[Editor's note: Out Twin Cities Film Fest is hitting the Theatres at Mall of America next week with special screenings and events showcasing LGBTQ-themed cinema. Leading up to the festivities, we'll be highlighting a few of the participating filmmakers.]
Alan Brown wasn't always a filmmaker. He doesn't even have formal training. But after the debut of his first film, O Beautiful, he knew he didn't want to do anything else in life. Now Brown is showcasing his latest film, Five Dances, a visually stunning coming-of-age story.
Set in modern-day Manhattan, the film weaves together both dialogue and elements of dance. It follows Chip (Ryan Steele), a doe-eyed Kansas transplant and the newest member of a five-man dance company, as he struggles to discover independence, friendship, and sexuality.
With the Minnesota premiere only days away, and the film set to release on VOD and DVD in July, the very busy Brown took a few minutes to chat with City Pages about Five Dances, his own dance background, and what's down the pipeline for him.
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[jump] City Pages: For having few characters, this movie has so many different types of relationships. How did that come about? Do you have a favorite? One that you relate to most?
Alan Brown: I really developed the script, both the characters and their stories, out of the dancers I hired. They were all just so interesting to me that I wanted to give them all as much as possible dramatically to do. It was an evolving process.
I don't really have a favorite. As the writer and director, I relate to different aspects of each of them and of each of their stories.
Do you personally connect or relate to any specific character?
No. I am actually very, very fond of all the characters. I have great affection not just for different aspects of each one, but also for the dancers who played them.
Why did you want to structure the film around these dances?
I felt that it was important for dance to be the main element in the film, even though there is of course a plot and the dancers are characters in a story. I've known the choreographer, Jonah Bokaer, for many years, and greatly admire his work. It was a special opportunity to be able to capture Jonah's dance on film.
Are you a dancer?
No. I'm neither a dancer nor a choreographer. So it was a great privilege to work in that world. I very much miss working with dancers, although last summer I did get to direct a music video of Scott's Matthew's cover of "I Wanna Dance with Somebody," and I used more than a dozen dancers in that. That was a lot of fun, and the music video turned out beautifully.
If people only take one thing away from this film, what do you hope they remember?
I want people to leave the film with an appreciation for dance as an art form. But it's also very important to me personally and politically that the relationship between Chip and Theo has an impact on audiences.
The film is visually stunning -- particularly the love scene between those two characters. What was your plan for cinematography?
My longtime cinematographer, Derek McKane, spent a lot of time researching dance films, both narrative and documentary, and ultimately decided that we wanted to approach dance and dancers the same way we would approach dramatic scenes and actors: by focusing on the characters. It was very much an intimate approach visually.
Do you have a specific film aesthetic?
As a viewer, my taste is very eclectic, though -- and this is quite a generalization -- I'm very drawn to the French approach to narrative in cinema. As a filmmaker, I think my aesthetic changes from film to film. I'm always most focused visually on character, on my actors. It's what interests me most.
What types of projects do you gravitate toward?
I'm always interested in using film to explore subject matter that interests me, to use it to step into worlds that I ordinarily wouldn't have access to, whether it's the life of a war vet in Superheroes, Shakespeare, in Private Romeo, or dance in Five Dances. And I do bring my politics to my filmmaking. It's particularly important to me right now to bring gay characters and stories to the screen.
The film will be at the OUT Twin Cities Film Festival; what are your expectations?
I'm thrilled that the film will screen at the OUT Twin Cities Film Festival, and I hope it reaches both the LGBTQ audience and the dance audience, both of which, I know, are very big in the Twin Cities area.
What's next on your agenda?
I'm working on two film projects right now: In the Studio, which is an erotic psychological thriller, a romantic triangle set inside a visual artist's studio, and Friends and Foes, which is a drama about a married man who loses his memory in an accident, doesn't recognize his wife, and falls in love with someone else. It's an unconventional "musical" in that the characters sing.
IF YOU GO:
OUT Twin Cities Film Fest
Theatres at Mall of America
For tickets and info, visit www.otcff.org
$10 for single screenings; $200 for all-access pass
Wednesday, June 4, through Sunday, June 8