As De Montfort University continues to catapult new artistic talent into the Leicester scene a not so random pattern is beginning to emerge. Recently, five DMU Dance graduates have created four Random Acts films, all of which can be found at randomacts.channel4.com

Channel Four’s Random Acts showcases some of the world’s most innovative creative short films. Danni Spooner, Joey Mottershead, Hettie Holman with Mac Palima and Liza Mortimer have all taken advantage of the First Acts scheme, a series that teams up with Rural Media and Arts Council England to commission and produce exciting short film making from 18-24 year olds across the UK. 

Danni Spooner – FAG 2016

There is a brutal and beautiful simplicity to ‘FAG’. It depicts three androgynous humans in matching grey wigs, high heels and black thongs all marching in sync taking the occasional drag of an e-cigarette. Although subtle Recently, five DMU Dance graduates have created four Random Acts films,there are differences between these ungendered bodies, a tattoo here, some hair there. Spooner has depersonalised the bodies with eye covering fringes and makeup that neutralises skin tone, this results in three blank canvases, highlighting this idea that the human body is ungendered until an individual embraces a gender identity that works for them.  Spooner explains:

‘It looks at mainly going against a cisgendered society. So a society that is predominantly what we live in now for gender to be just male or just female and nothing in between…

When you look into gender there’s 3 categories, biological sex, gender identity and gender expression and all of those can be completely different or all the same.’

The film has recently resurged on social media which has inspired mixed responses, Spooner has received messages from those in the LGBT+ community praising her work and its relatability. She’s also received some trolling attention whose remarks clearly insult the film but also prove its point entirely, this one for example ‘That’s just three men in drag.’ Biologically speaking the cast is made up of two males and one female. 

Joey Mottershead – Dirty Rebirth 2016

‘It’s kind of like, a surrealist internal monologue put through a Stanley Kubrick or twin peaks vision slash fight club.’ 

What the hell does that look like? (I mean, I know what it looks like, I’ve seen the film). For those of you who haven’t however, Dirty Rebirth sees Mottershead emerge zombie like from a large soil filled plant pot into what looks like a David Fincher inspired therapy session in a church hall. An inflated balloon emerges from his mouth and seems to move through his body, all accompanied by an ominous droning soundtrack and highly visceral crunching and creaking foley. Some simple yet ingenious camera trickery is used to make Mottershead emerge from the pot and inflate a balloon seemingly from his stomach in what he describes as a ‘…Dali inspired therapy session.’. 

The inception of ‘Dirty Rebirth’ emerges from Mottershead’s personal experience; ‘I was put on a year long waiting list for therapy.’. The surreal imagery of the film suggests a slow and gradual metamorphosis perhaps portraying the sometimes frustrating bureaucracy behind mental health services brought about by cuts and recent changes, but also depicting the benefits of therapy and this feeling personal growth (pun intended) that can accompany it.

Hettie Holman with Mac Palima – Sekseneutraal 2018

With slick and visceral cinematography from Holman, fluid and hypnotic movement from Palima and a serene soundtrack from Christopher Jackson, ‘Sekseneutraal’ uses dance, location and subtle shifts of costume to explore what ungendered movement might look like. Holman explains:

‘[The film] Investigates gender codes of movement by deconstructing them to form a fluid movement vocabulary.’ 

We see Palima contrast muscular flexes and graceful gestures as the image cuts seamlessly from Palima in trousers to being in a body hugging dress. Palima is clearly a confident mover with a varied movement language in Holman’s words: 

‘Born in the Philippines, Mac is trained in Philippine folk dance, gymnastics and western contemporary dance’ 

Then of course we have Holman’s keen eye for composition, she stated:

‘I enjoyed adapting that choreographer role into a directing role when developing the composition and structure of film work.’

The movement transcends the five locations in the film, one continuous sequence of motion flawlessly threads from a bedroom to Leicester’s New Walk and the Highcross shopping centre. We see passers by fleetingly observe the liquid choreography. 

Liza Mortimer – Take us as we are 2018

‘I want this film to reaffirm the existence of a nomadic culture and show that it is still as prevalent as ever.’

In Liza Mortimer’s ‘Take us as we are’, a 1969 BBC documentary about Gypsy and Traveller communities is symbiotically fused with beautifully composed footage of a small sample of that community today. Being a part of that community herself, Mortimer’s film lingers on original shots of her Great Grandmother and her Grandfather. Whilst the film invites comparison across generations we see similarities: 

‘Putting the archive footage with the new footage was a result of realising that not a lot has changed the aesthetic of the overall character of the Gypsy and Traveller culture – I like to call it, old fashioned Gypsy suaveness.’

Suaveness is accurate, there’s a subtle confidence in the people we see on screen in both the recent and older images, this combined with the – ‘…beauty in the rough and raw living conditions…’ makes for a visceral and satisfying watch.  

Narration from the original documentary flows throughout the film and invites a comparison to many contemporary social issues e.g. ‘…must we all eat the same, live the same, think the same, or are we big enough to allow that some people are different and welcome the difference.’. 

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