Dance on Screen Suspended or Cancelled?

January 11th, 2007 § 2

Bad news from the Canada Council today.

Important Notice from the Dance Section – January 2007

Dance on Screen Production Fund (Pilot Program) – Next deadline February 15, 2007 is SUSPENDED
Please note the upcoming February 15, 2007 deadline for the Dance on Screen Production Fund (Pilot Program) has been suspended. Please check our website for updates regarding the Dance on Screen Program (however, you will receive updates via email in the future).

Strangely, the Canada Council don’t seem to put this dark bit of news on their own website anywhere.

This is the second suspension for the wonderful program which helped Kathleen and I create Lapinthrope.

I’d rather be making dance films [not a bad idea for a t-shirt]. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I’m not.

Very sad about this.

Maria Callas Film

June 26th, 2006 § 2

During the daytime I filmed Simona Noja's performance with the room empty. Here is a teaser for the final film. I shot vertically as I find the horizontal frame of a television extremely unattractive for a dance solo, particularly in a room like the Eroica Sall in the Austrian Theatre Museum.

The end result will be two vertical frames side by side for an HD picture. We worked with a Sony VX2100 in Pal DV SD (DV standard definition 720 x 576 pixels 25 frames per second) with the camera mounted sideways (yielding a single image of 576 x 720, which makes up two vertical frames in the 720p version of HD (1280 x 720 pixels progressive scan 25 frames per second) with some room left over to make sure that essential shot information isn't cut off on the sides.

The future of television in Europe and all over the world is HD and we made this film for HD to offer a much richer dance viewing experience. Two frames seems ideal to me for working with dance - which hasn't been possible until now, due to the resolution limitations of video. With twice the resolution or more, HD lets us do this at last without using film (which is very expensive to shoot for dance, as one needs lots of footage). I have done similar experiments with SD before - Althea Frutex.

But even a single vertical shot is attractive for web viewing and gives a sense of the wonderful performance in exceptional surroundings. Somehow Simona managed to transform herself into Maria Callas and carry the emotions of both Violetta and Maria Callas herself in Ingeborg Tichy-Luger's expressive choeography.


Click to Open Film in New Window - Attention 64 MB download!

Alas, right now we are short of money for post-production and the immediate future of the HD version is in doubt (my own company Decadence Films is donating half of the post-production budget). Please donate a small amount now if you can and we will feature you in the credits and in a special thank you page on the film's website (with a link if you would like)! We only need 100 donors.

For more pictures of Simona Noja as Maria Callas, please visit my friend photographer Anton Hoellersberger who took some wonderful photographs during the filming.

Art Channel Paris | Brothers Atanasković

January 23rd, 2006 § 0

Last winter when I was living in Paris, I went regularly to the cultural evenings and exhibitions at the Centre Culturel Irlandais on rue des Irlandais just behind rue Mouffetard.

At one of the exhibitions I was introduced to a pair of tall and imposing Serbians with the incredible project of mounting a for free cultural satellite channel. The two Serbians were the brothers Atanasković and their channel was called Art Channel.

Art Channel is now broadcasting 21h to 05h CET, free to air, via satellites HOT BIRD and W2 (EUTELSAT) over Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa to more than 120 million households.

You can preview the programming on the web. It’s not bad. I particularly liked the simplicity of Laurent Mazar’s Carte Bleue. But there are lots of other more baroque and/or experimental works.

Congratulations Milan and Slobodan!

If you see anything you like feel free to leave a note below. Video artists don’t neglect to visit Art Channel’s submission page to see if it might suit some of your works.

Dance Films of Babette Mangolte at Tanzquartier Wien

November 5th, 2005 § 0

Tonight at Tanzquartier Wien, three films of Babette Mangolte were presented in the presence of the filmmaker as a coproduction with MUMOK.

The films were Water Motor (1978, 7 minutes), Glass Puzzle (1973, 17 minutes) and Four Pieces by Morris (1993, 94 minutes.

Water Motor was shot on 16mm and is easily the most interesting (and briefest) of the three works. Choreographer Trisha Brown executes a beautifully self-involved solo. It is only two minutes long. Immediately afterwards we see the same solo but in slow motion. Very high quality slow motion. The trick was that Mangolte shot the piece at 48 frames per second, so the first half at real speed was actually accelerated.

