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Next Level: Samskara

This series of posts highlights some of our Next Level Grant recipients. We asked Angela Rosales Challis and Conor Long to provide insight into their work on their project, ‘Samskara Screendance’.

 

The Next Level Grant Program provides funding for local directors and producers that are currently working on a project in the state of Utah. The Utah Film Commission seeks to cultivate original storytelling by providing the extra push for filmmakers to get their film to the “next level”. This program funds projects of all stages from development to production and distribution. The pre-production phase is for projects that are focusing on development and pre-production. The principal photography phase is for projects that will utilize the grant funding during principal photography. The post-production phase is for post-production and distribution, including film festival submission fees and travel.

Utah Film Commission is looking for filmmakers whose projects reflect excellence in storytelling and visual style, and who can articulate how the grant funding will impact the artistic goals of the project. Read more about the program here.

 

Angela Rosales Challis

Angela Rosales Challis is a Dance Educator, and Filmmaker, originally from Cochabamba, Bolivia. She received her BA in Dance Education from BYU, eventually becoming a dance specialist in elementary schools for several years. In 2014,  she received the “Utah Art Educator of the Year Award” and the “Sorenson Legacy Awards for Excellence in Arts Education” in 2015.

She received her MFA in Film and Media Arts and a certificate in Screendance from the University of Utah. Her films have screened all over the US and in 7 different countries, and have won multiple awards. In 2019, she received the Best Cinematography Award at the Utah Film Awards. Now, she teaches Film at Salt Lake Community College, teaches Dance at UVU and co-directs the Kinnect Dance Company at BYU. Her passion is Screendance. What is Screendance? It is a dance piece that has been created for the camera and not for stage.

Samskara is a Screendance project that celebrates humanity. It takes us on a journey across the planet and through time to remind us of the spirit we all share. It features 9 different cultures in 9 different Utah locations.

What led you to document this story?
Years ago, I was at the Living Traditions Festival and my eyes could not believe the cultural richness in Utah. I thought, how can we take this for the whole world to see? Eventually, I met Conor as he wanted to make a film that showed how humanity has evolved. We put our ideas together and Samskara came to be.

I also feel that I have a personal agenda for this project. At an African Festival in Salt Lake City, one of the presenters said that one way to stop racism is to expose and share our culture with others. With this project, I want to celebrate the fact that races are beautifully different.

How did you prepare for the film?
It took us hours of meetings and weekly phone conferences with Conor, Heather and Chelsea, our producers, and myself to pin the concept. I think that the hardest part was to find the dancers and combine schedules. Heather Francis, one of the producers, was key to find the cast. 

This has been the biggest project I have directed, so far. I have to say, I was very nervous for the production, and I worried about the approach to filming each dancer in a unique and respectful way. I wasn’t sure how to make the beautiful locations part of the piece and not just a backdrop, so I reached out to Katrina McPherson to mentor me in the process. She is a very successful Screendance artist from Scotland, I had the privilege of meeting her earlier in the year at a workshop at the University of Utah. We had numerous phone calls about my approach to this project and after that, I felt confident about what I was going to accomplish.

What was your day-to-day experience while filming?
Insane!!! We filmed 9 dancers in 9 different locations in 5 days.

We started on a Thursday evening. When we went to pick up the gear, the lenses were not there, so we had to Uber them to us from Salt Lake City to Spanish Fork. I was in panic mode. When we arrived at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Jyotsna was there with her husband, son, mother and father. At that moment, I realized this project is bigger than I had imagined. Three generations were there to witness the creation of a project that validates who they are and where they come from. Jyotsna’s son did the slate for us that day, we had delicious Indian food, and I was overwhelmed with joy and gratefulness.

