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SOCIAL SKILLS a film by HENRY HILLS. 2021. Austria/Belgium. 12 min. An electric account of a sixty-day workshop exploring the liberating feeling of dancing.

This film screened exclusively for a week and is currently not available online.

This month, we’re showing a series of dance films that celebrate the magic of motion.

 

Mixing the experimental artist Henry Hills’ rhythmic style of filmmaking with Venezuelan choreographer David Zambrano’s lively flair for improvisation, Social Skills is a shape-shifting delight. Made on the occasion of Zambrano’s sixtieth birthday, this electric short follows sixty dancers over the course of two weeks at the Tictac Art Centre in Brussels, where they practice a series of improvisational set-ups.

 

Two minutes into this audio-visual extravaganza, Hills includes a sound-bite from Zambrano talking about dance and “the fantastic intelligence of touching people.” In breathless fashion, he goes “we bring people with us, we go under people, over people, we converse through each other, with each other…” His breakneck speech corresponds with the film’s mutability, which switches up its soundtrack and visual focus in response to different dancers’ unique gestures.

 

 

“The ‘guiding logic’ in all of my films is spending a long time intimately learning the subtle nuances of the material I have shot, looking at it over and over, trying to recall what was going on in my head as I gathered it, and then assembling it in an improvisational manner, but with improvisation upon improvisation over an extended period of time, whittling the material almost microscopically until the rhythms are comfortable to my body and mind, my personal rhythms.” HENRY HILLS

 

Social Skills’ anarchic blend of musical excerpts is complemented by electric harp improvisations by the composer Zeena Parkins. Alongside Hills’ frenetic montage, these disparate sounds imbue his images with a hypnotic quality. As the distinguished experimental film critic Michael Sicinski once put it, “Hills is such a form-buster that watching his films inevitably prompts a momentary disquieting thought: what’s it like inside this guy’s head?”

 

Henry Hills was born in Atlanta, Georgia. In the late ’70s, he edited the West Coast Film Journal Cinemanews. During the 1980s he made a series of films featuring artists from the developing “L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E” poetry, post-Judson dance, and downtown improv music scenes, including Money (1985), which is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Throughout the 1990s, he worked as an editor on projects such as Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard (1996), music videos for the likes of John Zorn and the Kronos Quartet, and in 2001 In the Mirror of Maya Deren by Austrian documentarian Martina Kudláček, who he later married. In 2005, he became a Visiting Professor at the film academy FAMU in Prague and in 2009, he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in the Creative Arts. He is currently working on Commute, a film that will pair over a decade’s worth of footage from his commute between Vienna and Prague with train-related music—from Charles Ives to Duke Ellington to The Buzzcocks. In late Spring this year, the Cinémathèque québécoise will present a two-program retrospective of his films.

 

Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.