Unfortunately beyond the change of speed there is absolutely nothing engaging or original about the camerawork. We are at a middle distance from Trisha Brown who is on a very drab stage. All her limbs are fully visible all the time. In praise of the work, we have a clear view of the choreography and dancing. As documentation this is excellent. As filmmaking, it is dull as dishwater. A work of art it simply is not. But I was happy to see Trisha Brown’s own dancing after having seen some of her work at Opéra de Paris and again at Impulstanz.

The next Glass Puzzle was very experimental with enormous closeups of dancer’s faces with pendulums swinging in front of their eyes. Originally shot on video in the dark ages of the format (early 70’s), the image doesn’t have much texture.

Imagistic shots of pelvises, superimpositions, Glass Puzzle is totally different from Water Motor and Four Pieces by Morris. The answer to the mystery is that Babette Mangolte was charged only with camera and direction was in the hands of one of choreographer and dancer Joan Jonas. She and Lois Lane give enigmatic performances in this elliptical work.

Four Pieces by Morris is exactly that. Four pieces by sculptor Morris. I had somehow thought that the four pieces would be by Mark Morris so I was attending more. Robert Morris is an extremely ascetic creator whose structural compositions have less to do with the theatre and more to do with installation. We have a workman moving white boards back and forth across a stage finally revealing a female nude reclining on a couch behind the last one. The woman does not move, the workman does not notice her. Nothing happens. The sonic backdrop is an intense recording of street sounds and construction which was distracting and irritating to my ear but was supposed to serve to “heighten the presence of the performer”.

Each one was more tedious than the next, with perhaps the exception of the lecture on perception in the third piece.

There were some closeups inserted – the workman playing with his gloves, the lecturer taking his enormous spectacles on and off – but more or less Four Pieces is in the same style as Glass Puzzle. That is to say, the camera observer. We just watch these stage pieces happen. The camera tracks back and forth the considerable horizontal movement of props in the first and fourth piece.

Again as documentation this is perfectly adequate. If one is a Robert Morris fan or were making a study of conceptual stage art of the period one would be very pleased with the work. But as a dance filmmaker, I find this kind it quite depressing. Engage movement, engage the camera.

In dance terms, Robert Morris’s own preoccupations according to Babette Mangolte were “casual movement and untrained bodies” which she quite correctly notes are subjects of considerable interest to some of today’s choreographers. A recurring vice among choreographers who are unwilling to face the unlimited challenge of trained, able and talented dancers.

This sort of work fits in well with the Vienna non-event school of dance on the ascendent now.

Babette Mangolte’s dedication in recreating these mid-sixties stageworks to make a dance film of them in the nineties is astonishing.


For some reason some guy in a long leather coat chose to intervene three or four times during the screening. He stood in the bottom right hand corner of the screen and made small hand gestures and struck strange poses to the bemusement of all. Finally Babette Mangolte rose from the auditorium and accosted him – “I can’t allow you to do that, it is not respectful of Bob Morris’s work” – before he was led away by Sigrid Gareis, artistic director of the Tanzquartier.

In something that could happen only in Austria, this same gentleman in his Cheka overcoat was lounging at the Tanzquartier bar enjoying a glass of red wine and an animated conversation with an attractive patron of the arts.

Is this laid-back attitude a good thing or a bad thing? Probably a good thing. I’m still wonder about his movtivation. I wish I’d asked him.

The conditions of projection were excellent with a very bright and large screen setup within the main dance studio with audio running out to a well setup sound system.

Visit to Universidad Nacional of Columbia in Bogotá

October 19th, 2005 § 0

Today I had an eleven o’clock screening of Lapinthrope, followed by a lecture on arts filmmaking in the cinema department of Universidad Nacional in Bogotá.

The class was small – apparently one of photography. I spoke about digital filmmaking and made a strong case for the future being digital and not chemical.

I spoke about light cameras and custom steadycam rigs. I spoke about PAL and NTSC and television interlacing (30 frames of NTSC televison are in fact 60 frames of interlaced low-resp – smooth and ugly).

I spoke about Hollywood and their absence of need for other tales than their own. Of the commercial nature of commercial cinema. I spoke about integrity and the desire to tell one’s own stories. I gave them strategy (buy a good camera second-hand and sell it after the project; rehearse with the camera you will use to shoot).

