There have been little clusters of creative activity in my life. Often during these periods colleagues in the local film community will invariably ask me, “hey, where have you been–I never seem to see you any more?” On these occasions I really need to turn the tables. “I got stuff screening all over town–where have YOU been?”
The month’s not over yet, and I have shot, edited, and screened (for paying audiences, mind you) two short film projects. All I can say is, I wish more members of the local film community would have been in the audiences, showing their support. I saw painters, dancers, musicians, actors, writers, arts administrators, but, filmmakers? Not so much.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not crowing about my prodigious productivity– I’m just needling all those San Antonio filmmakers who I so rarely see at art events. The fact is, both of these recently produced projects of mine found their way to me with no heavy lifting on my part. The first, an abstract piece of a beautiful young fire dancer, came into being because ST Shimi, the artistic director at Jump-Start Performance Company, asked if I had a short video piece I would like to have screened for the 25th annual Jump-Start Performance Party. What a high honor! I decided to cut together the footage I took of a photo shoot Deborah Keller-Rihn recently held outside her studio with a model she had recently met who is also a fire dancer.
The second project also came calling on me. When recent transplant Seme Jatib (an extraordinary dancer from Monterrey) asked around the San Antonio dance community if anyone knew of a filmmaker she could collaborate with, Amber Ortega-Perez mentioned my name. I met with Seme in a Starbucks in the Quarry, and two weeks later we had a show at the first W-I-P of 2010. W-I-P (Works in Progress) is the monthly event sponsored by the Jump-Start Performance Company and the San Antonio Dance Umbrella and held at Jump-Start. ST Shimi and Amber Ortega-Perez co-curate the series. Last night was a particularly strong show. There were three performances.
The opening was a dance piece with three performers choreographed by Maggie Lasher. I really like the high metaphoric tone of the piece. It was a conceptual modern dance piece featuring, as a prop, a bizarre giant fiberglass industrial ball (Maggie’s husband, who scavenged the piece, believes it’s a jacuzzi filter).
The second performance was by Laurie Dietrich. She’s a company member with Jump-Start–writer, actor, director, etc. She presented a solo performance art piece. Melissa Marlowe, one of San Antonio’s more gifted actors, was sitting across the aisle from me, and she was praising Laurie’s thespian chops. Well, no shit. Not only was Laurie completely on top of the piece as a performer, but the work itself, her script, is tight, clever, and structurally solid. I loved this piece! Hopefully, she’ll expand it and we’ll all get to see a polished staging of the work soon.
The final piece was Seme. I’d been in the theater earlier for a short rehearsal. Billy Muñoz was controlling the tech. I knew that when I handed off the DVD to him, it’d be in good hands. If there were any glitches in what I provided, he’d be on top of things. I might add that he did a fantastic job (as always) with the lighting. Anyway, after a couple of run-throughs, I left Seme and her mom and went upstairs to kill some time with Deborah in her studio. By the time of the show, Deborah and I walked down to get our tickets. I was pleasantly surprised to see that my name was in the program, alongside Seme’s. The projection played smooth. We had planned to use the Jump-Start’s eight foot screen, but in the rehearsal, the projection on the rear black wall looked so cool, that we decided to go with it. I’m glad we did. It brought the projection down lower so that Seme could interact with the projected words and images. I was amazed by her performance. Sure, I’d seen her do the basic choreography on three (or was it four?) occasions, but I’d never really seen her pull out all the stops. I’ve worked on film projects with over a dozen dancers, and the process is fascinating–well, for someone like me with no real dance background. They often run through the choreographic phrases in basic, not so strenuous, abbreviated gestures. And this is what I had seen from Seme in the two weeks we’ve known each other. But tonight, I got to see the energy and emotional impact of the piece. Also, it was great to watch her make certain changes which occurred to her while she was in the moment. A good dancer is like a good actor. It’s all about making a choice–you can’t waffle. No. You decide, and you do it. I knew going in that Seme is an extraordinary dancer, but it wasn’t until I watched the emotion crossing her face during the pivotal point near the end that I truly realized how lucky San Antonio is to have a dancer of her caliber…and how privileged I was to be able to work with her on a project. I can only hope we will continue to work together. The applause following the piece was long, robust, and honest. And, afterward, for the critical response portion, Shimi came out and asked if I, as the video-provider, might want to come up on stage. Seme said, without a beat, “Erik, yes.” I believe she was a bit nervous, and wanted some moral support. She shouldn’t be. She’s very articulate.
