Filming Abroad with Awaji Art Circus

Earlier this year I was enlisted to document artist Skye Gellmann leading up to the Awaji Art Circus. The event is developed to enhance and encourage the populace rejuvenation of Awaji Island by bringing on international artists in music, dance, circus and visual art.

This was wholeheartedly one of the pinnacle opportunities of my career so far, and I can only imagine that it will get better with continuous networking and improving my skills. 

I was contacted by Asialink Arts of the University of Melbourne to document my friend and innovative artist Skye Gellmann for the international festival; Awaji Art Circus. Obviously the call stunned me, as someone who defines themselves as still a novice in the medium of photography and film, to even be considered to travel internationally, all expenses paid to cover an art form which I’ve been striving for since my degree… It was unimaginable. Ultimately it was Skye who put in a good word, as Asialink Arts in conjunction with Next Wave Festival were interested in hiring someone for the job.

Skye’s work is an intimate piece about the relationship between himself and the inanimate objects of Hinoki wood. From my time working with him he built a relationship to the wood, which is culturally a special wood to Japan. By planting the wood in the spaces allocated by the festival, he discovers the infinite possibilities and offerings it has towards his art. The interaction of object and body. The work developed in Awaji is akin to the performance of ‘Bodies Over Bitumen’ which has been featured in many festivals around Australia.

In retrospect travelling overseas as a freelancer for an influential organisation is hard work. The preparation for the job was crucial. It had a major impact with how I conducted myself overseas because of the major contractual details and documents involved. Of course this was something I was expecting, however I did not expect how tough it was to stick to contract. For me I thought it would be somewhat of a breeze, as I had already made up my mind that circus film and photography was my career, so doing this would be effortless…right? 

The things I found most difficult were some of my inward battles. Questioning - Am I a good enough to spend grant money on to go overseas for this job? Am I mature enough? How can I make sure that the work I produce is going to intimately reflect the creative brief and the artist? What if I don’t meet the deadline? (I have a huge battle with video editing) What equipment do I need to bring? The question list goes on. Overall even though I was over analysing everything, I was super prepared for the job while I was overseas in Japan. It’s just the trouble was the aftermath of it. 

I was incredibly organised, especially for someone that hasn’t been overseas by themselves as an adult. My focus was not about making the most of the trip it was sincerely using my time affectively to develop the imagined result. In saying this, the items I packed were not considered glamorous. It goes as follows: 

My Essentials Bag

Underwear
Shirts
Pants
Toiletries
Makeup
A single Pair of Shoes

My Gear

Tripod
Glidecam
Slider
Tripod Head (for slider)
Batteries
Memory Cards
2 x Cameras
5 x Lenses
Battery Charger
Lapel Mic
Sound Recorder
DSLR Shotgun Mic
Laptop
4TB Hard Drive

The list goes on… There were also a bunch of essential insurance and travel documents I needed. I was so on top of everything, and I truly was. There was never a moment where I felt like I forgot something. In total I had 3 bags. It was mainly a struggle when I was traveling from hotel to airport or visa versa. To give an idea. I took a 9 hour plane to Tokyo -> 1 hour plane to Osaka -> 1 hour ferry to Somoto, Awaji -> 1 hour bus ride to Yumebutai, Awaji/Hotel. I only ever felt the need to complain about sleep. However as soon as I arrived to the island, I was greeted by Skye, I had a can of beer and some lunch, immediately followed by work. Capturing the different spaces Skye would be working on over the following weeks. 

I understood how important it was for Skye to build a relationship to these spaces, as they would be his home and job for the next 5 weeks. However at first I felt indifferent about it, as I was definitely mostly interested in adhering to the brief designed by my employers. Filming I was thinking mostly of these cinematic and lyrical images, but I wasn’t thinking about how they represented Skye, my friend. How I loathed that, that’s the way I thought. I think I projected my rule abiding feelings onto Skye, to the point where he wasn’t able to work to constricting criteria. Instead as suggested by Skye we just did improv. He just started creating work and I worked around his developments. It felt better to do this.

Over the week I was there, majority of my time was following Skye during his induction to the festival and opening ceremony. I conducted interviews with Asialink Arts, New Wave and Skye which I found were successful. There was coverage of Skye’s first presentation of his work to a public audience and all this needed to be concisely pieced together in a brief 5 minute video. 

Editing is a struggle for me. I usually overwhelm myself with hundreds of hours of footage, as I don’t want to miss one bit. Working towards a deadline is worse; a constant anxiety that your employers are going to be chasing you up. It was only yesterday (check the time stamp of this blog) that I submitted a 2nd draft of this Awaji Art Circus content. I had a deadline of November 3. Although I am 2 weeks behind, I was given more time than what I deserved. Editing is extremely not my area, and it’s even more difficult if you find yourself personally attached to the project, but having to follow impersonal criteria points.


 Some highlights of the project, I got to meet other artists of the Awaji Art Circus, and the organisers of the festival. The world in which I was working in was familiar and foreign at the same time. Yet, I felt in my element. I’d like to say that this experience was all about how to approach film and photography overseas, but it’s not. 

Circus for my career has been very rewarding, but it’s undeniably raw. Circus is also someone’s talent, their life. I may be fascinated with the skill, but it’s so much more to the performer. That’s why I find capturing movement can be hard. You want to make sure it’s credible to the performer. Does it reflect them, and their work? 

Overall being offered a job for an overseas contract is amazing. The work and time I put into it was actually quite profound. I will cherish it forever as I will cherish the arts and circus forever. 

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