I spoke about collaboration and the torment of the shoot. Choose your collaborators carefully as you must trust them absolutely, even under extreme stress.

I spoke of the need for companions. A film can only be a success if everyone likes every minute of an entire film. Everyone has to be engaged by every minute of your film throughout. This is why you need more than one set of eyes. You cannot see your film for everyone yourself at all times.

Other eyes help you with this.

They asked about my goals with this film.

To speak about things which I care deeply about. Urbanisation, civilisation, alienation, community. To share my passion for dance. So that everyone who saw this film Lapinthrope would love dance and follow it regularly afterwards. So that there would be an audience of millions who would demand more films liked Lapinthrope.

As you can see, we have had some success but we have some distance still to go.

Not sure if they caught the ironic drollery in the above.

Claude Lelouche “Le Courage d’Aimer”

October 19th, 2005 § 1

For a long time, I’ve been mildly contemptuous of Claude Lelouche’s films. Eminently français, these tired tales of bourgeois hypocrisy and venality, had lost all optimism, all beauty.

While Lelouche may have the pulse of the French elite and a great facility with camerra and word, blackness alone does not a world make.

In Le courage d’aimer, Lelouche finally puts his cinematic gifts to good use.

The Courage to Love is a bold exploration of the consequences of passion. It is also a picture within a picture within a picture. Truffaut’s Jour de nuit in a mirror funhouse.

We begin with an out of work Italian singer, a pretty shoplifter and identical twins who work as waitress in a jazz bar and maid in a château.

We pass by a ring of jewellery thieves, Comédie Française actors and a pizza magnate in this cardinal work crowned by a suicide.

Many of the moments – the young singer forced to choose between her success and the love of her life – leave hearts in throats. Lelouche is manipulating us, but with the masterly touch of a man whom life has manipulated endlessly throughout his own existence. We are left with a deeper understanding of the world and ourselves.

Pizza magnate Gorkini tells his mistress shortly before she becomes a murderess, “The motto of France should have been libery, equality and infidelity.”

My experience of France would tell me the same thing. Never has the beautiful been more perfidious. Nowhere does one suffer more from the consequences of inconsequence.

On Air France, Le courage d’aimer et la vie du château. A good meal. Good wine. Poire William. The benevolent and dangerous smile of the devil. The devil of pleasure.

Contrast Konsequenz – a bold Germanic intention to take the world to its logical conclusion and construct a reality within which one can live and one’s descendents also. Hopeless Gauls. Happy flight.

Music Rights, Grand Rights and Music Publishers: IMZ primer for Dance and Opera Arts Producers

May 9th, 2005 § 0

The following is a partial transcript of the IMZ Workshop on Grand Rights at the Golden Prague International Television Festival on 9 May 2005. It is largely of interest to dance and opera arts television production producers.

Music Rights, Grand Rights and Music Publishers: IMZ primer for Dance and Opera Arts Producers Continues »

Question and Answer – Claire Denis L’Intrus – or how not to run a Q & A

May 7th, 2005 § 0

After a short introduction to her work in German from the moderator, Claire Denis came in and gave a lovely introduction to the the film to come in English. She told us about how she had carte blanche after Beau Travail from Arte Television and decided to take full advantage of it to make a visual poem she had been working on for four years. That film was L’Intrus. Her collaborator on the adventure was the French film producer Humbert Balsan.

He committed suicide shockingly enough just before the film was released. Claire Denis visibly moved said she felt that somehow Humbert’s spirit was captured in this film. Somewhat chaotic but very beautiful. So far so good.

L’Intrus (The Outsider) is a relatively long film at just over two hours.

A wonderfully visual film with a magnificent sequences on the Pacific ocean, looking up through Palm trees in Polynesia and Pine trees in Switzerland, Korean shipyards, sled dogs, blood in the snow, cityscapes, babies faces.

The story is somewhat difficult to follow. A puzzled but enriched audience.

We are just after eleven pm now.

Claire Denis returns with the moderator who admonishes us that the session will be conducted in English. Although Claire Denis stumbled a little through the introduction it was charming enough. When I saw her speak at the Toronto Film Festival, she was magnificent – charismatic, illuminating and fluent. At TIFF in 2002, she spoke in French with the moderator providing some translation to English.

