Director Biography – Sonja Wyss, Jorijn Vriesendorp (WHILE SHE WAITS)

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Sonja Wyss is a long-established artist, who works and lives in Amsterdam. She was born (1967) in the Bahamas and studied Fine Arts in Switzerland, Amsterdam and in the United States of America before completing her studies at the Master of Film at the Netherlands Film Academy in Amsterdam.

Her video installations and experimental films are shown internationally at renowned galleries, museums and film festivals. Her video film Grüezi wohl Frau Stirnimaa (Hello Miss Stirnimaa) was selected in for Quinzaine des Realisateurs in Cannes. Winterstilte (Winter Silence), Wyss’s experimental long feature film debut, won a golden calf, was selected for the prestigious Forum at the Berlin Film festival and has been screened worldwide at numerous international festivals. Greifensee was nominated for Best Short Film in the Golden Calf Competition at Netherlands Film Festival. Her work has been distinguished internationally by several grants and prizes.

In the diversity between installations and cinema, Wyss uses clear lines to connect her entire body of work. In her work she draws from memories, fantasies and associations. Her fascination lies in two main themes: fragile beauty and the loss of innocence. In the stories she tells there is often an underlying tension lurking just beneath the obvious narrative. She never explains situations, but depicts them beautifully all the more.

Director Biography – Taylor Joshua Rankin (HALF LIGHT)

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Taylor Joshua Rankin (b. 1991) is a filmmaker and composer of new music where he draws on a variety of influences from American and European minimalism, art-rock and electronica, currently based in San Francisco and Oakland, CA.

Director Biography – Leonora Pitts (LIKE HOLY WINE)

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Leonora Pitts is an actress, filmmaker, dancer, and community organizer, born and raised in Grand Forks, ND. She graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she received her BFA in Acting, studying with the Atlantic Theater Company Acting School. Upon her graduation, she received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Atlantic and NYU, and a year later, Atlantic hired Leonora onto their faculty.

As an actress and dancer, Leonora spent several years on the New York stage, including a lengthy run in the long-running off-Broadway hit, The Donkey Show. Since moving to Los Angeles, she has appeared on numerous television shows including “The Grinder,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and “Rita Rocks” and recurs in the new Apple+ show, “For All Mankind.”

She continues to collaborate with the prolific Duplass Brothers, co-starring in their films The Freebie and Manson Family Vacation, and guest-starring on two of their HBO series, “Togetherness” and “Room 104.”

Leonora’s three short films have collectively screened at over forty festivals worldwide, including the Aspen Shortsfest, Outfest, Mill Valley, Citizen Jane, Heartland, Bentonville, and Indie Memphis. Her most recent short, “The Matchmaker” won Best of the Fest at the prestigious Dam Short Film Festival.

She is the co-founder and leader of the 1500-women strong Los Angeles Women’s Film Collective and the 3700-women strong Atwater Village Moms’ Group, and is proud to serve as one of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s City Commissioners.

Director Statement

This film grew out of a conversation I had with my friend and mentor, Jay Duplass, who told me to make something where I “fall apart, but dance in it.” I thought about the times I’ve fallen apart, and how it didn’t look like what we see on film – we see the big dramatic breakup or the aftermath when people pick their lives up (or don’t), but we never see the actual moments after the words have been spoken, when we feel frozen, like we don’t know physically what to do with our body.

Dance has always been how I move through every big and small moment of my life, and when I wrote this, I knew I needed to surround myself with creatives who spoke our shared dance language. My producer, my choreographer, and my DP are all my dance teachers at Ryan Heffington’s The Sweat Spot, and it was a healing and joyous collaboration from day one. Melissa Schade’s choreography tells the full story of a relationship and the patterns we find ourselves unable to break, even when the love feels strong and ancient. We were gifted a perfect song by Zach Shields and an essential and soulful performance from Matthew Del Negro. Although we recognize the difficulty in programming a piece like this, we put our whole hearts on screen, each of us bringing our own stories of heartache and healing, and we are grateful to you for taking the time to watch it.

Director Biography – Samantha Shay (KATIE GATELY: WALTZ)

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Samantha Shay is a director of theatre and film, performer, producer, and teacher. She creates multi sensorial poetic landscapes, reminiscent of a living dream. Her work is at it’s best, a collaboration between the body and its senses, performing on the body like a welcomed hallucination.   She is the founder of internationally recognised artist collective Source Material, and frequently collaborates with musicians to make films, including K Á R Y Y N, Katie Gately, JFDR, and Sóley. 2016 marked an initiatory time in her career when she premiered of Light, which garnered the attention of artists such as Marina Abramovic, who mentored Shay through the process, and Björk, who listed her as one of her artistic inspirations in The Guardian after attending the premier. She then headed to Poland to premier A Thousand Tongues in the world renowned Theatre Olympics as part of the European Capital of Culture 2016, a co-production with the Grotowski Institute. Most recently, her work has been performed at RedCat, HERE, and the San Francisco International Arts Festival, and she is currently making her first short film in collaboration with Dancer/Choreographer, Danielle Agami. Samantha holds a BFA in Acting from CalArts.

