Mark DeChiazza and I are making a short film. It's a story—a true story—set in my maternal family’s home in the Bronx, on a morning on which something transformative happens. The film will document the way I’ve been performing this story through music (it was the piece that earned me the Ph.D. in Music Composition from Princeton, and I also performed it recently at the Queens New Music Festival). But it will also perform an important function in terms of preserving my Italian immigrant family’s experiences with illness and war, with what transpired in the privacy of our home, and continues to happen in the privacy of homes like ours.
Here’s how this project came to be:
In 2005 I wrote a family story. I thought, mistakenly, that it would be the beginning of a process that might change the world. If I could pack enough documentation of What Actually Happened into an articulate telling, then everything would be different: my brother wouldn't redeploy to Iraq, my grandmother's metastasized cancer would reverse its course, the grief and worry that saturated my family's conscience for so long would dissolve.
It didn't happen that way, of course. For years I wrestled with the story and with the question at its core: how do we best create tributes, memorials, living histories out of what seem to be irredeemable experiences, out of what only feels like pain or regret? Oddly enough, the answer seemed to be to perform this story somehow, to build a world in which it could speak. I went to work creating "The Exchange," a performance that gave the story teeth.
It signaled a real confluence for me. I could be a writer of words and a composer of music at once, could marry my love of storytelling with my practice of musical performance as a hi-tech one-man-band, could give over to a rigorous process of building a new instrument as well as the sonic fragments I'd ask it to play.
Thanks to the encouragement and warm, enthusiastic responses of family, friends, and advisers, the piece continued to grow and change. I performed it numerous times in New York, workshopped it with brilliant and generous composers, performers, and directors. One of these remarkable people, the filmmaker/director/choreographer Mark DeChiazza, took an interest in making the piece into something more. We talked, brainstormed, generally hung out and at some point in that process we realized we had a project on our hands: a visual exploration of the humble, modest space on which "The Exchange" is a meditation, shot on-site and threaded through with images from the past in the form of old photographs and super 8 movies. We'll create a visual world for this piece to inhabit, so the history of the house and the people who made a home there might resonate within the narrative, so that we might give new life to memories, ghosts, the stories we tell ourselves and each other.
Creating this film will be only the beginning of our collaboration. We'll submit the finished product to festivals and use the visual content in a new, evening-length performance piece—in which "The Exchange" will figure prominently—that we're currently developing. So your contribution, which will help defray the costs of creating the film version of "The Exchange," will also solidify a creative team that is only just beginning its work together.
Risks and challenges
We've conceived of this work as a true collaboration and have both made substantial investments of time and creative capital into successfully pulling it off. A few obstacles persist, like finding a way to view many, many hours of super 8 film or keeping Uncle Pino from bursting onto the set in search of his house keys. But in truth, none of it seems particularly daunting, with a single exception: we've created an absolutely to-the-bone budget. Upon hitting our $6000 goal we'll basically just cover the cost of renting cameras and lights and paying skilled people to operate them, as well as producing CD and DVD rewards. Any contributions over and above that would be greatly appreciated in terms of, you know, buying lunch or, more importantly, treating a portion of Mark's many anticipated hours of post-production work as paid time.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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