview with Director/Actor Jeananne Goossen (THE ARTIST’S WAY OUT)

THE ARTIST’S WAY OUT was the winner of BEST DIRECTION at the June 2021 TV Web Series Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

I had wanted to direct for a long time after working as an actor for many years, but felt that I had to write something myself in order to direct for the first time (instead of potentially messing up someone else’s project!). I wanted to make something lighthearted and fun and still progressive in that the leads are from underrepresented groups (particularly in romantic comedy). When I became seriously injured for months, I saw it as an opportunity to finally write something and within 2 months we were shooting it!!

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

It took about 8 months from when I wrote my first word to when I finished all the editing/sound mixing/syncing. It took 2 weeks to write all 6 episodes, 2 weeks to do rewrites, 1 month of pre-production, 6 days of shooting, and then 6 long months of post. It was all pretty challenging to do during the pandemic but people were generous with their time, especially since people were doing it pro bono in their spare time.

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

Artist Lovers

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

Trying to edit and work the sound mix in a socially distanced manner.

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

Delight! I was just so pleased that they saw what I was hoping they would see, and that they seemed to feel good after watching it, which was the whole point!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

When as an actor I couldn’t stop thinking about everyone else’s performances and the shots and the writing and wanted to know what all the crew were doing all the time.

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

Tampopo by Itami Juzo. Close second would be Contact starring Jodi Foster

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are your feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It was very convenient, I wouldn’t have known about this festival otherwise.

9. What is your favorite meal?

This is a hard one. It changes from day to day, season to season. My favorite meal is one made with seasonal, maybe ever foraged, goodies.

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

I’m still working as an actor (currently on The Handmaid’s Tale), but I do have several scripts on the go. Hopefully the next one will be a true film (short or feature) and not a web series — because it seems to be easier to promote lol.

Interview with Musician/Actor/Director Nicole Simone (ON A LIST)

ON A LIST played to rave reviews at the June 2021 TV WEB SERIES Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

The pandemic hit and I needed a creative outlet so I decided to try film making and acting. I really enjoyed the writing process and producing the series. It was kind of on my bucket list to do, having made music videos and produced music most of my life it was an interesting turn for me but felt natural and fun.

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

I came up with the idea in May 2020, I started writing it in June, then went to camera in August 2020. I released the first episode just before the holidays but the editing process and final shots were done until March 2021.

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

On A list is… witty and endearing.

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

Covid was a huge obstacle, it was a micro-cast and crew and when the second outbreak happened in Toronto we cancelled filming resulting in the second last episode being cut but it all worked out.

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

I was not expecting this today and being in the final stages of my first feature film script and going to camera in 4 weeks, it was JUST the boost I needed. My fans really connect with me as an actor but often forget that I write, produce and co-direct – not to mention the music on the show, some of which was composed just for On A List. When the last person in the video mentioned Richard Linkletter, I swooned as that was one of the influences for the show – the amazing conversations two people can have and share some intimate moments. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the video, but I felt like the audience got all the points across that I was aiming at. It felt good!

WATCH the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

In highschool I made a short film about the music I was working on. I was obsessed with VHS in the last days you could rent them, so I’d always get older movies and just marvelled at the writing and concepts, particularly films from the 30s and 90s. When I was graduating high school my music career started to take hold and I lost interest in school, losing my acceptance to college for film. I always regretted that and On A List was kind of my fast-track film school lesson. A lot of my friends are wonderfully accomplished film makers in LA and they have always been encouraging of me pursuing film. I am surprised to be acting and I’d honestly say it’s probably the most unexpected thing for me to do of all the things in filmmaking, but it was incredibly thrilling being put on the spot. On A List was the first time I’ve ever acted so that was fun.

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

Beginners by Mike Mills. I’ll sometimes watch it monthly. Usually just the first half. The documentarian style mixed with dramedy, it just crushes me every time. It’s a beautiful love and life story. I saw it in the theatre by myself and I have thought about that film everyday. It’s a movie that makes me want to make films.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It’s been a very cool experience, way more positive than I expected. The project has been well received especially as a complete novice. It’s been a very encouraging experience!

9. What is your favorite meal?

A plate of french fries with malt vinegar, a side of mayo and a tall glass of root beer. I always love diners.

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

My new project Mindless Magic goes to camera this July. It’s a feature film and it came about by accident since the lead in Season 2 of On A List had a scheduling conflict. I had the director and time booked, so I asked Lee Foster if he’d be interested in doing a feature instead and he said “yea why not”. I like working with Foster for that reason, he, like myself, is a “make it happen” kind of person. It’s still a small crew, Alex J. Skinner was cast as my co-star and he’s been super fun to work with, a real charismatic talent. It’s a dramedy about love, magic and death. It’ll make people swoon, laugh and cry. I suspect this may be the most difficult project I do but I wrote it around the time On A List started to wrap because I was sad not to have anything lined up with the insurmountable lockdowns happening in Canada.

