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LBB Film Club: Masculinity

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Scheme Engine director Christian Padron on creating symbolic relationships between past and present and the juxtaposition of youthful innocence against the trials of growing older, writes LBB’s Ben Conway and Josh Neufeldt

LBB Film Club: Masculinity


What does it mean to be a man? How should a man act? And what does masculinity look like? These are questions that Scheme Engine director Christian Padron explores in ‘Masculinity’, a short film which looks at how men are taught to act in American society, their often-suppressed emotions and the significance of revealing their vulnerabilities. 

As part of ‘The Healing Project’ - a forthcoming digital archive, music album and exhibition by composer and artist Samora Pinderhughes - ‘Masculinity’ represents Christian’s second collaboration with Samora and the culmination of a several month process. Featuring song and poetry by Samora, as well as choreographed dancing, Christian hopes the film will make viewers look within; identifying which parts of themselves are hurting. 

LBB’s Ben Conway caught up with Christian to find out more about capturing small and subtle moments, building moving portraits of men of all ages and having people do things they wouldn’t normally do on camera.



LBB> How did The Healing Project come about? Can you explain what it is, what it involves and how you first met and started working with Samora?


Christian> My first collaboration with Samora was the short film 'Process'. After that, it was just, ‘What’s next?’. The Healing Project is a multidisciplinary project based around experiences of trauma and healing from structural violence. It manifests in an exhibition, a digital archive, and an album, Grief. I’m a core collaborator on The Healing Project and the co-creative director of the album. Samora and I wanted to create a rarely seen, ambitious project in multiple ways - at the same time as the physical experience of the exhibition, the experience of the digital archive space, and then the experience of the album and accompanying film pieces. It’s all under the umbrella of The Healing Project and the ‘Masculinity’ film is at the core of this mission. 



LBB> How is ‘Masculinity’ different from or similar to other films in this project. How is it different from ‘Grief’ for example?


Christian> ‘Masculinity’ specifically approaches questions of how men are taught to perform masculinity in society vs. how they are in their everyday lives. We built with a through-line narrative with Samora’s childhood tapes contrasted with footage of him now (asking how society had changed us over time). We focused on building moving portraits of men and boys of all ages, and with their children. We wanted to create a tapestry of emotions and show an entire spectrum of different parts of what it means to be a man in American society, from sublimation and anger, to play and movement. We also used choreography for the first time, which was breathtaking given the sublime work of dancer/choreographer Claude ‘CJ’ Johnson. 



LBB> What was your initial reaction to hearing Samora’s music for the project and ‘Masculinity’ in particular?What were some ideas that you had instantly for the film?


Christian> I was initially reflective. Samora’s lyrics are powerful, often raw, beautiful and authentically human all at once.  His music doesn’t shy away from the vulnerability in the world around us, or that which inhabits our minds in less tangible ways. As a new father, I began to honestly dissect my representations and definitions of masculinity, and how I would exemplify these for my daughter.  I started to play the song for those close to me, to further extend the discussion of what masculinity looks like on a much deeper level than we usually perceive.

[It’s] The beauty of humanity, so to speak… Samora’s music reminds us that there are truly magical moments all the time and you have to constantly be aware of that. Whether those moments reside in romance, pain or celebration. I think I’ve always been interested in these everyday moments that I just don’t ever see, period. The felt experience, as opposed to the lived experience. I started to see a tapestry of unique points of view that created a new whole, rather than a singular focus.



LBB> You say “Vulnerability is the centre of this piece” - could you elaborate on this and give some examples of how vulnerability is shown through your filmmaking?

Christian> Vulnerability is the core of this piece. We wanted to have representations from various generations - from the elders to the babies - to think about how we're raised, what society teaches us, and how we reveal ourselves over time. Particularly: how we reveal our softness and how we stay honest about what we go through. Vulnerability can be shown in many ways. I often think of the moments in between story or action, the small and subtle moments, the close-ups of a person’s face or eyes or hands or body language - moments of tenderness between two people. The camera itself can also project different emotions through the way that it’s used and even through the film stock and textures.

