Press: Short Film Slam brings the Louisville Ballet to the silver screen on Thursday

By Eli Keel for Insider Louisville

May 8,2019

Every four months, the Louisville Film Society and Speed Cinema partner to bring short films to the big screen, many by Louisville-based filmmakers. On Thursday, May 9, they’ll have a third partner, albeit a somewhat unofficial one, when Sanjay Saverimuttu of the Louisville Ballet brings the film “Amid Exes and Whys” to the Short Film Slam.

If that title sounds familiar, it’s because a work of the same name appeared last February in the Louisville Ballet’s #Chorshow, the ambitious project from the ballet that teamed with KyCAD to bring work, much of it interactive, to 849 Gallery, and create collaborative pieces that featured both choreography and visual art.

But before that work appeared, Saverimuttu had already teamed up with filmmaker Tyler Gater to film another version of “Amid Exes and Whys.”

Insider spoke with Saverimuttu about the project and the difference between creation and documentation.

“It was important to get something of a good quality, not just a simple documentation — something that had its own little artistic flare,” he said.

In the arts world, especially the fast and furious world of individual artists who often have to create opportunities before they can create work, documentation of prior work is important.

Saverimuttu can say his work is a collaboration with artist Jake Ford, who created a sculpture large enough for the four dancers of “Amid Exes and Whys” to use as a set piece that became a portal, a mirror and a barrier, transmuting gender, sexuality and romance.

That’s all true by the way, but a 47-word description doesn’t make grant money or commissions fall from the sky. So choreographers, playwrights, visual artists, etc., need pictures or films of their work to help show off the power of their artistic expression.

As a choreographer, Saverimuttu needs documentation, but he wasn’t satisfied with a simple film of his work.

“I also just wanted to explore what it’s like to create dance on film and sort of start getting my toes wet with that, so to speak,” he explained. “Because I feel that’s a great way of bringing access to people that aren’t necessarily going to be able to come and buy a ticket to the ballet.”

While the music, dancers, steps and sculpture of the film were all in the live work, Saverimuttu condensed and reconfigured the piece. He started thinking about length, attention span and the drastically different viewing experience, not just for short film festivals but for an eventual home online.

“I’ve had a lot of practice trying to figure out how to grab an audience member and take them on a ride for 10 minutes, and then drop them off somewhere else,” said Saverimuttu. “I assume the attention span is shorter for things you’d find on the internet. It’s one-minute clips usually. That’s what people are used to watching. So it’s going to be a challenge. I have to figure out how to capture that casual internet-goer.”

To figure that out — and to create an engaging film — he teamed with filmmaker Tyler Gater using a micro-grant from the Elevator Artist Resource. While Gater has had some past experience with more straightforward documentation of dance, Saverimuttu wanted to give him more artistic agency.

“I definitely had some angles in mind, but I think another reason I wanted to do this was to collaborate,” he said. “It was like, ‘Throw in some angles you think look cool.’ He definitely got many different viewpoints that I wouldn’t have thought of.”

Those angles ended up making the live version of “Amid Exes and Whys” stronger. The unconventional performance space led to audience members viewing the piece from different angles.

“Amid Exes and Whys” isn’t the end of digital exploration for Saverimuttu.

“I’d also like to get some support to create more films like this on different themes — queer themes, environmental themes,” he added.

On Thursday when he watches the film along with an audience of filmmakers and film lovers, Saverimuttu will see his new work on the big screen for the first time.

“It’s definitely its own piece, despite the same name, the same choreographic material, same structure,” said Saverimuttu. “I’ll be intrigued to see what people say about it.”

Catch “Amid Exes and Whys,” along with several other short films, on Thursday, May 9, at 8 p.m. at Speed Cinema, inside the Speed Art Museum. Tickets are $9 for the general public and $7 for members of the Speed and the Louisville Film Society.