Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Shooting From The Belly....MANA

Mana - Lives In Brief

On video biographies.

Mine is not a traditional type of writing although it is gradually becoming more established. I write journals, but not on paper. I keep a diary, though not only with a pen. I use words, but express myself with images. I am bilingual and live in that strange place between two languages and cultures. I use video to describe the way I see the world, to record my memoirs and tell the stories of other women. The digital medium is my paper and the lens is my pen. My writing has grammar, rhythm, punctuation, rhyming and stanzas. It contains more than just words and speaks my languages at the same time.

Indeed, behind every production there is a lengthy preparation and a script that forms the spine of the narrative. In fact, some established conventions can provide a useful structure to those who wish to explore this medium in more depths. Some of my favourite video productions were mere study of such conventions. They were experiences that allowed me to exploit and observe the dynamics of mediation in making video biographies about the other subjects. One such example was Mana, a short about a Japanese contemporary dancer, which was commissioned as part of a series called Lives In Brief.

As the name suggests it was to be a very short documentary in the style of video diary, which described the essence of someone’s life.

I stumbled across my subject almost by chance, after doing pre-production work on another person who had to pull out at the last minute! There I was, in London (at the time I was based in Bournemouth) with my crew in place and no subject to interview, wondering how on earth I was going to shoot my piece! Luckily, a colleague and friend who was in London with Mana at the time, told me that she was happy to do the interview with me despite the fact that she was due to fly back to New York the next day. So I called Mana on the phone at about midnight and quickly briefed her about the questions I was going to ask her. It was such a fortuitous chance and she was marvellous about the whole thing.

Talking to her was so enlightening. It was impressive to learn how she dealt with her life, including the overcoming of her disability and her way of being so candid about it on camera. The important thing for me, as far as the piece was concerned, was not to make her disability the central focus of the narrative: Mana was not a last minute substitution, she really was an incredible subject because she a was a strong individual who chose to leave a constrictive culture and emigrated to a place where she felt free to express herself and her individual talent. I felt an affinity with her for choosing to challenge her role as a woman, imposed by her own culture and move to a new country where she could start defining herself in hero own terms.

What happened afterward in her life, namely the tragedy of losing her sight, contributed to add strength to an already remarkable person. Her disability had not only made her stronger but it had become a catalyst in her commitment to her art. For space reasons I cold not include all that was said during the whole interview, but I can say that I was truly humbled when she explained to me that her blindness became an eye opener in her life, especially with regards to her calling: it was then that dancing became a vocations. For research purposes the piece could not exceed the three minutes and this forced a strong editorial control from my part, but I believe that with integrity one can refrain from sensationalising a subject for the sake of manipulating the audience emotional response, whilst at the same time putting across the message on an inspiring story that will stir the viewer in a positive way.

Rossana Chiarelli

click here for the Italian version

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