When I started watching Valentina Khodnevich’s dance film Sun I was immediately hooked by its tactile, hazy 16mm photography. But as it went on, its message and celebration of everyday routines became the focal point that stayed with me after the credits rolled. What makes Khodnevich’s film so interesting is how she uses dance as a vessel for the cyclical nature of human life, incorporating mechanical movements inspired by daily, mundane activities. This is accompanied by a trance-inducing rhythmic score populated with industrial beats and a twanging guitar that together, with the movements, form a complete and engrossing package. DN is delighted to premiere Sun alongside a conversation with Khodnevich where she breaks down the journey of the film from a logistical standpoint, the juxtaposition of natural and industrial locations, and the decision to shoot on a 16mm Bolex.

How have you been pitching Sun to both your collaborators and audiences?

Sun is a dance film that celebrates the routines of human life, where the quality of light dictates the quality of life. We explore the comparison between sunlight and electric light, following the idea that the introduction of artificial light into modern human life may affect our routines. Through dance, we portray the human experience as a cyclical journey, where the protagonist relives the same day repeatedly. The choreography incorporates mechanical movements inspired by the ordinary tasks of daily life, such as brewing morning coffee or brushing teeth, while different environments in the film create special context to each set of movements. The film has been created through a collaboration between female indie filmmaker and video artist Valentina Khodnevich and choreographer Hannah Joseph, who is a resident choreographer with ROH’s Black History Month and is currently associated with Studio Wayne McGregor.

The choreography incorporates mechanical movements inspired by the ordinary tasks of daily life.

How did it then manifest as a project?

The film idea started with some simple research and chance encounters. During that time, a friend of mine, Shota Gogisvanidze, shared his forthcoming album with me, which included two songs that quickly became my favourites. Upon hearing them, he suggested creating visuals, and immediately, the idea of a dance film came to mind. I began pondering the concept inspired by the essence of the songs. Shota recounted his creative process, recounting a moment in Georgia when he stumbled upon a herd of cows in the mountains, their jingle bells echoing in the soundtrack, he had recorded this moment on his phone, later incorporated into the music. Meanwhile, my work life was chaotic, with late-night laptop sessions affecting my sleep and overall well-being. This led me to contemplate how many others might share a similar routine, seeing more screens than sunlight.

What’s your history with Choreographer Hannah Joseph and how did you come to work with her on Sun?

One evening, a friend invited me to a choreography performance at the ROH for Black History Month, offering me a spare ticket. There, I was impressed by a performance created by Hannah Joseph, who later contributed to Sun as a choreographer. Her piece was dark, modern, and minimalistic, inspiring us to focus on movement to tell our story, like music does. Her piece exuded a dark, progressive, modern, and minimalistic vibe, particularly through the movements and mood. Notably, one of the dancers in her piece, Spike King, later joined Sun too. Hannah and Spike accomplished something remarkable: within just three brief rehearsals, they crafted and staged an entire dance routine, drawing inspiration from their daily routines. We wanted the movement to tell the story the same way music does.

What was it like piecing the film together logistically?

I shared my concept with my friend and Creative Director Hung-Jui Tsao and we embarked on its development together. We planned to shoot in two different locations to contrast natural and industrial settings. Sun was a passion project, so we had to be pragmatic about what we could and couldn’t achieve. Originally, we planned to film in empty streets at night, but we found it to be less feasible and impactful for the narrative. That is why our choice went to a warehouse location and a nearby field.

When I first watched Sun I was struck by the look of it. The tactility of film is a great partner for the story you’re weaving. Had you shot on film before?

It was my first experience with film, and I was delighted to collaborate with Marti Guiver, our Director of Photography, as I trusted his vision and skills, as we have been already working together before. We aspired to shoot on 16mm film, utilizing a Bolex camera. With only one day for shooting, three setups, seven rolls of film, and our small yet dedicated crew, we dove into the project.

We wanted the movement to tell the story the same way music does.

How was your experience shooting 16mm? Did you have to change your process to adapt to that format?

Pre-production remained the same, but I had to keep in mind that we had a limited number of rolls, allowing for only a few takes. Moreover, as we were shooting a dance film, I would typically shoot multiple takes of the same set of movements from different angles. However, this time, we didn’t have that privilege. So Marti, whom I trusted immensely due to his extensive experience with film, and I decided to use repetitive movements as the base for the dance. For example, you can see this approach in the field sequence. It helped us during the shoot and provided more options in the edit.

What is it you like about telling stories and weaving narratives through dance specifically?

When people ask me what I specialize in as a director, the first thing that comes to mind is dance/choreography. Somehow, when I moved to London five years ago, I started watching a lot of choreography performances, which really inspired me. There is something very intimate and real when a dancer performs; you can’t really fake it. Moreover, I love that dance involves acting and physical effort; this is what makes it even more unique and exposes raw emotions. I love how choreography can create layers in the story without any words. It is a fully contemporary art form, similar to music without lyrics. When you communicate with the audience so honestly, if they don’t get it, they just don’t get it.

What’s coming up for you, work-wise?

Hmm, good question. I really want to do more fashion and actually sportswear commercials; I feel like I have good potential in these fields. At the moment, I’m developing two projects. One of them is an art film and fashion collaboration, and the other is a creative short with the juggling idea that I’m super excited about, as it all comes together as a destiny project. I believe that the best projects are always random, not planned, with big changes in post-production. At least you can use this approach in something that is not commercial. They have different rules there! Also, I’m not signed with an agency yet, and currently, I aim to build a commercial portfolio that will enable me to enter the market and continue growing as well as meet people from the industry.

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