David Baxter is destroying stereotypes by showing that a 6’ 3” 280 lb man can be a ballet dancer and burlesque superstar, spreading body positivity through his art.
Interview with Director/Producer Matthew Kaplowitz
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I entered the Fusion Five-Day Documentary challenge on the Audience Awards website after seeing a post about it in a Facebook group I'm in. In this contest, film makers that entered were given one of several different random prompts on the start of day one, and then had five days to complete a short film about it (max length of seven minutes).
I was intrigued when I first read about it, but was not too confident in entering since it's a heck of a challenge to undertake, especially for a one-man team like myself. The contest officially began not too long after the Presidential election, and impulsively I signed up at the last minute to join the competition in hopes of channeling a lot of what I was feeling into making something (ideally, something positive). Incidentally, three of the other top 12 finalists made shorts related to the election, so I think many of us entered this with the idea of using this as art therapy.
My random prompt was "You're never going to believe this, but...," and the topic of the short could either be a bio or related to music. Immediately I regretted my decision to enter this contest that I was ill-prepared to do, and spent the first few hours scratching my head and raging about my impulsiveness. Thank goodness for my girlfriend, who rescued me while I brainstormed (AKA ranted about my impulsive decision) and mentioned to me a friend she knew through another friend who might be a good fit for the project.
Enter the subject of the film, David Baxter, who is 6’ 3” 280 lb. intimidating looking man, who one would be surprised to discover is a trained dancer and burlesque performer. I reached out to Mr Baxter and he agreed to speak to me and ultimately work with me on this project.
There were plenty of challenges along the way, especially with such a short timeline to set up things, shoot, edit and do the post-production, but David was more than generous with his time and energy to help me. Considering that he had never met me before but was willing to speak on camera about not only his dancing but the concepts behind body positivity and its importance (I might add very eloquently), the project moved along at light speed with those
challenges ultimately being tiny bumps in the road.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
I hope people come to check out the film to get a taste of something different and unexpected. The prompt I had to work with says it all, "You're never going to believe this, but..." If you were walking down the street or commuting on the subway during rush hour and saw David, you'd think you were standing next to a football player. Little do they realize that they are standing next to a dancer, actor, artist, and award-winning sex symbol in the burlesque circle.
The film is about challenging your first judgment of a person, and in this case it leads to the conversation of body positivity, which means feeling good about who you are physically and not letting anyone tell you otherwise.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Everyone deals with body issues on some level, and some are more dangerous than others. I've never met a person that has not eventually complained about their waist size, their nose, or something else cosmetic that they don't like about themselves. I come from a background of work in sports (Mixed Martial Arts specifically), where athletes must cut weight before a fight so they can compete in a specific weight class, so things like this have always been in my viewfinder, just in a more niche way.
The idea of body positivity is relevant to every single person that walks this earth, especially our youth. I knew far too many kids in high school and college than I want to admit that had eating disorders, or athletes that were obsessed with being a certain size or weight to the point where it could negatively affect their developing mind and body. Outside of weight, most people have at least one or two things that they wish they could change about the way they look. 'En Pointe' tells viewers that whether you can admit it or not yet, you're perfect just the way you are and you shouldn't let yourself or anyone else say you're not.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
Being a documentary, anything can and will happen. The best thing about this five-day challenge was embracing the spirit of the competition. To me, that was the absolute random nature of it, and once I found David, it became leaving my comfort zone to honor who David is and what he does.
