Ritual follows four dancers as they rehearse in the studio. Their preparation is prayer-like, full of repetition, meditation, ecstasy, and reflection, reinforcing the sacredness of daily practice. Set to poetry by Black and Jewish spoken word artist Aaron Samuels, Ritual’s text reflects on his family memories of Passover, an ancient Jewish tradition that celebrates freedom from oppression.
Interview with Director/Producer Stacey Menchel Kussell
Main photo: Doron Perk, Xavier Townsend, Isaies Santamaria Perez
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
For many years, I have been wanting to create a film about the sacredness of daily ritual, and the sense of order and reflection that these practices give people. I attended an artist's retreat (Asylum Arts) in the spring of 2016, and I received a grant to make a new work with other artists in the network. I chose Aaron Samuels to create original poetry and Carlos Metta to create and mix an original score for the film.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Ritual balances dance, poetry, and music in new ways. The audience member can take something different from each genre as well as sit back an experience them all together. The film, as described in the text, reflects on the Black and Jewish heritage of the poet. The Passover holiday is very much about freedom from oppression. The film showcases the tenacity and fight needed to keep up traditions in the face of difficult circumstances.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The film's themes are very personal to me. Before getting into film and journalism, I was a professional dancer and I spent many hours of my life in the studio. Even more than the stage, I think the studio is a spiritual place for dancers. It is a place to sort out problems physical and emotional, and to create order in the head and the body much the way a person might seek this out in prayer or mediation.
On a more universal level, I think the film reflects on resilience and asks bigger questions about what motivates us to keep our rituals and continue returning to our practices.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
The process was a real evolution. I started first brainstorming with Aaron over the phone and Skype, about rituals and Passover, and he wrote a new poem based on his family's experiences during the Passover seder. From the text we decided on two stanzas, and Carlos composed the score with this text in mind. I gave the written and recorded poem to the dancers in the film and they all created improvisations based on the poem as well as their own personal rituals. My camera crew and I filmed their improvisations and warm ups, and from that footage my editor and I sculpted the choreography shown in the film. It wasn't so much that the original idea changed, but as the process moved along, the project developed its own energy and story.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
So far, the feedback has been really positive. Both dance audiences and non-dance audiences alike have felt the film has evoked a lot of emotion, and have been really taken with the combined visual and audio effect of dance set to poetry.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
This is the first time I am putting out a film direct to social media, so I am fascinated by the different reactions. A few observations have been challenging, but overall I am learning a great deal form the process.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I hoping that a feature here will allow the film to be viewed by larger and more diverse audiences.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
It is a short film, so I think those more connected to social media and journalism would be very helpful, as well as film festival directors.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I would hope this film is thought provoking, and the audience is pushed to think about rituals in their lives, and similarities of these experiences across regions, cultures, or beliefs.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
What are your rituals? What drives you to keep these traditions in your life?
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I am currently working on a new film about women's fitness and pregnancy called Expecting featuring, American Ballet Theater principal Michele Wiles the film is in post-production due for release in fall 2017.
Interview: April 2017
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Director: Stacey Menchel Kussell
Producer: Stacey Menchel Kussell
Featured Poet: Aaron Samuels
About the writer, director and producer:
Director/Producer: Stacey Menchel Kussell is a writer and filmmaker that focuses on dance, Jewish history. Her first film Renewal premiered at Lincoln Center in 2015, and her written work has appeared in The Forward, Dance Magazine, and Tablet Magazine.
Featured Poet: Aaron Samuels:
Aaron Samuels is a critically-acclaimed writer and speaker. His debut collection of poetry, Yarmulkes & Fitted Caps was released on Write Bloody Publishing in 2013.
Key cast: Featured dancers: Navarra Novy-Williams, Doron Perk, Makeda Roney, and Xavier Townsend
Social media handles:@staceymenchelkussell, @poetryaaron, @elmetta, @curlgirlfit, @doronperk, @itmustbex
Facebook: Stacey Menchel Kussell
Looking for (producers, film festival directors, journalists):
Funders: Asylum Arts and ROI/Schusterman Foundation
Made in association with:
Where can I see it in the next month? On Youtube and Vimeo