Interview with Phil Cheney (MINIATURE CHESS)

MINIATURE CHESS played to rave reviews at the June 2021 NEW YORK Feedback Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

This film was inspired by a lot of my fears for humanity. Not of humanity, but for humanity. That coupled with a moment of finding the chessboard we used in the film. I found it in a drawer and had no idea where I’d gotten it from which made ideas start to flow. I also really wanted to work with the talented Nimo Gandhi and Tami Swartz, whom I used in my last short film. With all those elements the film formed in my head completely solid.

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

We shot this film in a Brooklyn warehouse where I work over two days in February 2020. I remember very short and casual conversations about some new virus while we were shooting. Lockdown hit very soon after. During lockdown I was able to work remotely to finish the film and we had a final cut by July of 2020.

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

Broken Family

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

Our biggest obstacle was a time crunch while shooting due to our almost non-existent budget. This film was built completely on favors of wonderful friends and literally kissing shoes to borrow equipment. Having only a few thousand of pocket money to make it happen added stress but also I think every filmmaker wishes they had just one more day to shoot. That and the warehouse we shot in was freezing. I tried to go barefoot in solidarity with the actors but quickly gave up. They were provided space heaters and space blankets between takes so no need to talk to their union reps.

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

I loved watching the feedback. My greatest fear is of my films not being seen. Seems at that point they might as well not exist. A tree that falls in the woods for no one to hear. I was very impressed by the interpretations and the embracement of the surrogate family.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I’ve loved movies from a young age but never thought I could make them until high school when I saw the making-of documentary Full Tilt Boogie and saw how the gears of a film set work. I still think back on the inspiration I felt from that doc when I work as a gaffer or grip to pay the bills.

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

It’s a tie between ‘An American Werewolf In London’ and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s ‘Three Colors: Blue’

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I love that we are living in a time where there are accessible tools for so many voices to make their films and then also have so many venues to show them.

9. What is your favorite meal?

Potatoes. All kinds of potatoes prepared in all the ways. Strand me on an uninhabited island for life, just give me all the potatoes.

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

I’m currently close to finishing a new short with Daniele Sarti, the same cinematographer as Miniature Chess which is a comedy about cannibals. I also co-wrote and co-directed a short film with the very talented Kate Espada. She’s a great filmmaker and was indispensable when making Chess. It’s being edited this very moment…I hope. Lastly, shot a music video with my friend Marcus Odom on 16mm for Nimo Gandhi’s folk music. Hope to start editing that soon. Beyond that I’m writing shorts here and there; trying to decide which one to fall in love with and push for production.

Interview with Screenwriter/Actor Sophie Mitchell & Director Erin Whited-Ford (THE WILD WOMAN AND THE PAINTER)

THE WILD WOMAN AND THE PAINTER played to rave reviews at the June 2021 LA FEEDBACK Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

Sophie Mitchell: Erin and I were in acting school together when we got to know each other and realized we had both recently come out of unhealthy relationships. That prompted us to read Women Who Run with The Wolves, a book of the lost wild woman archetype. After reading one tale in particular, Bluebeard, we began to talk about making our own version of the story. While the film ended up in becoming more personal and deviating from the tale.

Erin Whited-Ford: I think after we connected over a shared experience of past relationship trauma, it was kind of a no brainer that we should use it to fuel our first attempt at

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

E: I think we first started talking about the idea in 2015? Played around with a script for a number of years before settling on the current version. Shot the film in the fall of 2018 and all post production was finished by the end of 2020.

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

S: Dream-like. Suspenseful.

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

E: Because we had a very minimal budget, the post production process was drawn out over a couple years. I think initially this was a tad frustrating but became enormously helpful in giving us the time and space to develop the final cut into what it is. The whole process, from conception to festival submissions was a slow and fulfilling build, much like the nature of the narrative itself!

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

E: Very grateful and emotional.

S: I teared up. It was so heartwarming to watch the videos.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

E: High School when I made a short doc and an animation. Didn’t think anything of it at the time and pursued acting but have since craved the visual creative language more.

S: I knew I wanted to make films ever since I was about 11 when my uncle gave my brother (Keenan Parry, our cinematographer) and I a digital camera and we started messing around with it. I went on to pursue acting instead at the William Esper Studio which is where I met Erin. After graduating together we both realized that as much as we love acting (and still do, obviously) we wanted to have more creative control of the projects we were involved in

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

E: Probably ET. Or really any of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s films.

