Swivel, a film by Lois Norman, leaves a lasting and though-provoking impression. It combines powerful dance, beautiful photography and an emotional sonic space. We caught up with Lois to talk about trust, honesty, intimacy and the inspiration of artistic bravery
D&CFilm: Was dance the first place you went to when thinking of Swivel and where did the idea come from for the film and how did it develop?
Lois Norman: Like a lot of creative artists, I have always had thoughts and ideas gestating. Swivel had been in my mind for a long time. When I saw the dancers Iron&Sparks work, I knew that I had found the ‘vehicle’ to express through the body, the concepts around vulnerability and self-acceptance that words could not. I then slowly started to seek out whose work might fit to express this cinematically and saw Teryl Brouillette’s show reel and there was something about a dance work she captured that made me want to approach her: I was lucky she was really interested in the concept and said yes. The sound design came last after we had edited the visual and worked to complement the melody of the cello score and I was lucky enough to convince Jemma Cholawo to explore that sonic space with me.
D&CFilm: Swivel is beautifully shot, powerfully performed, with a strong soundtrack – how did you bring these elements together, and had you worked with any of the people before?
Lois Norman: To ignite and sustain the flow of the film, required me placing all the separate elements together to create a continuous journey. When to be out of flow was also important. I spent a lot of detailed time with every artist concerned supporting their individual skills, so that each component created its rhythm. I then locked myself in a room for two weeks and pulled it all together sequentially before committing to the technical edit with Teryl.
I had not worked with anyone in the team before. I slowly sought out these very talented team of artists, matching their specific skills and talents to the work. The song ‘Cello song for Charlie’ was the first thing I had. I heard it over 20 years ago and was trying to find a place for it. I was extraordinarily lucky in Helen Mountfort supporting the film with the song.
D&CFilm: What are the challenges of directing dance and how does that differ from your other films?
Lois Norman: I think every creative project has its own specific challenges. For Swivel I suppose it was starting with a concept rather than music, or dance steps as such. I have quite an experimental style so I was very fortunate to have Henri and Rachel as the performers, as they are technical and conceptual and instinctive – very rare qualities to have all together. I have studied dance as part of my Performing Arts degree and had worked on an experimental short before with dancer Bettina Carpi, so understand the aesthetic and have enormous respect for the dancers.
D&CFilm: How important is it to create rapport and trust in your films with the people you work with – and do you think that transfers to the viewer/ audience?
Lois Norman: Trust is at the heart of every relationship we have and filmmaking is no different. I trained in Russia as part of my MA in Theatre Directing and they believe the first year for directors they should act so they understand exactly what being vulnerable feels like! I was an actor for many years so I understand the risk you are asking performers to take and how important trust is.
For me, you create the emotion you want the audience to experience and a feeling of trust and ‘being held’ is one that has been expressed by them.
D&CFilm: You were in theatre for 30 years before going into film. Creatively, what did you bring with you from theatre to film and how would you compare and contrast the two?
Lois Norman: I think I bring storytelling, depth of character and resourcefulness from theatre…and casting! The reason I moved from theatre to film is that I wanted the intimacy that the camera brings and also the depth and range of expression in the visual narrative.
D&CFilm: What’s the role of the artist/ filmmaker in society?
Lois Norman: To question the unquestioned: personal and societal, to say the unsayable, to articulate complex ideas in an accessible way and for me, to heal.
D&CFilm: What themes run through your work?
Lois Norman: The potency of Female Artists and having the bravery (for all of us) to be vulnerable and all of who you are.
D&CFilm: Where do you get your character, narrative and visual cues – what inspires you?
Lois Norman: Character and narrative dictate the style of the visual expression. It has to be something you simply HAVE TO EXPRESS. Bravery inspires me in any art form: those who risk excite me!
D&CFilm: What’s been your favourite reaction to your work and what makes you smile about it?
Lois Norman: Men and women have cried which means it connects and some have not been able to stop thinking about it which means it runs deep… also people are asking what ‘gender neutral’ means and are getting excited that they don’t have to fall into a specific ‘role’!
I have a very soft smile whenever I see an emotional risk in the choreography and in Henri and Rachel as artists as their bravery is moving… also the first sound of the bow on the cello melts me every time.
D&CFilm: She is Juiced was your first feature and really successful. What can you tell us about it. And do you have another feature in the pipeline?
Lois Norman: She is Juiced is a creative documentary that looks at the worlds and work of four Queer Female Artists Jo Hay, Ope Lori, Peta Lily and Sarah Jane Moon. It’s a film I had to make and I’m so glad I did as these women really inspire me (and many others) and the film has both been seen and won awards globally. It’s very honest and shows the power of art: painting, photography, film and words, to express hard truths and exciting and risk-taking ideas.
I’ve got a number of projects in the pipeline: one with a fellow female Devon filmmaker which I am very excited about! I will be looking for various Devon and Cornwall artists for that one, so stay tuned! It’s very exciting that the West Country film industry really does seem to be making its mark at the moment and finally being noticed!
D&CFilm: Where can we keep up-to-date with your work?