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FILM REVIEW: Lincoln Center Dance on Camera Festival – From the Shorts to the Long of It

by Bonnie Rosenstock
July 26, 2019
Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023
(212) 875-5600
The Dance on Camera Festival (July 12-15) screened eight full-length documentaries, most of which were preceded by a short film. In addition, there were three special programs of shorts. These three films, below, from the shortest to a full-length narrative are noteworthy.

“Tunu”
Directed, filmed and edited by Carlo Cupaiolo
1999/Greenland/3 minutes


“Tunu” means “backside,” which is how Greenlanders describe East Greenland, considered one of the most beautiful places in the country, arguably in the world. In three breathtaking minutes, the film captures the spectacular beauty of the rocky cliffs of this wild, remote land. Maliina Jensen is rigged by ropes from a rock formation on Kulusuk Island, where she deftly swings vertically, horizontally, turns, twists, stretches and contracts her body into exquisite shapes, aqua blue scarf flowing, while filmmaker Carlo Cupaiolo zooms in, zooms out, shoots from above, shoots from below and totally astounds in creating a cinematographic masterpiece.
Available on YouTube as TUNU/Vertical dance in Kulusuk, East Greenland

“In This Life”
Directed by Bat-Sheva Guez and written by Guez and Robbie Fairchild.
2019/USA/12 minutes


“In This Life,” narrated in five acts, explores the unspoken language of loss. Each act conveys a different phase of the complex act of grieving, choreographed by a different choreographer: James Alsop, Warren Craft, Robbie Fairchild, Andrea Miller and Christopher Wheeldon. With the collaboration of choreographers, dancers and the director, former New York City Ballet principal and Broadway dancer Robbie Fairchild endeavored to take his own personal grief and film it with the hope of feeling less alone with this universal struggle and rite of passage, he said. The film is masterfully shot, choreographed and performed. There are scenes in a beautiful upscale apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows which overlook the Hudson River, where Fairchild makes faces and pulls at his face. In a church, he twitches violently as he walks down the aisle. Six dancers stand on pews and then dance down the aisle in a line and get aggressively pushed aside by Fairchild. He walks into the ocean, lies down, and then he and two other dancers splash water at each other and put mud on their faces. Mud figures prominently in other scenes as well. In a finale duet in close-up Fairchild dances with a scary-looking mud-faced man. It’s a lovely, moving film.

“Mari”
Written and Directed by Georgia Parris
UK/ 2018/94 minutes


The full-length narrative, “Mari,” a quiet, ruminative, slow-moving film, was the Closing Night selection (July 15). It explores the themes of family, mortality, ambition, motherhood and life-altering decisions. It stars Bobbi Jene Smith (Charlotte) as a dancer and choreographer who is preparing a new piece with her company for her first big show, which she hopes will bring her recognition. She gets a call that her beloved grandmother, Mari (Paddy Glynn), is close to death, and she rushes home, leaving the choreography unfinished. There, she has to reconnect with her emotionally distant English family, who live in the countryside (her father is American, and she grew up in the States): her distant mother (Phoebe Nicholls from “Downton Abbey”) and her sister Lauren (Madeleine Worrall), who has just suffered a miscarriage and is still grieving. When Charlotte discovers she is pregnant by a younger cast member, she must decide what to do.

The opening scene in the dance studio is bright and sunny, while the rest of the film at her family home is shot in dim shadows and darkness with only patches of light on various objects and sometimes people. Sometimes I could barely make out anything. Perhaps it was the screener I watched at home, or perhaps that’s the way DP Adam Scarth shot it. The few dance scenes were choreographed by English choreographer Maxine Doyle of Punchdrunk. Towards the end of the film, there is a dream sequence of all shadows and silhouettes, which then opens into light. Charlotte lies on a bed of colorful flowers, which the dancers sweep out of the way with their hands. The dances wear bright orange outfits and perform quick, quirky, twitchy, dynamic, interesting and effective movements, similar to the opening dance sequence.

Smith shows that she is not only an impressive dancer but is also up to the demands of acting although her voice needs some training. Smith was the subject of an award-winning documentary, “Bobbi Jene” (2017), directed by Elvira Lind, as she was making some life-changing decisions: to return to the States and reinvent her dance /choreography career here after more than ten years dancing with Batsheva in Israel, and separating from her younger boyfriend, fellow dancer Or Schraiber. Now married, she and Schraiber live in New York, and she is pregnant and about to give birth. Life imitating art and decisions to be made.
Bobbi Jene Smith in 'Mari'.

Bobbi Jene Smith in "Mari".

Photo © & courtesy of Photographer Unknown

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