Celia Rowlson-Hall is a New York based creative who crafts enchanting, peculiar worlds and eccentric characters through film. In her latest short, the acclaimed Prom night, the filmmaker performs as the protagonist who attends a slightly unnerving interpretation of one’s high school prom – whilst the camera/viewer takes on the perspective of the character’s date. The film, which seems to develop into a form of psychological-drama, is an intriguing example of Celia’s fantastic imagination and captivating approach to filmmaking, likely influenced by the assortment of artistic disciplines and genres with which she has previously been involved.
Celia effectively combines the roles of filmmaker, dancer, choreographer, model and performer in her body of work. Her creations are characterised by a quirky, bold aesthetic style and the use of movement and dance as the principal form of expression and communication. Enchanted by Celia’s mesmerising stories and stylised worlds, I recently got in touch with the filmmaker, who is currently storyboarding her first feature, to talk about her fascinating collection of shorts and the influences and ideas which source their creation…
In your films the performers predominantly use dance, movement and body language, as opposed to dialogue, to communicate with the camera/viewer. Do you feel that visual communication through movement is more powerful and expressive than verbal communication? Is this an important aspect of your style of filmmaking or would you consider doing more dialogue-focused films in the future?
I believe that I can speak most powerfully in the language I know, and for me, that language is movement. I integrate dialogue into my films when it's important that the story be told clearly and when I'm less interested in allowing for multiple interpretations. But yes, dance is such an important aspect of my filmmaking because it’s my natural way of storytelling.
Can you see yourself working on feature films in the future? Is this something that you have already considered?
Yes that is ultimately what I want to be doing. I am currently storyboarding my first feature, hopefully shooting in September, and have an outline for the second one.
As a dancer you must have an important relationship with and understanding of music. You have choreographed music videos for both Chromeo and Sleigh Bells. How does music inspire you and affect your performance as a dancer, choreographer, actor and director? How does it enhance the film?
Music is everything. If I don't like a song, I do not want to move a muscle. I respond very emotionally to music. There are certain songs I will obsess over and listen to a thousand times – and from that repetition, so many visuals start popping up in my head. When I'm creating a film, the music is always first – the foundation for everything else. Then visuals are added, then movement, then story. Right now the song Crying over you is on repeat and it's one of the most important elements in my feature.
The imagery in your films – which often appears to be symbolic – provokes numerous interpretations. A key example is your enchanting transformation into different female icons/stereotypes in your latest short, Prom night. Do you purposely hope to produce work which seems ambiguous and open to interpretation or does each film have a clear message?
I always intend to be very clear with my message, but because I'm communicating through metaphor and movement – which is so interpretive – I can't really control the outcome. Despite those variables, I very much want to guide people on a journey, and not leave them swimming alone in the deep end.
Your work has a quirky & very distinctive aesthetic style, perhaps at times resonating the remarkable work of photographer/filmmaker Alex Prager. The imagery and colours often provoke nostalgia for ones childhood/adolescence. What inspires the stunning aesthetic style of your film work?
Thank you, that is quite the compliment! I simply create worlds that I, Celia, want to live in. They are generally colourful, hopeful, simple and empty of humans.
Your credits include working on several fashion films – what are your thoughts regarding the concept of fashion film? Do you think that this specific genre of filmmaking has influenced your own personal approach to filmmaking?
Fashion films remind me to do two things:
1. Pay attention to every aesthetic detail – the clearer the world you create, the better.
2. Story is the most important thing. The majority of fashion films don't do this because they fall into the trap that you just need pretty clothes and people. No – that's boring.
The characters you write, direct, embody are intricate and fascinating – does also being a performer give you a clearer understanding of how to create characters? Where do you take inspiration from when creating a character?
Oh yes – being a performer is so helpful because when my "director brain" is stuck, my "performer brain" turns on – and vice versa. They need each other to figure out the story and move it forward. My inspiration comes from what I'm personally interested in exploring at any given moment. Currently that's the specific hand gestures of icons of religious and devotional art – from Shiva to St. Peter.
In which role do you feel you can creatively express yourself to the fullest – as a performer, a choreographer or a director?
It really must be all three together, because that's when I'm using ALL of me. When I'm just doing one of those three things, I feel like I'm cheating, it's way too easy.
Words: Eloise Edgington