L’Intrus would be a difficult enough film for a native speaker to discuss in English. Hopeless for a French film director in English. Moreover Claire Denis conceded that she’d had a bit too much to drink in Vienna. Normal, it is well after the supper hour. No doubt she was just coming in after dinner.

She started with a long monologue how the film was originally planned as a two part film with Claire Denis directing one half and another director the other half, mirroring the before and after a heart operation. In the end, her choice for second director did not take up the offer, feeling that it would not come enough from him. So Claire Denis decided to direct both halves herself which became one whole, as the divide of the operation in the end felt somewhat artificial. But there remain two stories. One of which is the Northern Hemisphere before the operation and the other which is the Southern Hemisphere after the operation.

Originally the shipyards were supposed to be Chinese but Claire Denis had such good contacts with the Koreans when she went there for a couple of film festivals that she decided that she preferred Korean shipyards. And in general, the Koreans were wonderful to work with – full of energy, enthusiasm and passion.

A few interesting questions and answer:

How much freedom the Agnès Godard have with the camera and the actors to improvise? [Indeed, much of the camera was handheld and moving so it did look quite freehand.]

Answer. None at all. L’Intrus is the most tightly choreographed films that I have ever made. It was the first time Agnès and I were working on Super 35mm for blowup to wide angle so we spent hours deciding on every lens, every shot in advance. Moreover, we were working on a television film budget and had no money or time to spare shooting things which were not going to go straight into the film.

How much of the film was reality and how much was dream sequence – was Gregoire Colin really murdered for his heart?

All of the film was reality and all of the film was dream sequence. For me to know and you to find out.

Apparently the film was reedited since the version presented at Cannes? How did the reedit go?

There was never a reedit. The distributor asked me to cut the film shorter. Reediting a film is a very, very expensive process and we had no money for a remix of the sound. So we just cut out two sequences. We cut about four minutes. One part was with the girl in the snow pursued by the hunters which we shortened. There was also a sequence of Gregoire Colin’s dead body floating across the Pacific ocean, washing up to the shore.

In general I don’t like reediting films. They are enough trouble to make in the first place that the time to get it right is the first time.

But quickly enough Claire Denis tired of speaking in English (it is very fatiguing trying to speak in a foreign language when you are tired). The answers stopped making a lot of sense. There were long pauses. The Q & A went on for nearly an hour. Austrian audiences are concentrated and patient, but people began to leave the auditorium.

Afterwards I managed to speak with her briefly in French and Claire Denis was her usual insightful and charming self.

We talked about dream and reality.

When filming L’Intrus I had a script in my hand which did have the story. We used it for the team readings. I had a story. Agnès Godard, the cinematographer wanted to film the dream sequences in a special way. I insisted that dream and reality be shot in exactly the same way. [poetic, imagistic but real]

In my opinion, this obsession with narrative story in cinema – fundamentally a visual medium like painting – came about because of television. Before television, directors had much more freedom to express an artistic vision of a story.

She likened her work to William Faulkner’s Absolom, Absalom, James Joyce’s Ulysses and Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Does Proust really see the girls going by in their summer dresses, or does he just remember that day. It is never exactly clear.

Claire Denis claims that liberty for herself. She is tired of the conventions.

Lessons for the organisation of Film Q & A.

Be careful with late night Q & A sessions.
Discourage the film maker from having any alcohol with dinner.
For heaven’s sake, let the film maker speak in his or her native language and have translation handy.

Lesson from other Q & A sessions in Toronto – be damn sure that the translators are fluent, accomplished and charming. They better be good.

In defense of the Film Museum moderator, he did have several good questions prepared to attempt to keep the Q & A on track and stimulate the film maker.

Claire Denis will be doing a long dedicated session at 21.30 with Michael Omasta and Isabella Reicher who have just finished the first book on her work in German.

I had regretted missing that session on account of my own trip to Prague tomorrow for The Golden Prague International Television Festival where Lapinthrope is in competition.

As the session will be in English, no doubt, tant pis. But if you are in Vienna tomorrow night, don’t miss it.

The Claire Denis retrospective carries on until May 19th at the Vienna Film Museum.