March/April 2007 Journal

Creating a country-symphony, as inspired by Artavazd Peleshian a fiscal sponsored project of DFA by Alla Kovgan In 2001, I discovered several poetic films SEASONS, INHABITANTS, and WE by post-WWII Soviet Armenian avant-garde filmmaker Artavazd Peleshian. SEASONS struck me the most. Without a single word, but through observations of human gestures in people’s daily activities, this film explores the everyday mythology of a rugged Armenian countryside and its people. Thanks to Peleshian’s editing techniques that he calls “distance montage,” SEASONS evokes a sense of ritual, of the cyclical nature of life, of perpetual, dynamic movement. Peleshian’s theory of “distance montage” suggests that one of the ways to create meaning in cinema is to identify the key images or sounds and continually re-define them by placing them in different contexts over the course of the film. Similarly, a composer would re-shape the main musical theme in a symphony. SEASONS is a film with a strong choreographic spirit. Peleshian creates movement within images and through editing – loose rocks are tumbling down steep slopes; countrymen are running and dragging tremendous piles of hay from the hills down into the valley; montage of close-ups with woman’s hands baking bread evokes a dance-like feeling… I set out to create a film, referred to as “Denizen” that differs from Peleshian’s films in content but not in principle. While in SEASONS there is no explicit, stylized or literal dancing, “Denizen” intentionally uses choreography and dancers. For years, as a maker, editor and curator of dance film, I have developed a strong sense of the possibilities inherent in using choreographic principles to structure ideas in cinema. In the context of “Denizen,” working with dance/movement on film I was able to generate a great variety of material in which to apply Peleshian’s theories and techniques. “Denizen” juxtaposes and intertwines movements, gestures and textures from the land and people captured on film with choreographed movement, easily adapted and repeated in different contexts, to create a new experience of “distance montage”. I collaborated with choreographers/dancers Alissa Cardone and Ingrid Schatz to develop choreography based on people’s gestures and feelings evoked in SEASONS. Before leaving for Armenia to shoot “Denizen,” we came up with seven types of movement – ritualistic/meditative (repetitive but slow-paced), ecstatic (active, fast-paced), intoxicated (out of control, out of balance), wandering/kinetic (discovering), alienating (shifting, adjusting), objectified/isolated, and neutral/familiar (still, organic). We called each movement “a state.” We corresponded with a line-producer (Harut Kbeyan) in Armenia, who scouted locations where SEASONS was shot and sent us photographs and videos of them. Based on this research, we then rehearsed the created choreography in similar locations around New England and practiced filming the movement and the environments. In September 2006, we (two dancers, sound artist, project assistant and myself) traveled to Armenia for a four-week residency. We hired an Armenian cinematographer (Mko Malxasyan), a project assistant (Ashot Sarkisyan) as our driver, who had worked with Peleshian in the 1970s, and a musician (Armen Zakharyan). For 10 days, we had an intense shooting period. We filmed in seven locations. Four locations were the ones that appeared in SEASONS (a 300-year old tunnel, hay slopes, shepherd’s fields and countrymen’s houses, mountain rocky slopes) while three others (Hagapat monastery, abandoned church at Khob, and “lonely tree” valley) were inspired by our created choreography derived from Peleshian’s films as well as our research on Armenia. We adapted and filmed at least three types of movement for each location. In each location, we also identified the key choreographic phrase – that could transcend the sense and spirit of the site the best. In addition, in each location, we captured images with no dancers, portraying the environments as well as working people’s labor. We have collected 9 hours of choreographed High Definition (HD) footage and 6 hours of documentary HD footage. All the sound was recorded on DAT. There are additional 6 hours of sound material recorded independent of the filming. While in Armenia, we tried hard to resist the spell of this exotic, ancient land and to keep focused, guided by Peleshian’s formal ideas. However, a thousand year old forest, 4th century churches carved out of mountains and their celestial acoustics, our exposure to long lasting family traditions, and most importantly a sense of true belonging to the land that people there exhibited, affected us deeply. In Armenia, “Denizen” acquired a new layer of meaning. Besides being a tribute to Peleshian, “Denizen” came to be a portrayal of the Armenian land. It became a film–ritual that celebrates movement in humans and nature in the tradition of films that create city-symphonies such as D.A. Pennebaker’s DAYBREAK EXPRESS and Dziga Vertov’s THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA. However, formally the film has not changed. Like SEASONS, the film has a cyclical structure. The seven movement–states are introduced through a sequence of montages (30-40 seconds long). These first montages are more like brief snapshots – a mixture of movements of dancers and workingmen in close-up. The seven montages (6 minutes long total) are followed by prolonged scenes of each location. In each scene (1-1.5 minute long), movement of the dancers, people and environments allow the viewer to discover different aspects of the site and also generate a certain state. By the end of the film, the viewer would have a sense of all seven sites and would live through all seven states. Overall, the intertwined and inter-cut world on screen would create an experience of “Denizen” as a living organism of complex interactions and inner connections. Montage sequences are rhythmically constructed not only visually but also ?through the sound score. Five types of sounds are layered to either complement or counterpoint the images. Among the sound elements are those of workingmen performing certain activities, of the performers moving and breathing, of the environment, bits of music performed by musicians either on or off camera, and finally bits of voices telling stories. One of the storytellers was our driver Ashot Sarkisyan who shared quite a few impressions about working with Peleshian. The soundtrack of the film is quite opposite to the one in Peleshian’s films, who often fancied grandiose classical music scores. In “Denizen,” the soundscape heightens the visceral experience of the environments by integrating its naturalistic sounds of people and places. Different experiences of the environments are also created through the evocation of varying near and distant sound proximities. The musical tunes off camera are quite minimal. Single prolonged notes and musical accords are intertwined with melodic composition to intensify or deplete the emotion of sequences, to violate the rhythm, or to accelerate the pace. I am working with the Russian composer Anton Batagov and Armenian zurna player Vardan Grigoryan to create a soundscape for the film. Batagov is a contemporary classical music composer who has been also incorporating traditional music from around the world in his compositions. Grigoryan (as a member of Armenian Navy Band), on the opposite, uses traditional instruments to compose contemporary compositions. Batagov will also supervise the overall sound design of the film. How can I explain the significance of this “poem” other than saying I was deeply moved to “write” it – moved enough to orchestrate months of choreographing, pre-production, fundraising and venturing into the unknown. All this thrill and trouble resulted from my strong belief in the power of the filmmaking of an Armenian filmmaker Artavazd Peleshian and of his editing techniques. By re-contextualizing Peleshian’s artistic approaches in “Denizen,” I attempt to generate this artist’s world rather than depict it. I needed to make my own film to re-discover mythical and ritualistic qualities of the images in Peleshian’s films and apply his ideas. As a result, “Denizen” is not only homage to the great filmmaker but also an art film in itself – a country-symphony that glimpses into the life of Armenian countrymen at a certain moment in time. While in Armenia, we met with ARTE Television (France) who is interested in acquiring ”Denizen” for broadcast, since 2007 is the year of Armenia in France. “Denizen,” as the first art-house dance film made in Armenia (after its independence from the Soviet Union), will also contribute to the development of the art film tradition in that part of the world.• Financial support for this project is welcomed. Please direct any questions to Alla at: Obtaining music rights and how to do it yourself, as guided by Trilby Schreiber This article by a DFA intern, Abby Stopper, is based on an invaluable workshop given by Trilby Schreiber, faculty member at the School of Visual Arts, at Dance NYC on January 9, a special program of Dance on Camera Festival 2007. It is intended as a guideline, not as legal advice. Plan Ahead: There is nothing worse than filming beautiful choreography only to realize that the perfect music is legally or financially unobtainable. To avoid this catastrophe begin clearing music rights as soon as the seeds of your project materialize. It is better to know all of your resources from the get go. Etiquette: Remember, the people you are contacting may be artists too, and may be glad that someone has taken enough interest in their music to use it in collaboration. So indulge yourself and explain your project. Though most artists are well aware of how much their song is worth, they may be sympathetic towards a small budget, independent project and charge you a smaller or non-existent fee. Do not be shy! Remember, this is business and negotiation is always an option. Paperwork: Keep records of everything. All email correspondence can end up highly useful if there is a dispute. Always have agreements on paper, even if it is only an email. Phone agreements do not cut it but a lawyer is not necessary. A simple statement with a signature will suffice. This is particularly important when working with friends; keep your business life straightforward and on paper and your friendship will remain successful. It is also a good idea to discuss division of royalties should your work end up making money. Many record labels have forms you must fill out to obtain rights to their music. Common questions on the forms include information about the project, length of the project, what scene the music will be used for. (Licenses for music in opening and closing credits are more expensive.) There will also be technical questions like what type of license you are hoping to obtain (ex.: a two year license in North America). The Basic Rights: There are two different types of rights you must obtain. 