A Woman, A Mirror (2001, 15:00, 16mm)

As its subtitle says, "A Woman, A Mirror" is a "Portrait of a Girl, Abstracted and Containing Moments of Reflection on the Relationship between Women and Air Transportation." It combines disparate elements-- images of Women in the Air Force from WWII, dance movement, a speech given by Amelia Earhart, illustrations of flight maneuvers--to explore the complex interconnections of different discourses of gendered technology.

winner Alice Guy Blaché Award for Celebration of Film, The Humboldt International Short Film Festival

about the choreographer

Sara L. Smith is an independent choreographer and teacher, who earned her M.F.A. at Sarah Lawrence College. She also has a B.A. in Fine Arts and Dance from Hampshire College. Her choreography has been performed in New York, North Carolina, and at Hollins University in Virginia.

reviews

“Essential viewing for anyone interested in true visual experimentation.”
--John Citrone, Folio Weekly

"This beautiful film intersperses Smith's sophisticated choreography of simple jumps, walks, runs, and exchanges of weight, performed by 5 young women, with ballroom dancing diagrams, air transportation charts, and images of Amelia Earhart and other women from the early days of mechanical flight. The soundtrack mixes Marlene Dietrich with the drone of prop planes, soundbites from Earhart on the role of women in aviation, and occasional sync sound sequences which allow us to hear the heavy thud of the dancers' weighted jumps.

"The film addresses gender in an elliptical, poetic manner. Undoubtedly, many more young women choose to study dance than aviation, but the film makes clear that both pursuits demand serious, committed work and the ability to gain control over the basic physics of motion. The images reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine in college, in which I asked her how her life would be different if she had been born male. "Not very different," she said, "except I might have been an animal behavior scientist instead of a choreographer." In her mind these two concerns were closely linked; indeed, in subsequent years she has become a noted choreographer whose work is inspired by bird migration patterns. Yet these two different life choices would have made enormous differences in her income, social status, and ultimately her worldview. The women in Smith's choreographic world of straight arm tilts and banking turns look like potential aviatrixes who have been piloted into the dance studio.

"Dietrich's "Falling in Love Again" creates an ironic counterpoint. Even as the diva protests her helplessness in the hands of a man, she remains an icon of crossdressing nonconformism. Midway through the film, the dancers apply lipstick and trade in their men's white shirts for pretty pink ballet practice skirts (not that their movement becomes any more balletic). Which is more transgressive, a rather butch woman in ballet clothes, or a glamorous, feminine woman in a tuxedo, or flying an airplane?

"The dance sequences are filmed in what are clearly dance studios in an academic setting, with the lighting instruments in plain view. Beebe frames the movement beautifully, creating dynamic compositions of light, space, and movement. The always static camera serves to flatten the dance sections, relating them to the dance diagrams with their faceless figures and disembodied footprints. These diagrams, by contrast, are animated with a whirling motion which effectively creates a sensation of turbulence and flight. In one highly effective sequence, Beebe superimposes images of the dancers simply walking towards and away from the camera, creating a complex and interesting visual rhythm.

...

"The ballroom diagrams, with their faceless figures of Man and Woman, are an example of an abstraction which is intended to delineate a sexual hierarchy. By contrast, the dancers, young women with baby dyke haircuts, are obviously unafraid of crossing gender boundaries, and they seem to feel a kinship with Earhart and her early attempts to literally raise the status of women. The final sequence, in which a circle of dancers cross fades into a group photo of the Women's Air Corps posed around a plane, is exemplary of this film's poetic, evocative power." --David Finkelstein, Film Threat