Shana Vassilieva Interview for In Continuum with CinéWomen: Experimental Film Feature
On 11, Feb 2016 | In Press Features | By Shana
CinéWomen showcases film art from around the world and honors the influence of women in video art, independent cinema and choreography. In Continuum has been selected for the Biennial Edition of CinéWomen, a special issue featuring independent women filmmakers and video artists in 2015.
– In Continuum, Directors Statement, Shana Vassilieva
“With In Continuum, I indulged in the depths of my creativity and strived to communicate an overall feeling of untethered artistic expression.
Conveying multiple layers of reality was important for the concept of In Continuum. I wanted to build tremendous amounts of energy that, as she dances simultaneously in three derelict realms, would build to something larger. The collective energy she evokes causes her to forever be in continuum. In this instance, the idea of being “in continuum” refers to the dancers’ desire to forever exist within a divine state of perpetual dance.”
CW : From the first time we watched Shana Vassilieva’s film In Continuum, we immediately thought of Michelangelo Antonioni’s words “We know that underneath the displayed image there is another – one more faithful to reality. And underneath this second there is a third one, and a fourth under the previous one. All the way to the true image of that reality, absolute, mysterious, that nobody will see. ” We love artists and cinematographers crossing the boundaries of cinematic genres. Shana, how did the idea for In Continuum come to your mind? Does it have something to do with a personal experience?
SV: When it comes to my style preferences in art film, I prefer very little dialogue; I want people to get lost in the visuals, their metaphors and not so easily unravel the film’s meaning. With this in mind, I’ve always loved how unique interpretive dance can be—its message just barely visible through the veil of consciousness. The fact that In Continuum was shot mostly improvised helped to propel a multilayered way of comprehending otherwise concealed thoughts or feelings, whether from the dancer or myself. Through the emphasis of instinctual, unpredictable, free movement in camera and dance, that improvisation became my vehicle to explore authentic feelings and unconscious ponderings. Thus, the story was mostly assembled in editing.
The idea for In Continuum came to me as a result of pent up creative energy I think. I’ve been creating online branded video content for almost 5 years now, and till this point I didn’t really allow myself the benefit of putting intense focus on a passion project. I’m proud to say that In Continuum is definitely a mental projection of my innards; In Continuum is my wild hair.
CW: Your dance film invites the viewer into a haunted flow of clean figurative images. How did that concept develop, and who were some of your chief influences?
SV: This haunted concept developed out of the psychology of what a film looks like stylistically when embellished by the characters state of mind. Expressionistic film aesthetics are emoted from the character’s elevated state of being—like transcendence, frenzy, bliss, etc. Sofia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream & Black Swan are chief influences in what cinematically influenced In Continuum, all of which impose this kind of visual language.
I’ve carefully studied several films that, through editing and cinematography, translate psychological manifestations into a cinematic language that the audience can also feel. All human psyche has the desire to experience altering vices in which reality is left behind and curiosity satisfied, in this instance Maleficent’s vice is dance. I utilized “boundless” cinematography, light leaks, lens flares and experimental editing tricks that together create a type of spell, literal and figurative, that propels Maleficent into this higher state of being. As confirmed by Michael Delahoyde, “Psychological or spiritual truths they feel can best be conveyed by distorting the surface of the material world.”
CW: You produce something hypnotic and memorable with this piece. How do you conceive the rhythm of your films?
SV: Because In Continuum’s story concept was finalized in editing the rhythm was conceived by the course of necessity in telling the story. The pace of the film also comes from an evolving bond between the mood of the song and the progression at which Maleficent’s dance evolves. Music and sound act as the speedometer of In Continuum, dictating just how intense or hypnotic the situation is visually. I wanted to build tremendous amounts of energy that would be the catalyst to then cause her dance to play backwards in a frenzied state till we are back to the beginning. This realization tells the audience that her dance is now in continuum and has no real end point.
CW: In your Director’s Statement, you say the idea of being in continuum refers to the dancers’ desire to forever exist within a divine state of perpetual dance. Can you introduce our readers to this fundamental concept behind In Continuum?
SV: As said earlier in the interview, all human psyche has the desire to experience mind altering vices or elevated states of being in which reality is left behind. In this instance Maleficent’s vice is dance. This creates the reasoning behind why Maleficent’s desires to forever exist within that peak “high” and divine state of perpetual dance. Thus, the collective energy she manifests through dance causes her to ultimately evoke a spell of sorts.
Each indication of magic achieved through tonality change, time manipulation, special effects, etc. represents the changing or intensifying phases within that journey of reaching the pinnacle. It’s about a dancer who is “mainlining creative energy” in order to achieve a divine state of being within dance. In this instance, the idea of being “in continuum” refers to the dancer forever existing within a divine state of perpetual dance.
CW: What was the most challenging thing about making this film?
SV: The most challenging aspect about making this film was finding the story in the edit. Most people would never leave the story for post, but I thought for this circumstance it would be an interesting film experiment. Because Maleficent exists within multiple layers of reality/ locations, as well as lighting variations within locations it was quite a challenge to edit everything together to look seamless. The music is also quite complex and lends itself to a wide variation of highs and lows, which in this case I matched in action the whole way through.