On Friday, we started with the b-boy in Salt Lake City, he let us use his beautiful studio full of amazing art. I was amazed at how hard he worked and how he gave us his best. After we were done, he said that he was going to take some ibuprofen, he was sure it was going to hurt later. We then headed over to Little Dell Canyon to film the Samoan dancer. She was there with her mom and her two sisters. We put her in the water, she was pretty shy and uncomfortable but her big sister was reassuring her the whole time. It was a joy to film her.

Soon after, we headed to Salt Flats to film the Bolivian dancer. My heart was racing the whole time. Here we were, a Bolivian filmmaker filming a Bolivian dancer in Utah! How did these Bolivians end up here? My heart was overflowing with joy. I looked around, I saw this incredible crew, comprised of my dearest friends from BYU, U of U, and my husband, working so hard to help validate these immigrants culture. We filmed through the sunset, I was in heaven.

Saturday morning we went to Farmington to film the clog dancer, the location felt very Americana. She was radiant. When we were filming the extreme close-ups, I kept remembering the other close-ups that we had filmed. I was amazed at how humans are so different, our noses, eyes, hair, hands, are so different but still, we are the same.

Saturday evening, we went to Antelope Island. Our dancer from Tanzania came with her sister, her cousin, and sister’s boyfriend, all of them refugees. She was very nervous. Heather, our producer, used to be her dance teacher so she helped her with the choreography. I could see the love and respect that they had for each other. We took turns running the camera for this section, Conor would go, then I would go, then Walter would go, improvising the camera movement. It felt organic and spontaneous. Conor said that it felt like a boxing match. When we said goodbye, Delfine said to me that this was the best experience in her life.

After that, we headed to Cedar City, and on Sunday morning, we filmed the Native American dancer. He put his wardrobe on, then he had a prayer and blessed his props with smoke. It felt sacred.

Sunday evening, we went to Little Sahara and met our Brazilian Capoeira dancer. None of us had been there before, we were amazed! The sand was a struggle for the dancer. It was so deep that he couldn’t bounce back easily after a jump, he would just get deeper and deeper into the sand, but he still performed beautifully.

Many days later, we filmed our 83-year-old Japanese dancer in the peace gardens. I was so glad we were able to film her, she was the cherry on top.

During the shoot days, I felt humbled by everyone’s talent and dedication. The dancers and the crew worked very hard. I was honored all those immigrants were eager to share their culture and trusted us to represent them well. We are now finishing post-production. I have a dear friend from grad school, Hanna Webber, who is a skilled editor. Now, all we have left is the color correction, which Eduardo, another great friend from grad school will do, and finally. Conor will do his magic with the animation.

I am incredibly thankful for all the talent, hard work, and support that have come together for this project. I now understand when in the credits they say, “this film would not be possible without the support of our sponsors.” This project would not exist if it wasn’t for the Utah Film Commission Next Level Grant Program. Thank you!

What do you hope your audience takes away after seeing this film?
I hope that after someone watches this project and they see a person of color or an immigrant on the street, they will think this person has so much to offer to society. This person’s culture and opinions are of value.

Is this career path something you always wanted to pursue, and how did you initially get into the industry?
Yes! I want to make art that matters. Art that connects soul to soul.

Do you have upcoming projects that you’re working on?
No. I will finish this one and then figure out what is next.

What advice would you give to a local who is trying to get into the industry?
You need to love what you do. If you do not have the passion, don’t even try it. Make art that is meaningful. It is not just about the final project, it is about the journey.

 

Conor Long

Conor Long has been working in the film industry for 12 years. He recently graduated from the University of Utah’s Graduate Film program which is where he met Angela and began working together. She introduced him to Screendance and he has been hooked ever since. Together, they have worked on many projects over the last few years in several different countries. He currently lives in Los Angeles and works in the film industry as a director and animator. Though his main focus is making monster movies and comedy, Screendance holds a very special place in his heart.

 

What led you to document this story?
The idea came after spending a few years working on projects with pretty bleak and dreadful themes. Personally, my soul was getting sick and I wanted to do a project that turned it all around. I wanted to make a film that celebrated the beauty and grace of humanity, a film that leaves the audience feeling connection and love.

