Elemental is the first film to be featured as part of our SV Showcase this month. This is one of the three films to be awarded the StandardVision Showcase Award for Artistic Achievement at the Cascadia Dance and Film Festival.
Elemental is a reframing of the natural world through movement and a reframing of movement through novel environments. Madison, WI based hip-hop dancer Solomon Roller interprets beautiful Wisconsin nature through dance, a form of expression he has been developing and refining for over a decade. The original soundtrack features audio samples taken on location and molded into a composition that evokes the geography and sharpens the emotional undertones of Solomon’s movements. Through cinema, Elemental explores the versatile power of hip-hop to channel and illustrate the natural environment.
Elizabeth Wadium is a filmmaker and photographer from Madison, Wisconsin. She began her artistic endeavors as a composer and now, as a visual artist, focuses on developing harmony between cinema and other creative disciplines. As a lover of nature, her work also explores how a human presence emotionally characterizes a natural environment. Wadium created Elemental with Aaron Granat, a University of Wisconsin-Madison film instructor and musician, and UW-Madison student and dancer Solomon Roller.
How did you come up with the idea for the film?
I came up with the idea for Elemental during a brainstorm session with my collaborator Aaron Granat. I had previously worked as DoP on a screen-dance set in the Arizona desert and just fell in love with the genre from that point forward. Additionally, I’ve always loved shooting outside – there’s something oddly freeing about having so little control over your environment. You just do the best you can with what you have and let nature set the rest of the parameters.
During that brainstorm session, I suggested that we shoot a dance film, but switch it up – do something a bit out of the ordinary. Shooting hip hop in Wisconsin parks seemed like just the thing. Aaron told me about Solomon, who he knew from his previous professional work. We reached out to Solomon and he loved the idea. The rest is history!
What is it about the natural landscape that you are drawn to?
Nature is a huge source of my inspiration and serenity as an artist. I feel the most ‘flow’ when I’m outside, whether I’m hiking, meditating or working on a project. If I could shoot all of my projects outside, I’m sure I would!
I grew up in Wisconsin and I feel that the state is really underrated in terms of natural beauty. I think there’s this conception that the state is mostly flat, or mostly farms, when in reality there’s a diverse mixture of cliffs, rolling hills, forests, rivers, dunes, etc. I picked the locations for Elemental as a little sampler of the various ecosystems in Wisconsin. What made the film really interesting from an improvisation perspective is that Solomon had never been to any of these parks before the film! What you see in Elemental is his first impression and interpretation of the landscape.
Can you describe the process of deciding how to film Solomon’s movements? There seems to be a dance between the camera and the subject.
The camera work was a bit tricky, as we were trying to balance showing Solomon’s movements and also display the landscape behind him. For some scenes, like the waterfall and river shots, I asked Solomon to move in specific ways that imitated the environment, but for most of the film, we were guessing which direction Solomon would go. The camera work really came together during postproduction, and we often cut between scenes that either harmonized or contrasted in direction.
Did you come up against any challenges in the shooting or editing process?
The weather was great for filming, but the waterfall was extremely cold. Solomon is a dedicated artist and kept dancing even though he couldn’t feel his feet! Other than that, I’d say the editing process was a challenge as we had quite a bit of footage to sort through. I’m very grateful that I was able to edit alongside Aaron, as his perspectives really helped speed up the process.
Can you tell us about the score for the film?
In addition to being a cinematographer, Aaron is also a talented musician, and he composed the soundtrack for our film. I wanted something that complemented rather than conflicted with Solomon’s dancing and Aaron completely nailed it. What makes the soundtrack unique, I think, is that it is made mostly of samples taken at each of our filming locations, which Aaron arduously wove in time to the final cut of our film.
I feel drawn to shoot another screen-dance in the Midwest, but this time, I’d really love to do something in the dead of winter. It’d be an interesting challenge for the dancers and the film crew alike. Winter has a certain lonesome beauty that I find really appealing, and Wisconsin is breathtaking after a fresh snowfall. So stay tuned for that project!
You can catch more of Wadium’s work here as well as part of her film on the SVLA1 screen in Downtown LA every hour through September 19.