S: Probably a tie between Moulin Rouge and The Birdcage.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

E: Convenient and accessible

9. What is your favorite meal?

E: Pesto pasta

S: My partner is a bread baker, so, sandwiches!

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

E: Always a new film or idea on the mind. Working on various scripts/concepts.

S: I am currently writing a short and percolating on a feature!

Interview with Filmmaker Lea Toran Jenner (LIGHT OF DAWN)

LIGHT OF DAWN was the winner of BEST DIRECTION at the June 2021 DANCE Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

This film is the „movie”-version of our original Circus Act. After having performed it over 1000 times across the world we decided that it would be great to re-adapt it and make a short film out of it.

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

I would say about a year. It took time to find the right location, decor and team and of course also adapting the framing and choosing camera movement and angles to match the story.

The choreography and acrobatic technique was created and improved over 3 years.

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

Love lightly

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

The time we had on set. We had rented the studio for one day, but after 10 hours we were not done with the shooting plan. So we added hour after hour, which was very costly. Since I was directing, starring but also paying for the movie it was not easy to stay in my character during those 4-5 extra hours during the night.

Also we shot this movie while working at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. We shot it on our only day off from performing. Physically this was a huge challenge as well.

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

Of course I am always happy when people are moved and touched when watching my art. Their comments where were kind. I also love when people who are not in the circus world comment on circus. The vocabulary they use, and their approach is different. Sometimes that makes me smile, and sometimes I am surprises how impressed people are by our acrobatic tricks. I tend to forget how impressive they are.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I used to document my travels and adventures as a circus artist with little videos. When I lived two years in Paris (2017 & 2018) and worked at the Moulin Rouge in Paris I noticed that I suddenly I had a stable enough life to go study filmmaking. I always liked movies but never really had the opportunity to try it for myself. The school I went to was very technical and „hands on”. It was very fun to learn about all the technical side, but I also realized that I am more interested in the artistic side and also in performing and acting.

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

Call me by your name by Luca Guadagnino

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I think it is very well made, and easy to navigate! I suggest it to anybody who wants to apply to Filmfestivals!

9. What is your favorite meal?

Pasta al dente with a glass of red wine.

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

I am actually working on a Late Night Show format. It is a mix between a Talk Show and modern Circus. Currently I am testing versions of it, and writing the first season. I hope to be able to tell you more about it in a couple of months!

Interview with Filmmaker Sam Asaert (экзальтация / exaltation)

экзальтация / exaltation was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the June 2021 DANCE Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

A combination of three things motivated and inspired me to make this dance film. The first was the location. The space beneath a multilane highway overpass had been completely cleared for heavy-duty construction. Entering the construction site one evening inspired me to utilize the space between these massive rugged concrete pillars. The second motivational factor was Juliet Burnett. Aside from being a close friend of mine, she’s also a balletic tour-de-force and we’d been talking about making something together for a while. Her presence, her strength and her quality of movement make her a natural star.

Third, was Christopher Hill. He’s a former ballet dancer and now a talented choreographer, as well as a close friend of both Juliet and mine. When the three of us where able to spend some time together over the Summer of 2019, everything kind of fell into place and we decided to create this film. And so really, having the luxury of getting the three of us together — a dancer, a choreographer and a dance filmmaker — was the true motivation to create something.

Having a dancer as talented and as stunning as Juliet was of course a responsibility as well, as it necessitated the creation of a film worthy of how special she is as a performer, as a strong female artist, and as a soulful and mesmerizing presence. Knowing our standards, our work ethics and levels of expectations, we all knew that this film would be terribly demanding work — especially for Juliet who performed outside in the dust barefooted. But it was also tremendous fun!

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

The pre-production lasted just over a week. I provided the initial visual concepts and thematic narrative, influenced both by the location and by Juliet as the performer. The choreography that followed out of this thematic narrative, was created over the course of a week, with Christopher creating on Juliet and her adding traditional choreographic elements from her native Indonesia.

I would attend the rehearsals and give input regarding the relationship of the choreography to both location and — what would work on camera and what wouldn’t, within the chosen location and with what lenses. I storyboard every dance film I make and so I took a day to fully translate the choreographic language of dance into the filmic language of dance cinema. The film was then shot over the course of two days. The location was under heavy structural renovation, which limited us to shooting in the afternoon, when the construction was halted and we had the site to ourselves.

