Thursday, April 19, 2018

Calendar ... and fan mail

Don't have the time to read my correspondence below with a new fan who wrote after seeing the well-attended and very satisfying Jacob Burns screening of Her Magnum Opus? For you, I've posted a short and sweet calendar in which you'll notice that Opus continues its pattern of a-screening-a-month:

June 7-10

July 2-10
Toronto, Canada

In April I've been invited to be the keynote speaker at the Iowa International Screendance Festival in Iowa City. And this summer I'll spend a day or so in Pittsburgh with Jennifer Keller scouting locations. Four years ago I collaborated on Plow Plant Reap with Jennifer and students from the dance department at Slippery Rock University. For our next project, this fall, I'm planning to make something as urban as Plow was bucolic.

Between these activities, I'll be putting finishing touches on the Brazil footage which was featured as a sneak peek in the last post.  Oh, and also digging into the footage from the Treehouse shoot in Richmond, Virginia where the lovely Ching-I Chang (of 890 Broadway fame) invited me to shoot something unplanned with her. This one is so improvised that I may be forced to create a voiceover to give it context ...


(And now the correspondence:)

Hi Marta 

We saw your film last night at the Jacob Burns Theatre and  just loved the overall film - it was dreamlike - a reverie away from the cookie cutter form of so much of today's cinema. The non-linear structure and minimal dialogue allowed us to focus on the tone and rhythm of each sequence and the overall tone of the whole. Just beautiful.

My husband had some questions for you. During the filming did you pre-plan the sequences or was it completely improvisational, and was the dancing performed without any scratch sound. Also  during post-production how was the piece scored. Was music added after all the sequences were edited and what drove the decisions on music selection. There's more...if you have time to continue the discussion, would you email me?  I grew up in Upper Nyack (Highmount Ave) and spent much of my childhood and teenage years along the Hudson. The beautiful property along the river made for a wonderful metaphor with the movement and the water flowing. This was intentional I assume?  Again, we really  loved your film.

Hello Janet!

So wonderful to see your message on my Facebook page.
The Hudson is practically a character in OPUS, isn’t it? I was startled when one viewer referred to it as a “lake” - but then, she was from Chicago.

As to your questions about the music:
In general, the scenes were planned in advance, especially when I had to organize more than one dancer to get to Nyack!

Your husband may find the written answer to his un-asked question overkill, but I’ve attached the Treatment and some shot lists for comparison with what you saw last night.  There’s a plan - and then it's what my friend Sakina called “combustible" - spontaneous improvisation on the part of cast and crew.

Additions to the Treatment were:

the “prince” alone in the woods, for which the impulse was: the forest is perfect for another few days, let’s go!
the “architect” alone in the little house, for which the impulse was an abandoned house I knew was soon to be unavailable

As for the music, it was different for different scenes.

There was no music for the first party, except for Aileen’s pseudo-flamenco solo, for which she developed her own movement.

The last scene where Aileen walks on the ground was shot with no scratch music playing. I originally edited it to Iris Dement (whom I adore) but eventually decided it was TOO sentimental  (which is exactly what I adore about her music) so I asked Ljova to repeat on solo viola the Dvorak string quartet that opens the film.

While shooting the rather odd reverie with the woman in a green dress on the table, there was mood music (from the soundtrack for WHITE, a Polish film), to which I edited as well.  But when I didn’t get permission to use that music, Ljova composed some wonderful replacement music for that scene and a few others. It took me a while to get used to the “new” music, and now I can’t hear it otherwise.

Comments and curiosity like yours make me feel there’s something special there. 
Thank you.

Marta

[To continue the music saga ... now that I'm preparing to launch a wider release of Her Magnum Opus, I'll need broader music permissions. In the case of Benjamin Britten's Deo Gracias, I decided that further licensing was too costly. Back to Ljova, who composed a beautiful new minute of music for harp and soprano. Maybe next time I'll begin like real filmmakers do, by asking a composer to score the whole soundtrack - instead of doing it piecemeal, ass-backwards - like this filmmaker does!]

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Her Magnum Opus comes to Jacob Burns

My biggest news of the month concerns the next local screening of Her Magnum Opus.

Tuesday April 3 at 7:35 pm
Jacob Burns Film Center


A freewheeling narrative enacted almost entirely through movement and music, Marta Renzi’s Her Magnum Opus is the award-winning choreographer’s (and longtime friend of Jonathan Demme) ode to creativity and community. Presiding over the festivities is Aileen Passloff, a grey-haired force of nature playing a version of herself. A diverse cast weaves in and out of her home, including a devoted younger friend (dancer Arthur Avilés), a pregnant dancer, a young couple in need of counseling, even a fairytale prince who pops out of a pile of autumn leaves. A tantalizing mix of magical realism and improvised naturalism, the film unfolds in bucolic settings—a beach, a forest, and a country house which holds emotional ties for the group as a source of inspiration and solace.

The Jacob Burns Film Center is a prestigious venue, with a beautiful screen and comfy seats - which I expect to fill, thanks to you and everyone you know.  

So please spread the word.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

And it all came true

So far, we're keeping to a schedule of an-Opus-a-month, which is quite gratifying. 


Bay Area Premiere of Her Magnum Opus
Sunday February 11 at 4:30
Monday February 12 at 7:00

At the Q&A after recent screenings of Opus, people have often asked what the script must have looked like, since there's no dialogue, and the actors seem so natural. Looking back at documents from the making of Opus, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how much I'd predicted accurately! The original treatment - longer than a synopsis, still not a script - was in fact 99% what we ended up creating. Below, for example, is one of the character sketches I shared with the performers just before the first day of shooting, October 5, 2016.