CW: In Continuum is marked by a refined cinematography. What camera did you shoot on? Can you describe your approach to lighting?
SV: I shot In Continuum on a Panasonic GH4 and a Panasonic GH2, the majority of which was shot with the GH4 model. Good cinematography is like a silent actor, providing those subtle psychological nuances that push the story forward. Dance is expression without dialogue, and is a cinematic language that communicates through movement. Therefore, a sense of untethered cinematography was important to capture.
When it comes to lighting, I prefer to utilize Terrance Mallick’s approach and use natural light wherever possible. However, I also like to fill in areas where I think highlights need to take place with LED’s if I can’t do it with reflectors. The natural light ended up being instrumental in communicating mood changes. It felt quite poetic when the natural light and fog seemed to provide a story of its own. For example, because there was no ceiling in the derelict brick room there are moments when Maleficent is dancing and as the sun changes so does the mood and tone of the film.
CW: For more than half a century women have been discouraged from getting behind the camera, however in the last years there are signs that something is changing. What is your view on the future of women filmmakers?
SV: I think the future for female filmmakers is going to get interesting. Studios are realizing more and more that women tell engaging stories as audiences respond enthusiastically to films like: Unbroken, Wild, The Hurt Locker, Frozen, etc. However, we also have to be honest and realize that the numbers haven’t changed much in 30 years. “Female directors accounted for only 17 of the top 250 grossing films of 2014—a mere 6.8%” – indiewire.com. So, generally it seems that more men are still being hired over women for big budget studio films.
“The public’s interest becomes what the public is interested in—the most popular media.” So, we need to look outside of popular media for our entertainment if we want to see more stories from women, and vote with our money by supporting films created by women. It’s odd to realize, but we mostly like films in popular media because those who have stereotyped our interests market them to us. We have to recognize that only a small scope of film options are actually marketed by popular media. Fortunately, numbers show that the independent film circuit is much more friendly to women; half of the films in the U.S. dramatic competition at Sundance were directed by women in 2013.
CW: Can you tell us your biggest influences in art and how they have affected your work?
SV: My biggest influences in art are Sophia Coppola, Darren Aronofsky and Devin Super Tramp. From Coppola, I’ve admired and taken influence from the dreamlike aesthetics signature to her style. She is so successful at putting whimsy into something otherwise potentially mundane, especially in the case of Virgin Suicides. I like to think that I’ve been able to enter into my own version of this dream world with In Continuum by using things like lens flares, light leaks, etc. Aronofsky, has been a long time favorite director of mine and has influenced many of my stylistic choices. He has an in-your-face experimental style that resembles few comparisons within the upper echelons of film. The visual spectacle present in his films, such as Requiem For A Dream or Black Swan, are done not for the visual aw itself, but rather to communicate psychological undertones of the characters. Thus, I like to embellish my visuals through cinematography and editing oddities using techniques like jarring cuts, time manipulation, special camera rigs, etc.
Beyond these top tier directors, I am a huge fan of what the internet has to offer. There are so many treasured video gems I discover from film artists on Vimeo and Youtube. More specifically, Devin Super Tramp is one of these online sensations that has had a huge impact on my camera work. I use the same brand of camera rigs he does, Glidecam, in order to achieve the “boundless” cinematography you see within In Continuum. I’d have to say that the Glidecam rig itself has even influenced my work greatly, allowing me to achieve shots I used to dream of.
Outside the realm of film art, my Aunt, Lona Hymas Smith, a famous woodcarver, taught me so much about how to infuse passion into art—giving it a life of its own. She had such an amazing way of channeling the best of her talents and truly created pieces that seemed to breath.
CW: Thanks for sharing your time, Shana, we wish you all the best with your filmmaker career. What’s next for Shana Vassilieva? Have you a particular film in mind?
SV: As usual, I am working on several projects at any one time and in various stages of production. At the forefront this moment is a collection of stories about elite athlete women in the Middle East who are empowering others and improving local communities. We had the pleasure of filming with Syrian refugees at two different refugee camps, local girls playing basketball at Girl Power in Egypt, a bike race that benefits local kids near the Dead Sea and so much more. We plan to have a sizzle reel and Behind The Scenes videos very soon. Then, 4 short documentary stories will follow in the months to come.
Our project directors and collaborators for this short film series are UT’s Center For Sport, Peace and Society, ESPN Women & The US department of State. “The Global Sports Mentoring Program, the flagship program supporting the U.S. Department of State’s initiative to empower women and girls worldwide through sports.” – globalsportswomen.org
I am also invested in a few personal projects. Most exciting is a short documentary film series filmed in Madagascar that chronicles travels, endemic species, culture, local people and the unexpected story that followed as a result of leaving the comfort of designated tourist zones. I am very near to releasing a 4K short documentary that will introduce people to the Madagascar project and imagery. We are also starting a mobile library in connection to our journey there. I plan to document the mobile library project too.