Dances Made to Order

Dance, film and chickens: An Interview with filmmaker, Cari Ann Shim Sham

7/12/2012 by Kingsley Irons | Comment

Image by Kyle Ruddick

1.Your film, “Chicken Boy” just premiered at ADF. Congrats! Can you tell us a little bit about this new film and what inspired it?

Chicken boy is a modern day metaphor for the journey of the lonely self to find peace with one’s identity. The film references many famous dance film moments from a span of over 60 years and includes a live accordion player, a masked “Anonymous” man and 4 dancing chickens.

This film is my second joyous collaboration with the fabulous Choreographer Jia Wu. She approached me with an evening length piece that she wanted to make a film out of. I watched the piece and when I happened upon 4 dancing chickens, I was immediately charmed. I was also taken by the dancing of Jerry Lin, whose solo became the heart of the narrative and the metaphor for his lead character. There was a duet between Jerry and Hailey which had a very combative nature, which I was drawn to for the purpose of conflict and tension, a necessity in narrative film.

Jia graciously flew me up to San Francisco for a location scout and we sat in a coffee shop and hashed out a narrative for the film and developed our characters. We knew that we wanted to show the journey of Jerry Lin’s character, the lonely lost boy, and we built a cast around him to give depth to his plight. I was interested in showcasing Jia’s choreography in a surreal world with a subversive narrative achieved through character and space. So we chose the rolling hills of St. Mary’s which allowed for clean horizon lines and we cast the film with a masked man, a red headed accordion player and 4 dancing chickens. I also secretly wanted to poke a bit of fun at dance film and contemporary dance while referencing famous moments from dance films from the brief history of the form. So Chicken Boy is my wild child, who shows up at the party and says, ‘Hey, why’s everyone so serious? I can be serious too, but it’s more fun to get crazy and dance!

2. What is your curatorial philosophy as the dance film programmer for the upcoming Topanga Film Festival? What do we have to look forward to?

The Dance Film Showcase, in it’s third year, strives to present visually engaging, viscerally invigorating and sensory stimulating work. I desire to take my audience on a ride of sensations and emotions so they can see and feel the joy of dance and film at its best. When selecting films I search for work that clearly tells a story, has striking imagery, and gives the viewer strong physical sensations. This year the showcase has 1 world premier, Dance Elephant Dance, the West Coast Premier of Chicken Boy and 4 screen premiers. The program features an incredibly diverse group of local and international dance films including the winner of 60 seconds dance competition and films from Dances Made to Order covering a wide range of genres including comedy, mystical, surreal, drama and dream. We have a beautifully animated film, that I can’t wait to see on the big screen, Ballet of Unhatched Chicks by a Korean filmmaker, Shaun Kim, who just received his degree from USC. We have a gorgeous film, Gone from Melinda Sullivan which I’m so happy to include that features sand dancing and utilizes rhythm in a unique way. Nadia Oussenko’s film, Dance of the Queer Tide Faeries will screen representing Dances Made to Order. We will have almost all of the filmmakers in attendance which to me is the best part of the festival as anyone who comes can interact with the people who made the films that they are watching. The program will be 1 hour long, followed by an after party for audience and filmmakers to mingle.

Filmmakers in attendance: Robert Amjarv, Henrik Jakobsson, Shaun Seong-young Kim, Lionel Popkin, Holly Rothschild, Melinda Sulivan, Jeremy Jackson, Steve Zee, Cari Ann Shim Sham* and Kingsley Irons of Dances Made to Order.

 3. Who/what are some of your artistic influences?


bird calls, waterfalls, mushrooms, the Grand Canyon, animals, dance, music, the ocean


Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali, Pina Bausch, David Lynch, Tori Amos, ee cummings, Maya Deren, Michel Gondry, Sylvia Plath, Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Jimi Hendrix, Surrealism, Asian Pop Art

 4.Reality notwithstanding, what is the dream film you would like to make?

Every film I make is a dream, and it’s a dream come true every time I make a film. I am happily in the depths of my first feature film right now, “Changing Lulu’s Sheets” and she is my new darling. She’s gonna be a good one, and I’m definitely working on incorporating the magic of dance film and the glory of a choreographed camera into her depths. I can’t wait to see her shine…but right now, she’s still learning to walk in heels.

 5.Any advice for emerging dance filmmakers?

Watch movies. Study cinema. Take a class. Pay attention to your dreams. Listen close to the rhythms in our daily lives. Talk to the people who’s art you admire.

6.Please tell us about some of your favorite things that you can’t live without…

I think the only thing I can’t imagine living without is the ability to dance.

Chicken Boy Trailer from Cari Ann Shim Sham* on Vimeo.

A still from, “Chicken Boy.” Image by Kyle Ruddick

“Chicken Boy” will screen at the dance showcase at the Topanga film festival on Friday, July 27 at 8:30 p.m. Get your tickets here