 

How did you prepare for this film?

The preparation for this film was a long and bumpy road. We were sitting on the idea for about a year before Angela and I decided to apply for the Next Level Grant. From there, Angela was able to get our amazing producers, Heather Francis & Chelsea Alley, to jump on board. As I live in LA now, we had weekly video chat meetings, but most of the credit for organizing the production goes to the three of them. Pulling together such an incredible group of highly diverse dancers and locations was no easy feat, but they really pulled off something wonderful.

 

What was your day-to-day experience while filming?

Honestly, it was dreamlike. The production schedule was very demanding as we had to drive all over the state with only a few hours reserved for each dancer. One night, in particular, we shot a beautiful scene out at Antelope Island during sundown, then had to drive to southern Utah in order to shoot in the red rocks in the morning. Demanding schedule aside, the production was an incredible, life-affirming experience. Dancers often seem to have such optimism and passion for life that it’s practically contagious. Working with dancers is always such a treat, and when you get into a rhythm where the camera becomes part of the dance, a true one-of-a-kind magical moment happens that can never be repeated the same way twice. That perfect flow of camera and dancer is truly the magic of screen dance.

 

What did you take away from this experience?

The experience of making this film invigorated my love for an adventurous production. A film set like this becomes a family, and I learned so much from all the unique people that are part of that family. Hearing all of the dancer’s stories and getting a sense of their outlook on life was rejuvenating. Personally, I got out of this project exactly what I was hoping to get out of it.

What do you hope your audience takes away after seeing this film?

I hope the audience feels the same way I did after wrapping the shoot. The whole point is to celebrate where we’ve been and all the beauty that is inside all of us. I want the audience to feel a sense of connection with their fellow man. I feel like a film like this can really heal in a way, and I hope the audience leaves the theater feeling more loved than when they came in.

Is this career path something you always wanted to pursue, and how did you initially get into the industry?

I have been making films since I was a child and have been working professionally in the film industry all over the world for the last 12 years. It is my calling in life and I’ll be doing it until the day I die. Screendance, however, is very new for me. I owe Angela all the credit for introducing me to this world of cinema of which I had been previously unaware. After having collaborated so much with her over the years, and having studied under Ellen Bromberg at the University of Utah, it is now a part of my life and career that I am very excited about.

How did the Next Level Grant help you in the process of creating this film?

Simply put, Samskara wouldn’t exist without the Next Level Grant and all the support from the Utah Film Commission. It’s hard making movies and it’s particularly difficult getting financing for art projects, so we owe everything to grants like these at the end of the day.

Do you have upcoming projects that you’re working on?

I am always working on new things and am currently pitching a few more narrative projects that I am excited about. As for Screendance, I am looking forward to integrating a lot of what I love about it into my future endeavors. I have a few dance-heavy music video projects coming up and Angela and I are certain to dive into our next big project together before too long.

What advice would you give to a local who is trying to get into the industry?

I would tell anybody trying to get into the industry that it isn’t a sprint, it’s an endurance run. Work harder than everybody but be patient and trust the process. It’s not a competition either, and there is enough room for all of us. Build a network of people who will go to battle with you and for you, and know that what is good for one of us, is good for all of us. Having a technical skill will help you get your foot in the door a lot faster. But most importantly, remember that if you’re not having fun making movies, you’re doing it wrong.

Samskara Screendance is premiering on Saturday, November 23rd at 4:00 pm at the Marmalade Branch, Salt Lake City Public Library. You can find more information here and view the trailer here.

The Next Level Grant Program provides support and funding for local directors and producers to take their projects to the next level. Applications for the principal-photography phase are being accepted December 1st – January 31st. Learn more here.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. 

Allie Russell is the Marketing Coordinator for the Utah Film Commission. For any press and media inquiries, contact the Utah Film Commission at cmmartin@utah.gov.

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