Just having people do things that they normally don’t do on camera and talk about things they don’t normally talk about. I think we do this through the ways that the main character in ‘Process’ cries and lets his emotions out in different ways throughout the piece, and the ways that we overlaid Samora’s poem on top of the choreography in ‘Masculinity’.



LBB> How long was the production process in total?


Christian> Pre-production was about three to four months and we shot the film in one week -  really over three days basically. And then our editing and colouring process was another few months as we had to digitise and transfer all the old VHS tapes. We are eternally grateful to Samora’s family for helping us with this important element. Samora’s family was gracious enough to get us hours of video footage dating all the way back to his experience as just a baby up until now.  It really helped inform the film structure, as we were able to make symbolic connections between the past and present.  The footage was very, very important to what I wanted to make.



LBB> How collaborative was the filmmaking? Did Samora have a lot of creative input for the filmmaking - what was the collaboration between you two like?


Christian> Samora and I worked very closely together to build the world in ‘Masculinity’, from the sounds to the textures to the cinematography. The editing process in particular is so much fun because we both think very rhythmically and so much of editing is rhythm.  So much of the collaboration is also just spending time talking about the ideas and the details and the concepts behind the work. We trust each other because we both operate from a place of vulnerability and intention.  Solange’s recent album had a song ‘Nothing Without Intention’. I think this sentiment embodies my creative relationship with Samora.



LBB> Many of the shots feature a solitary man - often still, almost like a portrait photo. Can you talk about these shots and what you wanted to capture?


Christian> One of the core ideas was creating these fragments in time. Moments that feel like moving photographs taken from real-life situations, but are inherently loosely staged and constructed images. The camera’s field of view remains locked on its subjects whose movements (sometimes subtle, sometimes spirited) are key to their striking effect, reminiscent of momentary memories. The end result is a collection of emotions captured in one moving piece and a constant juxtaposition of the innocence of youth against the trials of masculinity as one gets older.



LBB> The film uses visuals of the music itself - the piano, Samora singing and the saxophone player… how did you incorporate the music into the visuals and the film itself?


Christian> The incredible saxophone player’s name is Immanuel Wilkins, another close collaborator of Samora. I feel his section really drives the third act of the film. It was particularly amazing to try to have his sections in the film because his whole part on the song was improvised! So he had to re-learn his own improvised parts and then replay them in order for us to film it.



LBB> What was the edit process like? 


Christian> Samora and I edited the film together.  I think because we had worked so closely to the subject matter, the talent, and the experiences, we felt a divine connection to the film and what the edit would mean spiritually for us. It became more than an edit. It became therapy and communion as we worked through our own connections to the song and stories.



LBB> What are some of your favourite shots from the film and why?

 

Christian> That’s a tough question! I love every composition in the film, but I particularly love the frame of the young men in front of the flower shop. The shot was inspired by Roy DeCarava and his 1964 photograph titled, ‘Five Men’, which shows men coming out of a Harlem church as they exit a memorial service for the children killed in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s raw and gripping, as each man appears connected physically, yet spiritually and mentally in their own spaces of pain and grief. These relationships and moments of vulnerability began to inform the main themes of the film and beyond.



LBB> If there is one thing you want people to take from this film, what is it? How did you try and communicate this message through the film?


Christian> I hope that each viewer responds differently and will see something unique to their experience. We want it to make people think about what parts of themselves are serving them and what parts of themselves are hurting them and/or others - to encourage people to be vulnerable, to think and speak about which of their behaviors are learned/taught and which feel like their true essence. I think the film communicates this through the poem that weaves throughout, through the gorgeous portraits and the details of how each person is captured on film, through CJ’s choreography, Immanuel’s sax and through the tenderness and humanity captured through the camera. 



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Scheme Engine, Mon, 11 Apr 2022 15:47:00 GMT