Rhizophora

Directed by Julia Metzger-Traber and Davide De Lillis
Choreographer Julia Metzger-Traber and Davide De Lillis
Dancers Hương Đinh, Mai Ngô, Long Nguyễn, Long Cảnh, Đô Lê, Tuấn Vương, Hơn Vy, Thu ận Trần, Lệ Nguyễn, Hóa Bùi, and Dung Hà
Composer Barnaby Tree
Editor Katelyn Stiles

Dancing between waking and dreaming, a day seen through the eyes of eleven young residents of the Friendship Village in Vietnam who are living with disabilities caused by Agent Orange. As the film progresses we are welcomed ever deeper into their richly symbiotic world.

HONORABLE MENTION in the category of BEST SHORT
Issued by SOCIETY FOR VISUAL ANTHROPOLOGY FILM FESTIVAL

Interview with Directors Davide De Lillis & Julia Metzger-Traber

Describe, in as many or as few words as you see fit, the genesis of or inspiration behind Rhizophora?
Rhizophora exists thanks to an encounter with German photographer and film director Matthias Leupold. In 2013 he asked Julia to work on the English subtitles of his feature film “Lighter than Orange”. Thank to this documentary, Julia and I learned that: in wide areas of Vietnam the land is still highly contaminated due to the massive use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War; nowadays young people are born with various illnesses and disabilities caused by the exposure of their parents and grandparents to Agent Orange. It was shocking for both of us, and we offered Matthias our help to support his attempt to raise awareness on the subject. Knowing our backgrounds in dance and performance, Matthias suggested we accompany his group and facilitate a movement workshop at the Vietnam Friendship Village of Hanoi, with the differently-abled youth featured in his documentary. We created a fundraising campaign to finance the trip to Vietnam and buy a DSLR camera. In March 2014, with Matthias’ support, we traveled there and met the group of youth that ultimately performed in and co-created “Rhizophora” for the first time. We had no idea what would come of our trip; We arrived with no preconceived notions of an outcome. So we began by building trust in the group through embodied practices and playing theater and dance games. Then, once we realized there was great potential, we asked them if they were interested in creating a movie with us. So, together we brainstormed ideas for the script and the scenes. Beginning in week two, we were shooting. Everyone was contributing as much as they wanted to the different aspects of the production: making the costumes; finding the locations; creating the scenes; finding the props; taking photos; performing etc… The subject of the film– a day in the life– was a frame we came up with to walk the line between documentary and fantasy and to portray the quirky personalities and relationships within our group. Each scene drew its inspiration from their daily routine. For
instance, Hung and Mai (the two young women in the opening scene) are roommates and really do sleep together on some nights. Hung, the younger of the two, is deaf but very physically capable and joyful and Mai, is physically limited but extremely bright and skilled communicator.

We were inspired by their profoundly loving symbiosis. Another example is the tea scene. Every day this group of friends had a ritual of drinking tea from Do’s family’s tea farm while raucously joking and teasing one another. The absurdity of the scene is a manifestation of the great idiosyncratic humors of all of the members of the group. We tried to find ways for everyone to be visible in their unique humanness. It was an incredibly vulnerable and profound learning experience for all of us.

How long did Rhizophora take to film? How long was post-production?
We had one month living and working at the Vietnam Friendship Village of Hanoi. As mentioned above, the first week consisted of embodied practices to establish trust in the group, so that everyone would feel safe making her/himself vulnerable. The actual creation and shooting process took more or less three weeks.

Post-production lasted more or less a year. It took a while to find an editor and a composer with movement and dance background. It was a complex process that happened mostly through Internet and Skype, because at the time we were all living in different Countries.

If this is your first dance for film production, what are a few things you learned about making a dance for film that surprised you?
While creating Rhizophora we were not trying to create a dance for film. We were trying to create a space in which the dance could emerge. Then we would play with the camera, trying to offer the viewer the intimate, vulnerable, pictorial, photographic and sculptural aspects of the dance. We may have learned that, in order to do that, sometimes the camera has to dance too.

What is interesting or intriguing to you about dance for film vs. dance for stage?
In a dance-film one can capture a detail of a moving body; use different shooting-angles; a wide shot that includes the environment; a shot from the top; one from the bottom etc… One can affect the speed of the movement in post-production, or highlight certain colors and/or eliminate others. The dance (in its tempo and quality) is created also by the way images are edited one after the other. These are ways to elicit sensations/emotions that cannot be used in dance for stage (or at least not so easily and for all viewers attending the event). They create an intriguing field of research within dance-film making.

Are there any projects, dance film or otherwise, that you are working on currently that you would like to share with our audience?
Davide and Julia are in the process of creating a participatory exhibition (for museums and galleries) that includes Rhizophora and other videos shot during their month at the Vietnam Friendship Village. A work that visually and sensually explores the intersections between individual, social and ecological bodies, and the traces of war. A journey in which all of the audience’s senses will be engaged as they watch, listen, touch, feel, hear and move through the space. It will culminate in a collaborative discussion and visualization. Working title is “growing movement.” They are also in discussion with producers about returning to Vietnam, revisiting the group and shooting a full length film, also a sort of surreal documentary.