The Stolen Sisters Digital Initiative (SSDI) an artistic commission by imagineNATIVE and national exhibition of four, one-minute digital works by award-winning Canadian Indigenous filmmakers celebrating and honouring Indigenous women and their contributions as strong, successful and valued members of society. Each artist will post about the project and their works leading up to the imagineNATIVE 2012. More information about SSDI
When imagineNATIVE put out the call for the Stolen Sisters Digital Initiative, I was already in discussion with dancer Sandra Lamouche about creating a social issue dance film combining traditional hoop with hip hop. I had worked with Sandra previously on December 6, the poetry dance film I created with spoken word artist Evalyn Parry, recalling the events of the Montreal Massacre, calling for the abolishment of violence against women.
Sandra and I immediately agreed that hip hop and traditional hoop would be the perfect fusion of dance styles for a film about the stolen sisters, representing the cultural fusion, and often culture clash, of traditional and contemporary lifestyles. The catch? The films had to be silent. Were we up for the challenge of a silent dance film? We would soon have the chance to find out.
Although I’ve used dance in two of my previous short films, I had left the choreography entirely up to the dancers, since the dance in those cases was included as a beautiful contrast the harsh truth of the spoken word, to celebrate the lives of the victims rather than focus on their deaths.
For this film, though, the dance is everything. So I worked closely with Sandra and hip hop choreographer Sugaray Robinson to create choreography to tell the story of a young woman moving to the big city and the harsh reality that confronts her there.
Originally, I had envisioned following the path of a young woman who was stolen and never found. But, remembering the impact of the uplifting ending that Evalyn held firm for in December 6, I wanted to try to look for that glimmer of hope for the future. And I realized it was already here in the form of Sandra, a young woman whose own grandmother was a stolen sister, but who had managed to avoid that fate herself by being reminded of her true identity and holding tightly to that truth.
So we broke down the choreography into three main sections (three acts, if you will): traditional hoop, hip hop and hip hop/hoop fusion. The traditional hoop to represent her life before the city, the hip hop representing her struggles in the city and the fusion choreography for after she’s figured out how to navigate this new life while staying true to herself.
I believe that the choreography created during rehearsal week for these three distinct styles, combined with a progression of face paint and statistics written on Sandra’s body like the graffiti on the buildings, succeed in telling this story effectively through dance. I believe the silence will be deafening.
“Cara’s vision for ‘When It Rains’ allowed us to push the creative boundaries and fully embrace whichever environment we were in. Since we were working with available light, we had to plan our days entirely around the sun. We used the shotlist as our main guideline, but were always looking for impromptu shots that kept ‘appearing’. This all gave production an almost doc-style feeling: well grounded, but with a certain on-the-fly feel. Cara’s flexibility, along with the crew’s fantastic attitude, allowed us to really use this method as a shooting style.” ~ Elisa L. Iannacone, Director of Photography
Day 1 (Peterborough) – Traditional Hoop
Our first filming day was possibly the most relaxed shoot I’ve ever done (even counting shooting Coda in G Minor on Super 8 in my bathroom with just the actress and my cousin acting as a human light stand). Cinematographer Elisa Iannacone was shooting on her Canon 7D, no fancy gear, no lights, no silks, so we had a small group in the intimate setting of the tipi at Trent University. The presence of Sandra’s husband and young son (who had also lit up the set during December 6 filming), also added to the relaxed family feeling. It was a good day and I was thrilled with the resulting footage. My fingers were itching to start editing but we still had to prepare for our more intensive 2-day shoot in Toronto.
Day 2 (Toronto) – Hip Hop
I lucked out for crew on this shoot. I was a bit worried–very worried–because I don’t have much of a film network in Toronto yet, having recently relocated from Calgary. But the small network I do have managed to scrape together an excellent crew. I also took a chance on someone who had posted on a WIFT-T discussion board looking for experience in film and TV; that gamble paid off and she ended up being a great asset!
Both Toronto days were shot on Charles Street Video‘s Epic. Previously, I’ve only shot on Super 8, 16mm or DSLRs, so shooting on a Red camera for the first time was exciting for me (I’m so glad that Elisa nudged me out of my DSLR comfort zone). Exciting and extremely liberating for someone used to shooting on film… slow motion without worry of how much film stock I’m using? What a concept! Needless to say, I had a lot of slo mo inserts on my shot list.
The hip hop day probably had the most challenging choreography. Not the steps themselves so much as the emotional content of them. The tension required in Sandra’s body throughout, the violence of the spins, the sharpness needed to hit it hard. Plus there were a lot of key moments that we wanted to highlight, so lots of set ups for insert shots, like the moment when Sandra loses her hoops, losing her identity (in slow motion, of course). All of this added up to a longer day than planned, resulting in pushing the rain sequence to the following day.
The rain sequence, from which the title is inspired, acts as the bridge between the hip hop and fusion choreography, washing away the false layers of identity accumulated in the city, allowing for the moment when the dancer is reminded of who she is and where she comes from.
Day 3 (Toronto) – Rain / Fusion
Today was the day that we had to figure out how to make rain. We’d already figured out certain logistics. Unable to afford the $3000/day rain machine, Sandra suggested $20 camping showers. So there we were with our two camping showers filled with water, Elisa had done camera tests on how best to capture drops of water in motion… now how exactly do we make this look like rain and not a couple of hoses pointed at Sandra’s head? I think it’s fair to say it was a team effort! Everyone pitched in, came up with ideas, willingly tried everything. And poor Sandra… what a trooper! I mean, a little bit of water on a hot day might feel nice, but the amount of water we poured on her was far beyond that! Add to that that she had makeup all over her face (now stinging her closed eyes) and tape over her mouth… are there any other directors out there who marvel at what on-screen talent is willing to endure for the sake of art?
After the rain segment, Sandra had to get cleaned up, dried off and ready for fusion. I know a lot of people are beginning to work with fusing these two particular styles of dance (they do complement each other nicely) and I’m curious to see what other dancers and choreographers are coming up with, but I’m thrilled with the choreography our team created. I asked for joyful and exuberant as she reclaims her identity with pride and I believe Sandra and Sugaray delivered. I can’t wait for all of you to see it and decide for yourselves.