1. Synchronization rights: obtained from the song’s publisher 2. Master use rights: obtained from the record company that produced the particular recording of the song you want to use Example: If you want to use the song “Imagine” performed by John Lennon, you must obtain synchronization rights from Lennon’s publisher and master use the record company that produced the recording. A son’s sync rights are always obtained from the same publisher; master use rights are obtained from whatever record label produced the particular recording you want to use. If you want to use song “Imagine” but perform it yourself, you must still obtain synchronization rights from the publisher. How do I get general and contact information on the song’s publisher? Visit: All have extremely detailed databases of their members and allow you to search by song title, performer, writer, etc. Virtually every songwriter belongs to one of these three databases. What about information on the record label? Visit This site will provide record label information for a particular song but contact information could be harder to come by. To obtain contact information try google and search terms like: “rights”, “permissions” and “contact us” along with the name of the record company. Music in the Public Domain This generally means music whose copyright has expired. An example would be an artist such as Beethoven, who has been long dead long enough to cease collection of royalties. Do not assume that “classical”, “traditional” or “folklore” music is in the public domain. Also, if you are using a commercial recording of a song in the public domain, you must still obtain master use rights from the record label. To check whether a song is in the public domain, you may visit: Sound-alikes: Formally called Music Libraries, these sites offer alternatives to songs that require a license. Other useful links: EMG Music Clearance: excellent information on clearances and resource section; they will also guide you or do it for you for a fee. Link regarding rights/publisher/etc. – Kohn on Music Licencing; not much info but lots of links – Sony music clearance request form – Detailed article on music clearances – http:/ Book Review by James Hosking “Feelings Are Facts, A Life” Yvonne Rainer 2006, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 466 pages “I again find myself perilously close to the sticky terrain of confession with its attendant constraints and inevitable omissions,” writes filmmaker/dancer/author Yvonne Rainer (1934-). Enjoyment of “Feelings Are Facts” depends on one’s patience for dialogues induced by extensive and aggressive psychotherapy. The book’s intriguing mix of sexual inventory, career survey, and biting self-criticism can be both alternately entertaining and frustrating, as Rainer’s tome frequently becomes mired in the mundane and the esoteric. For those lacking in knowledge of fifties and sixties dance and performance, the text could seem obtuse- riddled with characters that are never brought to life behind their surnames. However, her exhaustive description of how one connects experience to art, and vice versa, does ultimately prove to be a very worthwhile exploration of the life of a working artist, particularly in such a period of massive change and possibility. “I can’t say “the miseries” have ever entirely disappeared.. Although I’ve looked to art to exorcise my demons, I can attest that… they eventually quieted down.” Dance is initially is a therapeutic entity to Rainer, one of the co-founders of the Judson Dance Theatre in 1962) at once “a way out of an emotional dilemma,” a means to “postpone a coming to grips with things,” and “something to do every day.” In short, it forms the framework of her identity, shaping her life after she has dropped out of college and come to New York City, the point at which the narrative galvanizes. The book is at its strongest when Rainer connects incidents in her past to their appearances in her work, particularly in dialogue or spoken word. Whether it is the illustration of a memorable confrontation with an old lover or a chance interaction with an art world luminary. Another frequent device of note is Rainer’s insertion of candid diaries into the telling of her memories. The immediacy and honesty of the entries brings a sense of needed life and cohesive structure to some of the more turgid retellings. “I aimed for the replacement of “fictional character and technical virtuosity with neutral doing”, task-like activity, and human- rather than heroic- scale.” In her work, whether dance (Rainer was one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theatre in 1962) or film (She completed seven feature-length films now distributed by Zeitgeist Films), Rainer strives to wrestle with the implications of narrative rather then ever entering, or participating willfully in, the “mainstream.” Her oppositional stance is both a primary theme and an ultimate intent of her work. “The questions your art proposes are very hard to face,” one of Yvonne’s friends, John Bernard Myers, offered. “Should the public be asked to face them? The answer,” he continues, “is a resounding “Yes!”” The persistent problem with a dance biography is in the accumulated viewing of that work the reader needs to bring to the text. With many of the dances left unrecorded, merely titles and vague descriptions some thirty years later, our understanding of statements like Myers is hindered by our lack of exposure to the material. “It was the return of the women’s movement itself- coinciding with the devastation of my love life and enraged near demise and recovery- that ultimately catalyzed my transition from moving body to moving image.” Rainer ends the narrative of “Feelings Are Facts” at the beginning of her transition to film. She attributes this to the fact that prior volumes exploring this output have been published. However, the next two decades, she acknowledges, simply don’t hold the emotional turmoil that this volume charts. Her story is told here in strange fits and starts, with many pieces best left stashed away in her extensive diaries. Yet, the book packs a strange emotional punch. Feelings here are not like the props or pieces of movement that she equates them to, “conterminous, subject to identical disjunctive, non-narrative procedures.” They add up and hit home. Rainer’s happy ending is oddly reassuring, even Hollywood in payoff. Feelings are facts indeed.• James Hosking works in a new department established this spring at Grey Advertising
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