The premiere of the films this previous Saturday at the Palace Theatre concluded the two week immersive explosion of art, passion and friendship that is Experimental Film Virginia. During this time, film makers, dancers, choreographers, artists, and writers from around the world come together engaging in a magical cross pollination of time, culture, language, movement, history, light and texture. While the workshops and calendar for shoots and editing are highly regimented, the outcomes, the product, the resulting array of patterns and visual forms are dynamic, fluid and wholly unpredictable.
During the Bayamo after party, there was a glass blower near the harbor putting on a demonstration. Although glass is a solid, it’s an amorphous solid—it’s rigid, but at the molecular level it’s random like a liquid. It’s this randomness that makes glass transparent. Experimental Film Virginia is like glass; to be able to perform, organize, leverage technology and your craft, there is a fundamental level of discipline required, yet, underlying this endeavor is a faith in the creative process and the randomness of invention.
So much of this faith is embodied by the gorgeous dancers that grace our town each season. This year, we were blessed to have incredibly unique and individually talented dancers such as Duane Cyrus (choreography), Emanuela Boldetti, Berenice Alfonso, Emmanuel Malette, Jingqui Guan, Kristin Bjerkestrand, and Mikie Thomas. Twyla Tharp called dance the glue of a community, and within the EFV community that is certainly true; whether you were working on the pitch, the shoot or the editing, being around artists with such courage, authenticity and audacity was like drinking a quicksilver milkshake.
This year, I was fortunate to be invited as one of the resident artists, along with my dance and theater collaboration partner, the brilliant choreographer Amy Watkins. Coming from stage backgrounds, we were worried that our vision, which is usually presented live and in 3 dimensions, would not translate to the medium of film. One of the great benefits of EFV is the mentorship provided by experienced and world renowned film directors such as Adi Halfin and Dana Shalev. In terms of narrative, structure, design and technique, their insights were invaluable in allowing us to find our voice.
While most see film as a visual medium, it is actually the collaboration between sound post-production engineers and filmmakers that brings the film to life. For our film, we so fortunate to have two of the world’s best sound guys, Paolo Armao and Vito Martinelli. Sound is usually the last part of the project, and the looming deadline had the potential to put the creative process under a significant amount of pressure—patient and professional, Paolo and Vito were prepared to work well into the night. They effortlessly found the perfect sound effects, cleaned up voice overs, and filled audio gaps. Everything was going smoothly until we came to the piano part, which, worried about copyrights and such, we decided to write and record ourselves. Unfortunately, due to time, we used a low end voice recorder to capture the piece played on the 1940s era upright piano at my home. Vito and Paola tried, but it was finally determined that that recording quality was too poor to use. We attempted to use the Steinway at the Palace Theatre for a new recording, but it was too clean (my words). My piano at home, marginally out of tune, mellow and old, with yellowed ivory keys, was really the sound we needed—so, Vito grabbed the recorder and we drove, at 12 midnight, over to my house. While Ms. Watkins corralled my three dogs in the back yard, Vito and I made a new recording (two takes).
All films are the product of many individuals working together (the credits at the end of the film confirm this). The two weeks of EFV is a creative collaboration boot camp, spending hours and days with some of the brightest and most energetic people that challenge and inspire you, even change you. On set, we had the incredible Chris Jones, Emmy Award winner for House of Cards, capturing sound, star Cinematographer Chris Roll on first camera and editing, and the best gaffer around Kat Cameron (who brought all kinds of creative ideas to the set). Our team’s most valuable player was our Production Assistant Dee Mcdonough, who kept the set organized and quiet, calmed the directors as they approached meltdowns, got all release forms signed, and kept our hot and tired actors well hydrated.
Experimental Film Virginia is a whirlwind, sometimes stressful, sometimes frustrating, but always fun. The fact that this thing can come off at all is amazing, and a testament to Renata Sheppard, Mary Ann Roehm, and Jess Long, who spent untold hours, days, weeks and months pouring over every detail. For most of us involved, this is pretty transparent, as we bury ourselves in the work, and go about making new, lifelong friends. There are so many things to feel blessed for, like getting to meet one of my photography heroes Marcus Holman, watching in awe at the work produced by our young interns (Matthew Jones, Candy Yi, Alexis Cordello, Aubrey Bang-Guerin, Cassie Burns and our own Dallas Sims), experiencing the musical genius of Yuhan Su, the gorgeous cinematography of Fabrizio Vacca (using vintage lenses), and taking in the breathtaking visual art of LuLu Meng, Daniel Carlson and Matthieu Edel. Even as we move on to the next projects, the memories and lessons of the last two weeks of Experimental Film Virginia will stay with us forever.