Director Statement

“It is strangely common that somehow I end up at the helm of a project surrounding something deeply personal to an artist. Often I’m part of the moment in which a wall collapses, and, if we (artists & audience) are lucky, powerful work is created, and in my personal hope, there is a kind of personal integration the artist experiences in making the offering.

Waltz was a quick timeline – Katie asked me to do the video right around Thanksgiving, and before Christmas we had shot the video. There was something about how personal it was, and yet so fast, that made me realise its possible to make something deeply personal and cathartic without a big struggle. When the collaborators meet with reverence, mutual respect, and ferocious devotion, there is a kind of emotionally agility that makes traveling anywhere possible.

When I work with a musician, there is a wide spectrum to feelings about being filmed or photographed, and Katie expressed that she didn’t feel comfortable on camera. The day of the shoot I asked Katie if she wanted to be challenged as a performer or not, and she practically demanded it of me. What resulted was absolutely magnetic. She willfully and bravely let her walls collapse in front of us, and this video, to me, is a powerful portrait of her.

Working with Bobbi Jene Smith was also something I learned a lot from. We have a shared language from our work in the dance world, so it was easy to improvise and create material quickly. I recognised how she embodied something Katie expressed in her music. If I experience Katie’s composition as this kind of unhinged variation on overwhelm, Bobbi creates that physically. If Katie’s composition feels like loss, locked into a certain kind of phrase, or a pace that illustrates heartache, Bobbi takes that and runs with it in how she relates to physical gravity. All of the choreography was improvised based on me challenging the two of them with imagistic language and prompts. Bobbi became Katie’s keener, mourning and grieving what Katie carried around, and the dynamic tension between Bobbi’s motion and Katie’s stillness is the duet. At one point during the shoot I said to Bobbi “Think of something you want to give to Katie, and Katie, do your best to receive it fully”, I could feel the air in the room seize a bit, because I started to feel what this video was about, and perhaps, why we make art in the first place.

It also goes without saying, that this album is about Katie’s mother, and Bobbi gave birth two months ago. There was a bit of witchcraft in this one. Katie said the song is about trauma and disassociation, and I think somehow, making this video was the next part of that – re-associating to the body, being seen, and catharsis as an act of resilience. Some kind of birthing.

Director Biography – Marta Renzi (IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME)

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Marta Renzi has created more than 2 dozen short films which have been screened in more than 100 festivals both nationally and internationally, and is a seven-time recipient of funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.  As a choreographer, Renzi took every opportunity to present work with her Project Co. outdoors for free in venues such as Central Park Summerstage and Jacob’s Pillow’s Inside/Out. In 1992 Renzi received a New York Dance and Performance Award (a “Bessie”) and in 1995 was the first recipient of a Dancing in the Streets award as “a fearless explorer of unconventional sites.” Her site-specific choreography led to a half-hour videodance commission from the WGBH New Television Workshop in 1981, followed by another in 1989 from KCTA’s Alive From Off Center, entitled MOUNTAINVIEW, made in collaboration with maverick filmmaker John Sayles.  Renzi was awarded a 2013 Bogliasco Fellowship at the Liguria Center for Arts & Humanities, and was funded by a RAW Community Supported Arts grant in 2014. Her first feature film premiered at Port Townsend Film Festival in fall 2017.
For more information:

Director Statement

We are already dancing.

Director Biography – Jessie James (HALF A MAN)

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Jessie James, originally from Utah USA, has worked across all genres of the creative industry. From the Stage to the Big Screen.

She is a choreographer and movement director self producing short films in dance, alongside her professional dance credits: The 38th Annual Daytime Emmy’s, High School Musical 3 Sr Year, The Donny & Marie Residency Show & on Broadway, X Factor Uk, Multiple National Tours, and more.

Her current passion is furthering her portfolio of creative work for screenings, and film festivals. Jessie’s goal is to continue working with directors and producers interested in introducing dance/movement to new corporate and creative fields.