Arthur
He’s part human, part animal - can romp and roll with the children and dog one moment, and exude a quiet meditative presence the next. He’s known her the longest and is very protective of her, making sure she has a comfortable place to sit, bringing her a blanket when she’s cold, shooing visitors away when he suspects she’s tiring. (Arthur, will you ACTUALLY please help keep track of Aileen’s comfort level for me? It will be a long day and I’ll be too busy to pay attention as I should.)  In one scene, we see him hammering a repair on a bench outside, under a window she’s cleaning inside the house. They have an easy, teasing relationship, but he holds her in high esteem, kneeling at her feet in adoration, pride - and later, worry.  (Bring at least 2 costumes - party prep and party for real.)

Of course, this character ended up coming across this way  partly because it pretty much represents Arthur's actual relationship to Aileen.  So, does that mean that Opus is a documentary, or some artless combination of dress-ups and cinema verité? Why define it? When people do go along for the ride, it's because they let go of pre-conceptions about what a movie is. (If only I could do the same, I'd be a lot less tormented about not fitting in.)

Folks who have seen or heard about Opus have invited me to screen it again for their meditation group, their country club, their old age home - and there's even a distributor nosing around. For now, I'll be glad for a-screening-a-month: ideally a few closer to home, since the push pins on the Opus map are mostly clustered in the west - Port Townsend, Borrego Springs, San Francisco.

Remember that whirlwind project I made in Brazil at the end of 2017?  The "script" for that was essentially created by my collaborator, since it relied on the choreography of Francisco da Silva for its raw material.  He and the dancers of Urze were wonderfully generous about allowing me to adapt the movement material, incorporating it into various sites at the EcoVila Tiba where we shot for 2 days, had a week to edit, and then shot for another 4 days. 

So we shot a lot of little scenes - many of them duets - taken from a dance of Francisco's called Tao Intimo. The dancers knew the score, though they had to let go of the original context, which had been a proscenium stage. Costumes were street wear from their own closets, the dancing mostly outdoors on grass or dirt. We used no music, except in one scene when we made it ourselves. Here's a rough edit of one scene - with precious little actual choreography, perversely - to show you the evocative location, the hard-working cast ... the warm weather!



As for my recently-released short film 
In search of lost time 
no drum-roll implying a climax. 
Instead let the band vamp, as for an ongoing list:

cha cha CHA
cha cha CHA

Black Maria Film Festival

Sunday, February 11 @ 2pm
AMC Dine-in Theater West Orange, NJ
more screenings to be announced throughout the year

cha-cha-CHA 
cha-cha-CHA

Midwest RADFest
March 9 & 10
Kalamazoo, Michigan

Short Waves Dances with Camera
March 20-25
Poznan, Poland

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Happy New Year, Class


Today's topic is: 
What constitutes an audience? 
Has the audience changed as I've moved from dance making to filmmaking?  
How has it changed from 1978 to 2018, over the 40 years since I first began presenting work?

[Wait! What? 40 Years?? ok, let's proceed.]

When I was in the business of presenting live work, typically the audience was the folks who bought their tickets, sat together in a darkened room and applauded at the end.  
(I'll never forget dancing right in front of one man who was fast asleep ... did he applaud at the end? ... never mind.) This audience probably actually knew something about me and my work or they wouldn't have bought a ticket in the first place.

Of course, when Arthur Avilés & I compiled the NEWSLETTERS recently, I was reminded of just how often Marta Renzi & The Project Co. performed outdoors for audiences who didn't necessarily buy a ticket, or choose the experience, or know anything about me - or contemporary dance for that matter. Often they wandered by; they stayed for as long as they felt like it; they voted with their feet.

Now that my work screens in festivals, the relationship to an audience can be similar in some ways: if it's at a festival there's usually a ticket, there's a group sitting in theater seats in the dark and there's applause at the end. They may not know my work; they're interested in the form, tend to trust the programming, and are up for a Q&A after.  

For this kind of audience, I'm flying all the way to California twice in early 2018 - to Borrego Springs Film Festival in January, and to SF Indie Fest in February - just for the experience of witnessing-the-witnesses to Her Magnum Opus. If a tree falls in the forest, I want to be there, goddammit. Since September this particular tree has fallen about monthly, but that won't last forever...

Of course my work can also be seen by a solitary viewer in online "festivals" - which I've discovered are completely unrewarding for me. My 2013 short Her Children Mourn was in one sponsored by New York Women in Film & Television, and included a pre-scheduled "chat" - which no one attended. Both Children and Honeymoon are currently in one called Cinemaniacs, which creates venue through Vimeo-On-Demand. Only $5, which is less than the price of a theater ticket in 1978 ...

And then there's the audience who stumbles on my dance films for free on Vimeo or YouTube. Brother's Keeper below is an example of lovely work which had some festival success, and lately has been "followed" or "liked" by men who like men. A self-selected audience who enjoys private screenings for free and has absolutely no interest in me or for that matter contemporary dance. 
Ok by me; I think these men are beautiful too.


Thanks to Vimeo/Youtube, I can even measure my audience by number of views and viewing time: Plays vs. Finishes. (True, I could've done the same with that sleeping viewer years ago, if only I'd remembered to clock him at show's end.) It's no news that nowadays we all vote with our fingers, easily clicking away when we're bored. Why not? In fact, even for you, Dear Public, what's posted above is only an excerpt, because I presume that you don't have the patience for the full 6:45-minute original.

So, class, to summarize: nothing much has really changed. 
I'm still making what I want to make, having some success at it and making it free and accessible whenever possible.