The post-production was a far lengthier process. It’s not immediately obvious, but this film contains quite a few visual effects shots. The dance film was conceptualized to start with an altering of the gravitational axis of the cinematic landscape, to symbolize the shift into sentience, and I wanted there to be a tranquil and slow-paced interplay between close up and wide shots throughout the rest of the film — the whole film is shot on a 200mm and a 500mm lens. What wasn’t initially conceptualized, however, and which I discovered after I had finished a first cut, was that the film worked a lot better if Juliet was in the center of the frame as much as possible. This allowed the eye of the spectator to flow with the choreographya lot more fluently. Mirroring the background became the natural way to extend the cinematic landscape in order for Juliet to be able to retain a centralized position. The editing and
post-production process therefor lasted several weeks in order for me to composite the necessary shots
and achieve picture lock.

Building the soundscape was a gradual process that I worked on as the edit progressed, so that by the time I had picture lock, there was a very rough sketch of what the soundscape could be. I approached Russian composer Andrey Dergachev for permission to use one of his absolutely mesmerizing music pieces and was elated that he obliged. His almost angelical score really lifted the film to new heights and in accordance to the atmosphere his music added to our images, I completely redid the soundscape within 24 hours.

From start to finish the production took about half a year to complete. But with the Corona pandemic happening, this process was a lot more spread out than initially planned. Shot in 2019, the dance film was only finished by the start of 2021.

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

I would use only one: Exaltation…

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

Besides the obvious challenges of the Corona pandemic, the biggest obstacle was more of a creative challenge: to do Juliet justice. It’s easy to film dance, it’s hard to make dance cinema and create a cinematic experience that exudes the level of experience and sophistication of the dancer in every single frame. Dancers, and especially ballet dancers like Juliet, train their whole lives to achieve a certain level of physical prowess and artistic perfection — sacrificing much in the process. A filmmaker can undo those years of hard work and dedication by not knowing the choreographic vocabulary well enough, by being careless or unprepared or rushed, or choosing the wrong approach, the wrong angle, or the wrong take. When a dancer gives me their confidence to capture them on film, that always comes with a great responsibility. And that can be a daunting, but ultimately very inspiring, challenge.

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

I was really touched to get such intimate feedback and such personal takes on our film. As an artist your raison d’être is to create, but no creation is truly complete without it being received by an audience.

So, it was absolutely lovely to see and hear the audience talking about Exaltation. Once a film is made it belongs to all who view it and it’s a real treat to get an insight into what they make of it, what they read into it and what they enjoyed. Hearing one audience member noting that the body can be “grotesque and statuesque in the same realm,” really resonated with me as truly delves into the meanings of this film.

In times of corona, where live events have been lacking, this was a real treat and I applaud you for organizing this!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

When, at the tender age of four or five, my dad let me sneak a peek at Gene Hackman chasing a metro train in the French Connection I was hooked on the medium of film. When around 10 years of age I saw the Alien trilogy by Scott, Cameron and Fincher (Jean-Piere Jeunet hadn’t made Alien Resurrection yet), I knew I wanted to make films. I’ve been blessed with very art-minded and liberal parents who allowed me access to a lot of films that perhaps are deemed too much for young children to handle, but that ended up impressing within me a deep love for the artistic world-building and the creative storytelling of cinema.

When at the age of 21 I saw my first ballet performance — The Return of Ulysses, by Christian Spuck
— I knew I wanted to make dance cinema.

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

That’s a hard question, because when I get into a new film that I like, I watch it over and over to analyze and scrutinize. At this point I think it’s probably a tie between Ridley Scott’s Alien and Andrey Tarkovsky’s Zerkola (The Mirror). Though Dennis Villeneuve’s Sicario and Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us are hot on their trail at this point…

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are your feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I think platforms like FilmFreeway are a great way to democratize film festivals and create direct accessibility between curators and filmmakers. Over the years FilmFreeway has allowed me to build up a steady relationship with several international (dance) film festivals, something which would have been a lot harder without. For one, FilmFreeway is a centralized hub on which you can seek out film festivals far and wide, from larger and more prestigious film festivals to smaller niche festivals. And second, all communication can be done through one platform. I’m a big fan!

9. What is your favorite meal?

Having lived in Iran, I am an absolute sucker for Persian cuisine. On any given day I’m down for a nice, homecooked Gormeh Sabzi. Which is the most delicious and succulent herb stew.

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

I’m currently in post-production for another interesting dance film project. I can’t say too much about it at this point, but it’s a truly cinematic and riveting translation of a choreography by one of the great choreographers working in ballet today. It’s a set of different movement phrases for ten dancers. The dancers where filmed performing individually in front of green screen and will be composited together digitally, into an artistic and poetic mosaic of evocative ballet.

I’m also in pre-production on a personal project of dance cinema. It’ll be about the juxtaposition between the natural, nurturing notion of growth and the manmade, violent notion of growth. Currently I’m working in tandem with the choreographer and making some conceptual storyboards. It is poised to become a truly cinematic pas de deux for two female ballet dancers. I’m looking forward to sharing both projects with the world within the coming months…