Logline: Avi is “super not a girly girl,” according to her mother, yet through a ballet program for girls with permanent physical impairments, music and dance become motivational forces in her life.
Director: Susan Kerns
Producer: Susan Kerns
About the director and producer:
Susan is producing the documentary LAST OF THE LAWSONOMISTS, wrote the screenplay for LITTLE RED, and has produced a number of award-winning shorts. She is an Assistant Professor at Columbia College Chicago.
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): distributors, film festival directors, journalists
Funders: Columbia College Chicago
Made in association with: Milwaukee Ballet
Release date: September 2015
Congratulations! Why did you make a film called AVI, LA PETITE BALLERINA?
When I heard about a ballet program for girls with permanent physical impairments, I knew I wanted to make this short. The goal of the program was to reframe how the girls thought about their physical therapy by turning it into a dance class. Instead of stretching because their bodies were “deficient” in some way, they would be using their very capable bodies to dance. I wanted to make a documentary about one of the girls and her experience in this program. Avi ended up being that girl.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
This slice-of-life documentary allows Avi to speak for herself and illustrate that she is engaged, capable, rhythmic, and smart. It gives her time to do things on her terms. One festival programmer described it as anti-dramatic, because it does not turn her or her parents into heroes or make viewers feel better about themselves while watching. I wanted Avi to be a real girl on film, not someone normative-bodied people use to feel better about themselves.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
I’m very lucky Avi picked the song “We’re All in This Together,” because in many ways that’s the theme of the doc. This life is difficult for so many reasons; we need to keep in mind that no matter the challenges, we are all in this together. The film’s title designer, Jay Beckman, also pointed out that the theme of getting bigger and bigger and climbing higher and higher is reiterated throughout the short. I think it would benefit all of us to remember that everything we do can be a step toward growth and that we can keep aiming higher no matter what that first or next step is.
How has the script and film evolved over the course of its development and production?
When we started shooting, I didn’t know which dancer I would follow, so we were trying to shoot everyone and get a feel for which girl would be our star. At first, Avi did not seem interested in the class, so on day one, I honestly thought, “I don’t know who it will be, but it won’t be Avi.” That all changed as she opened up in class and we started talking with her parents, who are terrific.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
All of the feedback has been incredibly positive. The best viewing experience I have had was sitting beside one of Avi’s teachers during a screening. She was laughing and crying and saying things like, “That’s so Avi.” It’s rewarding to know you have captured the spirit of your subject. I also have done some educational screenings with students who ask great questions about the film’s content and filmmaking in general. I love that this film is being used as a teaching tool.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
The feedback has lead to some really productive discussions. For example, in a couple of screenings, people asked, “What does Avi have?” I deliberately did not diagnose Avi in the film, because I didn’t and don’t want her to be defined by her body in that way. Not including that information really throws off certain viewers, but I think it’s a good opportunity to discuss why I made that decision.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
Avi is a perfect fit for a site like www.wearemovingstories.com, because of the site’s mission. I think all filmmakers want their work to be seen, so we pursue as many opportunities as possible to get word out about our work, but it’s especially nice when the projects seem philosophically aligned.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
It would be nice to get wider distribution for the short, so that more people can know about Avi and the program in general.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
My goal is, again, to help people see Avi as a typical girl. I think kids with physical impairments often are underestimated because of what people perceive to be their abilities—and those perceptions misalign with kids’ actual abilities.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Why is it important that Avi is not “diagnosed” in this film? Or how would the film’s message be different if Avi’s voice were not included, and only adults’ voices were?
Would you like to add anything else?
Thanks for the opportunity to be part of this site and to talk about my work!
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I am one of the producers for a feature-length documentary called LAST OF THE LAWSONOMISTS. We’re in post-production and are hoping for a very late 2016 or early 2017 release. The film follows 96-year-old Merle Hayden on his crusade to recruit members to the utopian movement Lawsonomy, and his girlfriend’s desire for him to give it up. The facebook page is www.facebook.com/Lawsonomy