Even though I had told Deborah I wasn’t going to bother getting up on stage even if asked, I went ahead. I used to be terrified of public speaking. Honestly. But in my twenties I was forced, in several creative writing classes, to not only read my work aloud, but to defend it from the jibes of fellow students. This was, however, the first time I was seated on a theater stage with bright lights on me. Damned if I could see who was asking me or Seme questions. They were just shadowy forms back behind the bright lights.
It was a great night. Even though there were probably not more than 40 people in the audience, it was the strongest and most positive response to any work of which I’ve been involved. I should point out that most of the applause was directed at Seme. As Dino Foxx said of another beautiful, extraordinarily fit, and awesomely talented dancer, ST Shimi: “I see you so often that sometimes I forget just how sexy you are.” At the risk of over-simplifying my artistic impulse, the reason that I, as well as my friends Russ and Deborah, like to photograph and video-tape dancers is that we love to see beautiful bodies in motion. But there’s also the fact that I’m about as graceful as an arthritic walrus, and, with clever and judicious use of camera placement and movement, and with canny editing, I can, in a limited manner, join the performance, allowing the camera to enter into the choreography. I still have a lot to learn here, but it’s a very rewarding collaborative interdisciplinary realm in which to work.
Keep an eye out for further performances by Seme Jatib. It’ll be worth your while. We’re planning a collaborative event for Luminaria. Make sure to come to the dance stage at Luminaria. It’ll be in HemisFair Park, next to the Instituto Cultural De Mexico. Not only will there be plenty of dance presentations, but there will be several videos projected. I’ll have a short dance video featuring ST Shimi (hopefully she’ll be dancing on the stage in front of the projection). My good friend Deborah Keller-Rihn will have a projected dance-related piece. And, finally, Seme Jatib will dance a piece titled “Echo.” The plan is for me to provide video augmentation.
Let’s hope video and dance come together in a serious and lasting relationship in San Antonio. When done right, it works very well. And, tonight, I think my crude and novice work in this field rather new to me showed some promise. Working with Seme is wonderful. I find her very inspiring. Deborah’s still my favorite artistic collaborator, probably because we’re so similar in character. But with Seme, the fact that we have different sensibilities creates its own rewards.
Last night I got to meet some of Seme’s family. Her mother drove in from Monterrey for the performance. And also I finally got to meet Seme’s husband (who she’s always referred to as “my husband.”) Nice guy, and it takes me forever to learn a name, but I think he’s Kevin. Also I got to meet one of Seme’s friends, also named Erik–and by that, I mean Eric. He’s a yoga instructor she works with. Anyway, this guy, Eric Miller, video-taped the performance on what I think might have been a flip camera. Recently he uploaded it to YouTube. Here’s the link:
I’ve just set up a Vimeo account. Here’s a link to the edited video projection I provided. (If you watch this, make sure to see Eric Miller’s link above–his video will give you a sense of the heavy emotional palette with which Seme works.):
Yesterday morning I was up at the ungodly hour of 7:30. After a shower (and I still haven’t fixed my water heater) I headed over to C4. Debbie was shocked to see me. Yeah, I’m not a morning person. I was there to meet Jim Dawes. I know JIm because he runs the Final Monday Free Writers Workshop at Gemini Ink. But until recently I never knew Jim taught architecture over at the downtown campus of UTSA.
Anyway, one of his classes had chosen, as a project, to design a “film institute.” This isn’t the real deal–simply an academic exercise. Too bad, there. What they’re working on would be wonderful…you know, if only….. Because of my status as a filmmaker, occasional teacher, and festival producer, Jim thought I’d be the perfect person to come and talk to his class. (Though the fact is, I was probably the only guy who came close to fitting the parameters yet who was also available. And unless I’m out of town, I’m pretty much always available.)
It was a lot of fun. There were only four students. They were young, smart, articulate, and full of extraordinary potential. In short–they’re adorable. And, well, I hope they find their way into major architectural, design, or engineering firms: the bottom line is I like them and I hope they are instrumental in building our future.
We can’t always be in the loop. Today I had to learn from fucking FaceBook this key piece of San Antonio film news: the great Sam Lerma is taking over George Ozuna’s old gig at the Film School of San Antonio, aka, the media department at Harlandale High School. Now Sam can dine at a finer level of taqueria, because I’m sure that there must be a serious pay hike. I was shocked when I discovered how poorly paid are news photographers (meaning video shooters). Congratulations, Sam! I’m sure the kids on the south-side will benefit immensely from your professionalism and creativity!