Director Biography – Maksym Kotskyi (UNEXPLAINABLE SUBSTANCE)

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Student of the Ukrainian Film School,
Director in the international art group ТАЭТ VREMYA
Choreographer, artist “Apache Crew” (UA)
Finalist of the international festival of experimental dance Open Your Mind (Eindhoven) 2017, 2018.
Personal exhibition in independent gallery of modern art “Spichka” 2017
Group exhibition “Krepatura” in Holzmarkt25, Berlin, Germany 2018
The director of “The evening of performative art” (Moscow 2018), ТЬМА (Kyiv 2018)
ВОР БАТТЛ (Eindhoven 2019)

Director Biography – Jessie James (LOST)

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Jessie James, originally from the USA, has worked across all genres of the dance community. From the Stage to the Big Screen. After her early success as a young dancer, it became clear she would pursue a career in dance. Her professional career started at 17 and since then, Jessie has worked with and/or performed works by Mandy Moore, Mia Michaels, Benoit Swan Pouffer, Barry Lather, Jerry Reeve, Andrew Winghart, Bonnie Story, Jaci Royal, Lukas Mcfarlane, and Ricky Jinks.

Her time in LA included professional training at Edge Performing Arts Center, Millennium Dance Complex, and Movement Lifestyle.
Her credits include X Factor UK Finale, The Greatest Dancer -Company Jinks, America’s Got Talent, The 38th Annual Daytime Emmy’s, High School Musical 3 Sr Year, High School Musical, American Mall, The Donny & Marie Residency in Las Vegas, The Donny & Marie Show on Broadway, The Donny & Marie Christmas USA/Canada Tour,Odyssey Dance Theatre, Odyssey Dance Theatre European Tour, and Justin Giles “Soul Escape”.

Jessie is also a freelance Teacher, Choreographer, and Creative. Jessie guides dancers both young and professional alike to find depth, meaning, and detail in their work. Jessie takes pride in her early training from Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Jazz, Ballet, Hip Hop, Ballroom, Tap, and Contemporary, traveling worldwide sharing her knowledge. Choreographing since the age of 18, she has become a recognizable name among top studios across the USA receiving high honors. Jessie was recently interviewed and featured in Dance Teacher Magazine for her work as a traveling guest Choreographer and Teacher.


Director Biography – Alexander Craven (IN THE SAME DIRECTION: JEFF PIFHER & SOCRATES’ TRIAL)

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Alex’s passion for film began at a young age, watching black & white movies while his grandfather, a jazz musician, practiced every night. His credits include narrative films, commercials, tour management, and helping start a nationwide independent IP-TV network. Heavily influenced by pre-sixties and international cinema, he’s interested in cross-genre suspense stories which explore modern identity and relationships.

Director Statement

Music has an intangible quality which is better experienced than explained, and Jazz is by nature improvisational. It can be among the most collaborative of mediums – one in which leaders become followers, and back again. While many documentaries have sought to capture the lifestyle of being a musician, I felt few have shown the moment-to-moment nature of playing in a band. With strong storytelling elements already present in the music of Jeff Pifher and Socrates’ Trial, whatever its genre may be, I sought not to explain but to allow the audience to celebrate in this creative musical process. The journey is in the music.

Director Biography – Greg Osei (SEARCHING FOR WONDER)

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Greg Osei is a Ghanaian-American, New York-based singer-songwriter and filmmaker. Through radical honesty, in his work he seeks the intersection of the social, the spiritual, and the deeply personal, particularly through an Afro-cosmopolitan lens.

Director Statement

Shortly after the U.S. presidential election in 2016, a dear friend and fellow artist wrote my friend Abdiel (the dancer in “Searching for Wonder”) and I to express his frustration with not knowing his ancestry and the richness of his history as a Black-American descendant of enslaved people. He said that he envied the fact that Abdiel (a native of the Ivory Coast) and I (a first generation Ghanaian-American) knew where we came from. Abdiel and I had access to something that was unfairly denied to him.

What my friend didn’t know was that he was speaking to a frustration that we too had confronted in our own ways. Abdiel and I had previously spoken about what it was like growing up in the U.S. as West Africans, thousands of miles away from our relatives, our mother countries, and yet somehow distanced from the nation in which we lived. In many ways, our culture, history, and ancestry felt not like a totally lived experience but rather an idea, distant, murky, and barely tangible. History, slavery, colonialism, collective trauma, and fear have left us all feeling lost and searching for connection.

A couple of months before this exchange, I had seen Macarthur Fellow Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music. Mac’s visionary piece left me transformed personally and creatively in innumerable ways. Yet, perhaps what inspired me most was Mac’s insistence on the presence and significance of marginalized people throughout history, Mac’s veneration of the indomitable spirits of oppressed people before us that have allowed us to persist in the present, and the great power Mac saw in envisioning not only our collective future but also the histories that were left unwritten.

All of this was already stirring in my head by the time my friend wrote me that day in early December, so my response seemed fairly clear: “We must imagine the histories that have been lost. We are children of a people that tapped into DIVINE POWER. That locked history, Magic, knowledge, and Knowingness in their bodies, in their songs, in their foods, in their very cells and molecules. And the power of our ancestors still courses through our veins. We have access to a power that goes beyond even our own understanding.”

“Searching for Wonder” is an exploration of that power.