“Chisel”, an IU student-made dance film, received an award for “Best Performances” in the Black and White Film Festival hosted by Wild Sound, according to an Instagram post.
The 7-minute silent dance narrative film was created, directed and produced by 2021 IU alumnus Robert Mack. Starring IU Ballet alumni Alexandra Jones and Anderson Da Silva, the film features music by Jacobs School of Music student Isaak Liu, choreography by IU Professor Michael Vernon and editing and cinematography by Media School Ph.D candidate Caleb Allison.
The ballet dancers, Jones and Da Silva, were awarded “Best Performances” for their role in the film.
Filmed during the pandemic, the dancers wore masks for most of the film. The masks and the lack of dialogue meant Jones and Da Silva relied on their eye expressions and body language to fully communicate the message and emotions of the film.
“To really communicate emotion, you are having to use your eyes, your eyebrows, parts of your body you would not really think to put so much detail into,” Jones said. “The eyes do tell a lot: what a character is feeling or what they are going through and it adds to the scene so that the person watching can understand what is going on.”
The overall message that the film aims to communicate is the longing felt for human connection during the pandemic, Jones and Mack explained.
“It basically is a meditation on being alone during the pandemic. This kind of sense of isolation and alienation that a lot of us felt,” Mack said.
Mack said the film is a product of the pandemic. The original inspiration came from his performance in the Arabian pas de deux in “The Nutcracker” in December 2019.
“I was like, gosh it would be kind of interesting to set this in an industrial like location, some kind of factory location, and make a black and white art film about it,” Mack said.
But before he could begin the filmmaking process, IU shut down and sent students home due to COVID-19. Mack kept thinking of this concept and wrote the treatment, a document describing the film idea, over the summer of 2020.
“I concocted this idea of doing kind of a contactless pas de deux and still fitting it in kind of a desolate industrial location, shooting on film and black and white. And giving it a darker or topical kind of feel,” Mack said.
When Mack returned to campus in the fall, working on the film was his top priority. Through his previously established contacts in the Media School he was able to partner with Allison, who has experience working with celluloid film.
“I happen to teach a course, P360 Motion Picture Production, that only uses celluloid film,” Allison said, “So I was able to lend my talents to the project, which he wanted to shoot on 16 millimeter.”
The majority of “Chisel” was shot on a 16mm camera, which Mack purposely chose due to the texture film produces on the final cut. Every shot was also filmed on a digital camera, Allison and Mack explained. In the final scene, the footage switches from film to digital, which gives the film a different feel and texture.
Sometimes the story of a film changes during the filmmaking process but, as a dance film, “Chisel” did not have much room to change. The choreography requires the story to be told in a certain way and Mack was able to plan the whole film thoroughly prior to filming.
“It could not evolve too much because there is so much continuity that needs to be held between the choreography,” Allison said about editing the final cut. “I did not want to break that because Michael Vernon, the choreographer, is phenomenal at that and [Mack] had a very specific vision of this story that he wanted to tell.”
“Chisel” is currently submitted to several film fests, so it is not available to watch on public platforms yet. Updates on when and where to watch it will be posted on Instagram @robertmackproductions