All images courtesy of Jacob Jonas The Company and Gabriela Mo; Stills and BTS photography by Larissa Zaidan and Bernardo Guerreiro
Theater seats empty, concert halls hollow, stage lights dimmed, and performers at home. The pandemic's undoubtedly taken its toll on live performance, extinguishing the energy of watching art play out on stage. However, one dance company is finding a way to keep the flame alive: Jacob Jonas The Company. JJTC, a dance company, recently launched a new program called Films.Dance, a global platform and creative studio for dance, that kicked off with 15 short films shot around the world.
"It was really important for us to keep dance visible," says Jill Wilson, co-founder of JJTC and Producer for Films.Dance. "We wanted to make it a global effort and intersect people and artists in a non-traditional collaboration: working with people and spaces and places that might not typically be able to work together. Now, because of the current situation, we actually can."
Thus, the worldwide search for creators to bring this project to life began. When looking for a director to helm their installment in Brazil, Jill searched FREE THE WORK to find the perfect person behind the camera. Enter: Gabriela Mo, a Brazilian director with an ethereal sense of style and a gift for capturing fantasy on film.
Gabriela's vast array of experiences in storytelling, from journalism to poetry to photography, lent itself well to a truly transporting film as stylistically varied as her artistic history. That film? PÁSSARO DISTANTE, featuring the talents of choreographer Cassi Abranches, and dancers Luís Fernando, Jovani Furlan, Luanna Gondim, Maitê Nunes.
Watch the moving short below, then read on learn more about the collaborative production process from Jill and Gabriela.
This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.
How did you both connect and develop the idea for the piece?
Jill Wilson: For the program, Brazil was something that I personally was interested in the culture and the dance style. We had connected with Jovani Furlan, who is a dancer with the New York City Ballet. He shared with us how he actually had returned to Brazil during the pandemic—going back to training and just being at the school that he grew up at, the Bolshoi Theater School. He was there with three other dancers (Luís Fernando, Luanna Gondim, Maitê Nunes) that he’d trained with there. They’ve all had careers that have taken them across the world, so we thought it was really cool that they returned home to dance. We started working with them choreographically with a choreographer named Cassi Abranches, and needed an amazing director.
So, we went to the FREE THE WORK platform, something that we had been introduced to to find interesting, talented individuals that we thought would be a good fit, and we came across Gabriela's work. One of the first videos we saw, we were like, ‘This is it, she has to do it.’ We reached out to her and we were so fortunate that she said yes.
Gabriela Mo: Jill and Jacob sent me a message by Instagram. I couldn’t believe it. If it wasn't because of FREE THE WORK, it wouldn't have happened. It was like one hug in the middle of the pandemic to be invited in. The project connected people from all around the world. Cassi Abranches and the dancers drove almost 300 miles to São Paulo [from Joinsville], and I think they had a lot of fun.
I also invited a friend of mine who is a talented photographer Larissa Zaidan, and she came up with great ideas about the lenses we use, about the aesthetics that we choose, about the color grading.
It was an opportunity for me to get in touch with other artists in Brazil to collaborate with each other. It was important to wake up in this time and to create something that makes us feel good.
Jill, what was that film you saw that made you choose Gabriela? What was about it about her film and her style that got you?
Jill: It’s called [“Avon Life + Vice apresentam mente e sonhos de Kenzo Takada”]. It was the authenticity and the depth, but simplicity to her work. Then meeting her, it made so much sense, the passion and like enthusiasm. It was so present.
How did you come up with the concept?
Gabriela: I always [had] this attraction to space and planets and other universes, but the concept happened while we were looking for a location to film. We found a place that was an observatory (Open Astronomy Museum), and I immediately fell in love with it. Also we shot on the Ocupa 9 de Julho (a reoccupation of a government abandoned building in downtown São Paulo, by the Movimento Sem-Teto do Centro). Both locations were very special.
Thematically, what were you trying to convey? And what do you hope people take away when they watch when they watch the film?
Gabriela: You're not able to travel that much or not travel at all right now, so it's a way to be away from here, to go somewhere else. In the end, the film also expresses the feelings that I [had] while doing the film. It’s about getting out of the places we are. We don't know exactly where it is, but we're aware we're there.
How was it shot in person and how big was your crew?
Gabriela: [At the time] I had just started my new production company called Untitled Film, that is structurally composed mainly of women. It was a great opportunity for us, [and made us closer as a company.] The owner of the production company, Karin, drove by her car to the location [on] the day of shooting, and she made our meals. We all, of course, got tested, but it was teamwork. Everyone who was involved [had several functions.] Somehow my boyfriend was the driver, and also a photographer. It was very intimate.
The day of the shooting [we had] the four dancers and Cassi, the choreographer. And the team was less than 10 people. I have a friend who I made a music video with before named Ju Strassacapa, a singer from Brazil. She had never composed before, but I invited her to help me with composition of the song of the film.
Did your choreographer choreograph to the music or did you layer the composition after?
Jill: Cassi and the dancers created the movement together without the track. There's definitely like themes and ideas with it, but the music was composed afterwards.
How long was the process from pre production to post? And how, like, how many shooting days that you have?
Gabriela: One shooting day, and I don't remember how long it took since our first conversation—
Jill: Probably between four and six weeks.
In terms of technique, Gabriela, how did you plan out your shots?
Gabriela: I always had this naturalistic mood in my films, like the camera in my hand flowing in a documentary way. Larissa came with the idea of using a tripod and vintage lenses with zoom to have this vintage feel to the film, too. It’s something that I'm not used to, so it was nice to be open to other ways to film and to think. We used the C300 camera and some vintage zoom lenses. And I'm also a photographer who uses film, so I like aesthetics that are more grainy and feel nostalgic.
How involved was Jacob Jonas The Company in the production process?
Jill: We worked closely with Untitled and Karin, who's one of the executive producers there. Like Gabriela said, the dancers were traveling from another city, so we were making sure that they were all set up for their travel and any accommodations, helping figure out what the exact shoot day would be, coordinating with the dancers and Cassi to make sure that the movement was well rehearsed, and really treating the movement like a script. Gabriela went to their rehearsals as well, which, when shooting dances, is always just super helpful and informative from the dance side to have the director really know the material is.
In post, we went through two rounds of feedback with Gabriela and her team. They put together a first draft, and then they shared it with us. We did a series of these films, but with their team, when they shared it with us, they also scheduled a Zoom. So it was really cool because we got to watch it and all come back all together for feedback. It was nice to have that in-person element as opposed to sharing our notes in an email that might have the same excitement but not necessarily read the same way.
There was such great communication, passion, and everyone just contributed a lot of good ideas. And to have so many female leads—the director, the producer, the cinematographer, me and Emma Rosenzweig-Bock (a producer on Films.Dance) on our team—it was nice to have a Zoom filled with so many talented women shaping this film.
It's funny how the atmosphere just changes when it’s a primarily women-identifying crew. It feels like there's more of a flow.
Gabriela: Yeah, the flow was amazing. There was connection, [despite the language barriers].
CAST & CREW