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March 29, 2014, 12:00 AM | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
Documentarian Catherine Gund has known performance artist Elizabeth Streb for 25 years, since Gund was a college student and Streb was a visiting professor, but their worlds didn’t fully collide until two years ago. Gund was attending Streb’s annual gala when she found out that a necessary component of the performance needed some help: someone had to climb up a 35-foot truss and drop a bowling ball down to Streb’s emcee, Zaire, as part of the show. Gund volunteered.
“I literally jumped at the chance and climbed up the truss,” she recalls, “posed and terrified with a bowling ball heavy in my lap. Just then on either side of me, two other bowling balls were automatically released, hurtling down and plainly eviscerating the cement blocks beneath them. By the time I let the bowling ball fall out of my sweaty hands, I was primed.”
When Streb saw how big a thrill it had been for Gund, she invited her to film the team at London’s Cultural Olympiad. For the second time in one night, Gund jumped at the chance and proposed an idea of her own: a full-length feature film.
The result is “Born to Fly,” a documentary that showcases the vivid and frequently dangerous acrobatics that Streb and her troupe perform.
“I don’t think of her pieces individually,” Gund says. “They’re constantly evolving across time as well as in the space of her studio, her stage, her mind. I think of Streb’s work as process, her drive, her unwavering demand, and a willingness—the effort—of the dancers to risk everything and use their bodies in response to each other in the most extreme way possible.”
Gund takes the same approach within her own filmmaking, and in her advice to aspiring filmmakers. “I would definitely say just go for it ... try something you haven’t tried, push yourself, go further than you imagined possible, no matter where you start, you can always risk more. Filmmaking is a risk . . . My advice is don’t follow rules, don’t hesitate.”
She and the CIFF go way back—her uncle, George Gund III, was one of its founders, and the other three films she has directed, “What’s On Your Plate,” “Making Grace” and “Hallelujah! Ron Athey: A Story of Deliverance,” have all played here. She was a Someone to Watch Award recipient in 2005 at the 29th CIFF.
“CIFF is a terrific, exemplary, powerhouse of a festival with so many quality films, awesome energy, and [a] vital downtown presence in a dynamic city. I love it,” she enthuses, adding that the festival “grows and innovates with the times and that makes showing films here feel satisfying and celebratory at once.”
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