Returning to her Cornwall roots and a community in which deviations from the status quo are unabashedly noted and remarked upon, young queer dancer Sakeema Crook reflects on how dance has become an empathic tool in which they find understanding and connection in documentary short Figure 2. Last seen on DN with captivating experimental short Fragment, this second instalment in Filmmaker/Artist Bertil Nilsson’s ongoing series of portrait films makes its premiere here on DN, after which Bertil tells us how he and his team embraced the freeing process of spontaneity in order to explore the duality of home and what it means to belong.
When I met up with Sakeema I had a different project in mind but I quickly felt there was an openness and energy that would lend itself to making a portrait.
I’d become interested in working with voice, and documentary filmmaking more generally, after making a short doc called Finding Your Voice commissioned by Barbican earlier in 2018. A few months before meeting Sakeema I had spontaneously shot a portrait of a circus artist (Figure 1) which had planted the seed of turning it into a series of portraits – Figures. Something that I could work on in my own time between bigger projects and commissions but still with some structure.
My ambition with ‘Figures’ is to tell intimate and emotionally honest stories.
So we scheduled a time to do the interview a few weeks later. I didn’t really know Sakeema so it was completely open in what direction the interview would go or what it would reveal. I say interview but I approached it more as a conversation. My ambition with Figures is to tell intimate and emotionally honest stories so I try my best to create a relaxed and open environment to be able to share freely.
Cornwall had come up in the interview and it turned out that Sakeema was planning a trip to visit family only a month later, which seemed perfect timing for a trip down there. I recruited my good friend Lucas Aliaga-Hurt as camera operator and travel companion and we set out on a little camping/filming road trip! One of the things I love about working on this series is doing things in a spontaneous way without too much production. We did arrive in a full-blown hurricane and had to seek shelter inside, but other than that we had a range of great weather – light rain to full on sun on the beach.
In prep, I made sure to carefully research locations so that we would have options depending on the weather. While away on tour Sakeema sent me movement research so we could talk about ideas. The idea of incorporating repetition, going back and forth over movement gestures came out of that process.
One of the things I love about working on this series, is doing things in a spontaneous way without too much production.
We shot over 4 days with minimal kit, Alexa Mini with my trusty (and lightweight) Zeiss ZFs and a few props (mirror, red light). Other than that, we relied on the stunning Cornish scenery and weather to gives us mood.
During prep and production, I had the idea of using two images next to each other but it wasn’t clear in my mind exactly how that would work. This was the first challenge to solve when me and Editor Joseph Comar sat down to build a cohesive piece. To prepare for the edit, I had made selects from the interview with the parts that I found interesting and had informed the scenes we shot.
Joseph was brilliant in coming up with ideas of putting those double movement sections together, and gradually we could incorporate the physical mirrors I had inserted into the shots, into a structure with metaphorical mirroring of movement, of different scenes and of Sakeema with herself. It never ceases to amaze me how you can take a vague idea in your mind which you’re not really sure how to translate, and by chipping away at it eventually find a form that starts to work and pulls it all together.
For the sound, I worked with my regular collaborator Angel Perez Grandi (www.soundarkstudios.com) who is based in Northern Ireland. As always he did an amazing job of interpreting and elevating the ideas from the edit.
All in all, from first meeting to finished film happened over a 6 month period.