In my mind, David's burlesque was not even a part of the project when I first began because I thought it wasn't important. As I interviewed David and learned more about him, I realized how integral it was to telling his story as well as accomplishing what I set out to do. The
film transformed from being what I thought I wanted to tell into what David was actually telling me, and that is the magical act of making a documentary.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
I was surprised and excited to see that the docu-short was a top 12 finalist in the contest, so that alone was pretty great. I found out last month that the short also won the award for 'best film in the category of biography' when it debuted during Slamdance. Being screened at Slamdance, the upcoming Big Sky film fest, and the Audience Awards in April was another added bonus, and having the short shown on Fusion's TV channel and digital platforms for the next 18 months is also really cool. I never thought I would win anything and had not thought much about it, especially seeing some of the teams I was up against. Going toe-to-toe with so many very talented creators and feeling like I'm worthy enough to stand with them is a very good feeling.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Beyond the perks of being a finalist and winning an award, I have received a lot of praise from the people that have seen it. I'm not too good at accepting that, but on a personal level it was rewarding to plunge into this scary challenge and make a short about a stranger doing things I had no knowledge about before hand, and producing a film that is the polar opposite of most of the work I have done in the past. A lot of my friends never had much interest in the type of stuff I did before, but I think plenty of them were surprised to see that I could do something so tonally different and make them feel something unexpected.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
By having this short promoted on this website, we not only raise awareness for the film but also for body positivity. Like I said earlier, a lot of people face this issue on a daily basis and some deal with more difficult versions of issues with how they look. I hope that those people who think that way can see this film and maybe have an impact on how they think. I don't expect to fix people overnight, but I think six minutes can make a big difference and plant the seeds for growth and change.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I am always grateful for more press, and the next step for this short will be distribution. Thankfully, Fusion is making sure people will see this for the next 18 months, and once I get the rights back I plan to put this on Youtube to make it accessible to everyone for free.
What I hope happens is that more eyes will become aware of what I am doing, and hopefully this will help me on my next big personal project that is in the works (more on that later).
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
Making this film made me reconsider how I talk about myself and others, beyond body positivity. I think it will do the same for anyone else that gives it a look.
We base a lot of our opinions of a person on the first three seconds we see them, and snap to form a judgment or opinion about them based on external factors. What we see is only part of the story. By getting out of our comfort zones and talking to people that do things differently than you can we open our horizons and better understand why these things that are foreign to us are so important to someone else.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
I don't think there is just one question when it comes to body positivity. Plenty of questions relate to the topic, and more than often that question is a negative one. The term 'fat-shaming' comes to mind, and I feel like we are having a real renaissance in this era when it comes to accepting different body types doing the things that the mainstream world has said they can not do, or mocked them for doing it. I'm certain that some viewers will not grasp the positive
message of the short and will continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes. I just hope that someone is there to squash that negativity and drop a truth bomb on them. Preach!
Would you like to add anything else?
This film was the right project at the right time for me, and gave me an outlet for my creativity during a time where many Americans were feeling a myriad of emotions.
Once more, I have to thank David for letting me give viewers a window into who he is and what he does, and why it's so important. Having a stranger stick a camera in your face and ask you soul-searching questions is something I look forward to not being on the receiving end anytime soon. David was so gracious and generous to be a part of this, and I hope that it can help him and his message as much as it helps me and what I do.
Lastly, please check out 'Burning Hammer Productions' on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Burning-Hammer-Productions-1273886562698987/) and subscribe to the Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCK-y3NwAG1h-mC-hwpyg4gw), which is where this short will eventually be uploaded as well as other work.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
David is preparing for festival season in the Burlesque world. He was recently accepted into the Philly Burlesque Festival in April, and is waiting to hear back on more. He also has a few shows lined up in NYC and other cities, and is continuing his training in aerial dancing (something that sadly got cut from the film due to time constraints). If you think seeing David dance and do burlesque is one thing, wait until you see him 15 feet in the air performing with silks or on a lyra!
I am seeing how far I can take this short, waiting on distribution for my last documentary "Girl Fight: A Muay Thai Story" (which I hope will be available soon), and hopefully wrapping up a long term personal project by the end of the Summer. I have been working on a feature-length documentary about my Uncle, who is an 87 year-old painter who has had a studio in Union Square since the 1960s. Despite his age and health problems, he continues to commute four hours round trip for five to six days a week to create art. By April, I will have filmed my Uncle for 18 months and aim to finish editing the piece by the Summer so I can enter film fests for the fall and winter.
Interview: February 2017
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David Baxter is destroying stereotypes by showing that a 6’3” 280 lb man can be a ballet dancer and burlesque superstar, spreading body positivity through his art.
Length: 6 minutes
Director: Matthew Kaplowitz
Producer: Matthew Kaplowitz
Key cast: David Baxter
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists):
Funders: My empty pockets
Made in association with: Burning Hammer Productions
Where can I see it in the next month? It will be shown at the Big Sky Doc Festival this month, and then the Audience Awards Film Festival in April in North Hollywood. The film will also be distributed for 18 months on the Fusion channel and their digital platforms.