Even though the 2022 Circus International Film Festival is still two months away, circus films have already started to roll out this year. Released at the beginning of January on YouTube, Gorgeous, a moving short, transports us through the “wings” of straps into a love story. Deon Fox and Cuream Jackson’s brave and authentic piece opens us up to the vulnerability and experience of life, art, love and creation as a BIPOC and LGBTQ artist. Cuream, who is also the producer of the project, has said that he slowly learned how to tell stories with his body and apparatus alone. “It also provided me with a means to produce an act that stirred specific emotions and complex feelings, creating – what I hope – to be a more lasting impact on the audience. It became clear to me that I belonged in this space and would continue to thrive if I made art that was true to me. I am a queer, Black artist of color with a story to share.”
Cuream invited Veronica Blair to this project as the Artistic Director. They both had started making short circus films over the past two years, so when the invitation came, Veronica was ready to jump right in. “Cuream’s work is honest, extremely candid and full of potential,” affirmed Blair.
I recently had a chance to chat with both of the creators and was curious to learn more about Beyond Melanin, their new production company, and what opportunities this company may bring in the future to this art form.
Cuream Jackson: Beyond Melanin is a production company geared towards providing BIPOC artists collaborative opportunities to create, connect, and share their stories. BMP is dedicated to changing the BIPOC narrative by not only bringing more circus artists together and on-screen , but also providing artists with the tools, funds, and network they need to share their vision. The Beyond Melanin project hopes to bring emerging BIPOC artists to the forefront by offering them resources and community support to simply share stories that matter, helping to diversify the BIPOC narrative for generations to come. In the future, we are hoping to produce a full show and smaller works celebrating the other artists in the BIPOC community. With an amazing community liking, sharing, and spreading the word, we will continue to produce works that enrich the community and that give BIPOC artists a chance to tell their stories the way they are meant to be told.
Andrea Honis: What was the inspiration for “Gorgeous?”
CJ: Gorgeous was inspired in part by the film Moonlight and by the lack of BIPOC circus artists on screen. In creating a film like this, we wanted to share a different narrative that showed two strong Black men being vulnerable, loving, and trusting one another, as opposed to the side that often revolves around a troubled childhood, incarceration, or drug addiction. We wanted to create a piece that celebrated joy and happiness. That showcased the beauty in being able to trust your partner and the innocent moments of discovering someone new. I think the biggest inspiration was the potential of creating something for the next generation. Showing them that it is okay to be queer, Black, vulnerable, and everything in-between because it’s not something we get to see often. The last bit of inspiration was the pleasure of getting such talented BIPOC artists in one room together to collaborate and create a piece together for us. This was the original idea that started BMP, and, really, it’s the core of the company.
AH: Veronica, you are a pioneer in the experimentation of bringing circus to the screen. Besides being the founder and producer of the Uncle Junior Project, last year in the midst of the pandemic, you surprised us with The Crown, a circus short that follows a young Black woman on her journey of self-discovery. Tell us a little bit about the challenges and the rewards of translating this live art form into such a digital format.
Veronica Blair: OH GOSH! I don’t think I’m a pioneer, but I am a big fan of experimentation… I also like to take risks. During the pandemic, I watched a lot of amazing stage shows online like Hamilton, and tons of dance and theater shows on Marquee.tv. I naturally began to think about circus and how companies in our industry should invest in filming their shows, not just for archiving them, but to make them available to wider audiences. Cirque du Soleil pioneered this back in the 90’s. I would watch their productions on BRAVO!, which at the time was one of the only cable networks showing art from around the world.
Ultimately the question became, how can we effectively combine circus and filmmaking? How can we showcase the athleticism AND the emotion of a contemporary circus performance while honoring the art form of filmmaking?
In my limited experience, the challenges have been making sure I have an adequate shot list, accepting that the editing process can be tedious and that making a film is expensive. Even low-budget ones. The rewards are that the project changes and transforms throughout the process. What you end up with may be even better then what your original concept was. I’ve learned to let go creatively.
AH: Can you relate to that at all, Cuream?
CJ: Yes. With every experiment comes its challenges or its successes. Bringing live art to film has had no shortage of the two. In one way, it’s wonderful to be able to use film and music to their full potential. Being able to capture the best version of skills and angles that highlight the best lines or the many facets of the artists is great. But being able to tell a story and build something more meaningful than just a filmed act is a challenge. Finding the key moments that define the relationship between artists while selecting the skills that drive the narrative home is a balance. Not to mention selecting the team of videographers, artistic directors, lighting designers, and musicians that make it all possible. It takes a whole crew of talents coming together and being on the same page at the same time to make it all happen. Sometimes you only have half that, and the magic still happens! But after hours or days of multiple takes, repetitive sequences, meticulous tweaks, and the occasional breakdown or two, there comes the moment where to see that first draft. At first glance, there’s gonna be a second or two of “wow, I can’t believe I didn’t point my toe,” and “Oh, we look so good.” After the initial take of how you see yourself as an artist, you start to see the piece as a whole. Then you realize what that piece as a whole means, the story to share, and how much of an impact it can have on the world around you. It’s a feeling or reward just as good as performing live.
AH: Thank you for your time and your great work. I certainly hope to see more circus on film in 2022 and more BIPOC projects from Beyond Melanin.
GORGEOUS is Beyond Melanin’s first collaborative short film.
Directed by Veronica Blair
Performers: Joshy Soul, Deon Fox and Cuream Jackson
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