FILM – Night Dancing Director Barney Cokeliss “Night Dancing was shot in just one, very long day”

Director Barney Cokeliss beautiful and evocative film Night Dancing was selected to World Premiere at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival and will have its UK premiere at the forthcoming 2018 the British Short Film Festival. The film stars Jason Thorpe (Fast and Furious 6), Louise Tanoto (Tom Dale Company), Jacob Ingram-Dodd (Punchdrunk) and Alister Cameron (Foyle’s War).

Every night, Bob is transfixed by the vision of a woman dancing outside his window; every morning, he struggles to make sense of it. The line between a leap (of faith) and a pas de deux grows increasingly fine as the dance beckons.

London-based Barney Cokeliss is a multi-award winning commercials director. His short films have won multiple awards and played at festivals including Sundance, Venice, Palm Springs and Edinburgh. His most recent short prior to ‘Night Dancing, the 3D stereoscopic film ‘The Foundling’ won the prestigious Lumière Award – the premiere award for 3D film-making.

The talented international crew shot the film in Bucharest. The colourist Jean-Clément Soret has worked on hits like ‘Steve Jobs’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, ‘Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom’, the Danish DoP Philippe Kress trained at the National Film and Television School and has shot twelve Danish feature films and the recent ‘King Charles III’ for the BBC. Italian editor, Marco Perez’s credits include the award-winning documentary feature ‘Uncertain’, and ‘The Driver’ directed by Michael Pitt and the Finnish composer Anné Kulonen’s work includes the score for the award-winning 3D film ‘The Foundling’ produced by Ridley Scott Associates.

What sparked the initial idea for night dancing?

The film came to me first as an image – a woman dancing alone at night in the street, watched from a window by a man.  As I unfolded the story that this image contained, it turned out to involve several things that I’ve been fascinated by for a long time: loneliness and longing, states where you’re uncertain what’s real, dance and physical performance in general, nocturnal stories.  Of course, it’s no coincidence that all that was in there – so I think letting a story come to you first as just an image is a great way to let your unconscious do lots of work for you before you put pen to paper!  I’m hoping I can repeat the trick!

What attracted you to pick Louise Tanoto for the leading lady?

Louise is a great dancer, of course, and a creative choreographer of her own movement.  But on top of that, she has mystery and composure that suited the story brilliantly.

She and Jacob are a real couple and I think their intimacy with one another – both personally and in terms of their long backstory of working together as dancers – was a real asset to the film.

Night Dancing was selected to world premiere at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival and will have its UK premiere at the forthcoming 2018 the British Short Film Festival. Are you happy with the response that this film has received so far?

It’s been fantastic to have the film selected for so many festivals, big and small.  It was a huge honour that Kathleen McInnis chose the film to screen on the opening night of TIFF, in one of the festival’s biggest venues.  At the same time, it was really gratifying to get a message that ‘Night Dancing’ was the only short shown at the International Mental Health Film Festival to receive a spontaneous ovation. So there’s a great pleasure in seeing ’Night Dancing’ connect with the audience wherever it goes.  The film also played at the prestigious Aspen ShortsFest, for example, and also at Figari, on the beach in Sardinia, where they only just managed to get the screening done before the screen blew away in the wind.

Were there any challenges you encountered while making this film? And if you did, how did you overcome them?

The schedule was certainly tight!  Night Dancing was shot in just one, very long day.  And with much less rehearsal time than you’d think.  We shot in Romania, so our UK and Belgium-based cast flew out just before the shoot – it’s a testament to their talent that the film has so much emotional depth.

What do you hope people take away from this movie?

Making ‘Night Dancing’ has really helped me distill what it is I want to focus on in my film-making, and that’s to move the audience emotionally. All the artistic and technical choices that go into making a film become so much simpler when you focus on that.  That’s what it’s all about for me.

As for what the audience might take away – ultimately, I think, I’d want them to feel that, whatever it is that they themselves might be going through in their own lives, they’re not the only ones struggling.  But it’s more a feeling I’d want them to leave with, rather than a thought.  There’s a mixture of uplift and sadness at the end, I think.

Jason Thorpe never fails to deliver the different emotions of confusion, love and obsession. What about him drew you to him and made you conclude that he had to be in this film?

Jason brings such humanity to what he does.  He finds the weight and meaning in even the tiniest moment of performance.  He’s the kind of actor any writer would want to bring their work to life, as he can take a line of dialogue or an action and somehow find a whole sequence of beats in it, without ever seeming forced or self-conscious. He can do more with a slight hesitation between words than some actors can do with a whole speech.  He’s really extraordinary and I’m so glad his work in this piece has been getting attention.  You’d never think that most of his work up to now has been comic, would you?  He’s an amazing comic actor.  But, then, a lot of what makes comedy work is the humanity in it, and Jason has that in spades.

Out of these 3 words (love, confusion, delusion) which word describes the emotion best in this film?

The emotion of the main character is, I suppose, what he believes is love – or longing, at least.  We – the audience – know that there’s delusion involved.  And so does Jason’s character, though he doesn’t dwell on it.  I think if you’re in a state like that it starts to feel normal – the things you’re not sure of, even if they would be obvious or fundamental to most people most of the time (like who is real and who is a figment of your imagination) start to be familiar unknowns.  And so Jason’s character is focussed on what he longs for and how alone he feels without it.  If not love, exactly, then it’s connection and acknowledgment.

What projects are up next for you?

Right now, I’m in development (as writer/director) on a couple of features I’m very excited about.  And I’m making a little nocturnal piece with Leica, the famous camera company – that’s a dream brief for someone who finds the nighttime as evocative as I do.

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