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An Interview with Rachel Slater & Suzanne Chi

Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

Suzanne: I've long been interested in site-specific dance performance, but many times it's not feasible to bring an audience to your venue especially if it is very remote. Film is great way to bring dance and environment into conversation, and a great way to build a lasting body of work. Live performance is always so difficult to capture on video.

Rachel: Approaching filmmaking from a background in dance, film offers exciting opportunities for interacting with the audience in a dynamic way: intimate moments become possible, as do vast expanses. By placing movement very far from the stage, the possibility of truly worldbuilding is very exciting to me. As Suzanne mentioned, it is also wonderful to have an artifact at the end of a creative process.

Talk about your last work. What are some of the challenges you faced during


Rachel: ‘how we live’ was entirely created during the COVID-19 pandemic, from conception all the way through post-production. We had to work very creatively to keep everyone safe during the whole process. Some solutions we used included outdoor rehearsals, separate living spaces during the shoot, testing throughout the process, and of course dancing in masks!

Suzanne: I'm definitely interested in responding to current events or concerns. I tend to think that if something intrigues me, it probably is on the minds of other people as well.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues

you want to incorporate into your work?

Rachel: At the heart of my art-making is the human experience. Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of this. My work nearly always centers around a person or experience so that I have a perspective to base creative decisions on. From there, I develop an internal logic for each piece. It often feels like the piece reveals itself to me as much as I make it. I pick a theme or concept which is relevant for me at the time and from there the work evolves organically.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

Suzanne: I love brainstorming a new project, it might be my favorite part. It usually involves lots of list-making and drinking sparkling water! What usually comes to my mind first is mood, feeling, images or short movement motifs.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for


Suzanne: My first introduction to dance on film was at the American Dance Festival summer intensive as a college student. One happened to be by Jamey Hampton, also a Portland artist, as a duet between man and machinery. It was serious and tender but hilarious at the same time. The other very memorable film I don't remember the name, but it was set in a small mountain village and really took dance outside of the theatre for me.

Rachel: I found my way to dance film in a roundabout way. As a child, I was obsessed with

musicals and also loved martial arts films. The first dance film I saw was in 2003, and I hated i!. Since then the technology has come a long way and now dance films are much more accessible to produce. A few of my favorite dance films are ‘F Major’ by Neels Castillon, ‘Human Habitat’ by Flavia Devonas Hoffman and ‘Home Alone’ by Adi Halfin.

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent


Suzanne: I think the pandemic has caused in particular the dance film genre to explode!

Everyone can make a dance film with an iPhone, and especially in a time when live

performance couldn't happen.

Rachel: In addition to many more artists making dance film, there are also many new film

festivals. I think many people saw what they could do with film while theaters were closed and are now in a period of heightened inspiration. Not to mention, most kids are now intuitive editors because they grow up using TikTok!

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they

must follow/avoid?

Rachel & Suzanne: We would encourage dance filmmakers to think of their camera as a

dancer and choreograph its movement in the same way.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

Rachel: I absolutely believe that film and stories can effect change. Stories often increase

empathy in the audience, because, similar to travelling, the audience puts themselves in the shoes of the main character and experiences events they wouldn’t in their own lives.

Suzanne: I think film for sure can create change in the world, in a very basic way it makes the world smaller. As an example, our films have been screened all over the world, an impossible task for an independent artist to do the same with a live in-person performance.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed

people's taste?

Suzanne: I have no doubt the pandemic influences our tastes! How, I'm not sure exactly.

Rachel: In short, yes the pandemic has influenced our tastes. I imagine this to be quite a

personal question: some folks have taken up scientific documentaries and others are looking for escapism!

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

Suzanne: In terms of next projects, I'm in the early planning stages of a mini film inspired by the devastating forest fires our region has had in the past few years. Wildfires have always happened, but with climate change their effects seem much more tangible.

Rachel: I am currently in my first year of graduate school, working on an interdisciplinary degree of dance and film in New Orleans. My current research circles around ideas of decay, urban blight and abandoned spaces. I expect to create both live performance and dance film based off of this concept.

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