LETTERS grew out of the idea to create a film from the intimate letters that an immigrant sends home. These letters bridge distance and tell truths that are often hard to explain in person. The music Kris Davis and her ensemble have composed for the silent film supports its emotional arc by framing and interacting with the images and narratives.
The visual letters describe the United States, a country that has been filmmaker Mimi Chakarova‘s home since her family left Bulgaria when she was 13 and Davis’ home since she left Canada at age 21. To that end, all the people filmed for this project are people whose stories often go untold. Ultimately, LETTERS is a collaborative attempt between Mimi and Kris to understand the streets we walk, the news we read, and the world we experience as women, artists, and immigrants.
The silent film takes on the letters of the English alphabet and explores the many words that start with these letters and sounds. Just as children first learn words—”A is for apple, B is for bicycle…”—LETTERS form a visual narrative with a collection of vignettes. With a total of 14 stories, some letters are grouped to address larger themes. Each musician performing has composed a piece to accompany one of the vignettes in the film. The first such grouping is the story of a young woman who became the first black female firefighter in one of the most populous counties in California. What does it take to be the first in a field that’s predominately male and white? And how many other women in other professions are paving the way to this day? Another vignette in the film is about kindness. We see a blind man relying on others. Simple tasks like crossing a street or eating a meal are assisted by strangers who instinctively step in. K is for kindness… kinship… kindred.
How have our constant and insistent interactions with technology and persistent connectivity made us oblivious to our surroundings and real time? A frantically edited vignette displays the disconnect and loneliness of human beings engaged with their phones and other devices. Other people surround us, yet we are alone in a space lit by the glow of screens.
Kris and Mimi are both working artists and mothers and wanted to include a vignette that shows the impossible balancing act of working while raising children in the United States.
The individual letters offer a steady guide, a thread through the film. Beyond the natural and linear progression of the alphabet, there is another unifying component in Letters: the dance form. Through movement and gesture, street dancers tell their own stories of resilience and struggle. They become emotional narrators full of expression and strength. The film ends on a collaborative dance that goes through stages of grief and trauma, slowly transforming to jubilation and zeal. Z is for zest… zeal… zenith…
LETTERS grew out of the idea to create a silent film from the intimate letters that an immigrant sends home.
Kris Davis piano
Jen Shyu vocals
Roni Eytan harmonica
Doyeon Kim gayageum
Edmar Colón saxophone
Lim Yang bass
Francisco Mela drums
This is a premiere and new work. Each player will contribute a short composition in connection with the silent film LETTERS.
A livestream will be available free of charge at 8pm on the day of the performance and archived for future viewing. Watch below or on YouTube.