The evening of films entitled Long Legs Short Films is a collaborative yearly endeavor between DCTV and Dance Films Association. The mission of the program is a celebration of the universal condition of movement in human experience. The evening’s programmers Dara Messinger, Director of Public Programs at DCTV and Brighid Greene, Programs Director at Dance Films Association set out annually to find films that fit into two distinct genres, documentary film and the dance film, the result is a collection work that has been rigorously assessed and is able to redefine and create conversation about the two film categories.
The film series began with I Am Raja an entry from Morocco by Avatara Ayuso. This piece has riveting images of a young heroin walking through the Sahara Desert to retrieve water from a distant well, clad in an orange scarf, carrying orange water bottles. The audience sees her maneuvering through the sand in exotic slippers (to our eyes), humming singing with general joy and purpose. The most powerful image was as she walks on a tenuous sand ridge with her back toward us. This is the ultimate in Girl empowerment; lone girl doing one hell of a job. The added narrative of an innocent bout of play with mates resulting in a tragic loss of some of water seemed unnecessary and diluted the pure idea of walking to obtain water as a powerful act. Nevertheless, the cinematography will stay with the audience for years to come.
More potent imagery was found throughout the evening. Gospel Mine by American Whitney Mallett was glorious portrait of a faith based mime troop in Detroit. The framing of the subjects rivaled a Robert Wilson theater experience. The immaculate characters of the film, the mimes, set against a deeply urban landscape was absorbing. One did sometimes wish for what chapter and verse from the Bible was being dramatized – a secular audience can take it.
A Body on Wall Street, by Eiko Otake provided a rare opportunity to see Eiko Otake’s haunting work. This film documenting a piece she performed in the 2016 River to River Festival charts her work but the film making lacked the force to take on Otake. She is wonderfully sculptural with her red textile, perfectly beautiful garden hose, all available to frame her tragic face. One wished for more context and motivation for the piece; program notes said she wish to be a nuisance on Wall Street, but such dramatic pathos seemed to do more than irritate tourists.
Oddly, considering the mission for the film series, the films that fit in a movement for movement’s sake column were the hardest to enjoy. Invisible Bodies, by Fred Hatt and Hsuan-Hsiu Hung seemed to lack a framework and although the imaging that we saw was intriguing, more information about the development of the images were necessary, some sort of overlay of the software onto an actual body might have positioned the work. Dance Square, Harry Bartel was filmed in a great warehouse house in New Orleans with the intent of observing the freedom one can experience in a decaying structure. Unfortunately, the dancing was too pedestrian and insular to be absorbing, bringing the audience more viscerally into the frame or space would have been exciting. Kitchen Dance, by Laura Bartczak does pay expert homage to modern dance films Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown and the Post modern era. The dancer’s relationship positioned between two frames of streetscapes was nicely crafted and composed. The final film, I Only Have Eyes for You, by Corinne Spencer was filled with visual metaphors, bed of flowers, white evening gloves and finally blooms coming out of women’s month. All were provocative but a bit exclusive.
Four films in the middle of the evening proved to be the most sophisticated stories pushing the notion of movement as essential as breathing. Dangerous Curves by Merete Mueller, Ballroom Boys, by Micheal Stylianou, Girls and Boys, by Tomasz Guernat, and most expertly Honey and the Bears, by Veena Rao put forth elegant story lines and held the audience through nuanced narratives.
Dangerous Curves tells the story of Pole dancer Roselyn Mays. Mays’ journey to Pole dancing illustrates the drama of a high achiever in upper middle class African American society, the expectations placed on her because of access to elite education and opportunity and how movement and expression with her body was the ultimate in satisfaction, the illustration of her true self. Mays demographic as well as body type, defined as plus-sized, position her choice of Pole dancing as vocation as an unexpected choice. One glorious shot of the interior of Mays’ family house with a very large portrait of Mays tells how self actualization, however its done, will provide pride and joy to all.
Ballroom Boys is a great story and great documentary and the surest in line for development into full length feature. The program notes emphasized the tension that arises in the film while preparing for The European Same Sex Ballroom Competition, while dramatic, this aspect of the narrative was not the most compelling. The culture of competition and the care and obsession that goes into to preparation was far more interesting. The design of each choreographed piece as well as costumes, character development and presentation was fascinating.
Girls and Boys, although not necessarily narrative, was many stories in one place and it was hilarious. It aptly captured that awful feeling of being a 5th grader and touching girls or touching boys. The fear of “cooties” virtually jumps off the screen. The film just shows you a few hours of preparation of a folk dance performance, all framed by a glitter fringed curtain over a pastoral landscape backdrop in a community center in Green point, Brooklyn, it says everything about that tender and slightly unattractive age.
The Honeys and the Bears is a favorite of the evening. This film is smart and concise with innovative above water and under water imagery of members of the Harlem Honeys and Bears, a senior citizen synchronized swim team. Voice overs of women who participate speak of “dancing in water,” physical freedom achieved only in water, and general liberation and motivation. All viewers will come away wanting to be a Harlem Honeys and Bears.
The power of this collection of work was that films were uneven, innocent, slightly ill conceived, fresh and therefore extremely hopeful. The audience was transported during the 90 minute evening to many different worlds, many different cultures and the power of film as a mechanism of human discourse was firmly asserted. Congratulations, DCTV and Dance Films Association.