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Sounding Off

The Dallas Chamber Symphony's second annual Sight of Sound showcases eight short films with striking messages set to selected works of music.



published Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Photo: Danielle Deraleau/TheaterJones
Margaret Barrett composed a short piece of music that's used in the 2015 Sight of Sound Compeition, presented by Dallas Chamber Symphony

Dallas — Close your eyes, and what do you see? As high school junior Montana Brock listened to The Last Spring, stunning visuals capturing the oppressive grasp of industrialism and its effect on communities at large spoke to him. With that in mind, he began filming, creating sequences that were beautiful and spoke to his broader message.

Brock is one of eight whose silent short films made it to the final round of the second annual Sight of Sound International Film Competition, presented by Dallas Chamber Symphony. This festival asks filmmakers to create a short film that is set to a piece of music, which is played live at the festival by the symphony. Artistic director Richard McKay says that the idea had been on the proverbial drawing board since the group’s inception in 2012, and it fits right in with DCS' calling card, which has been to commission new scores for classic silent films.

“A lot of people who attend probably say that the idea is reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia,” McKay says. “People might be familiar with those old films where they take pieces of music and create visual innovations for them. But it’s really a modern twist on that old idea.”

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
Dallas Chamber Symphony Music Director Richard McKay

Two entries are from local artists: Brock, and the joint collaboration of filmmaker Courtney Ware and composer Margaret Barrett. In the event that a filmmaker wants to use a piece of music not on the symphony website, they can submit a wild card entry. Barring any licensing or copyright disagreements, the piece can be an option for the music for the film. Both Ware and Barrett fell in love with the concept immediately, and as friends, were excited to collaborate artistically.

“I absolutely love the concept,” Ware says. “My husband and I actually went to a Dallas Pops with the symphony performance of the score to Lord of the Rings, where they played the score while we watched the film. The experience was amazing. I grew up with a musical background, so to be able to meld those two avenues into one experience was really exciting. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, even on my own and when I found out that Sight of Sound existed, I was ridiculously thrilled about it.”

Barrett’s piece, which she composed in 2009, includes six sections, the first five of which are indicative of a time in her own life where she felt as though she was constantly failing artistically. The sixth is a resolution of that failure, and what she referred to as a breakthrough to success.

“It’s kind of like these five sections of tension, and one section of total catharsis and relief, and so I told her how the piece is really supposed to mirror that concept to me personally,” says Barrett, who is the executive director of new music ensemble Voices of Change. “The audience is supposed to feel this angst in five sections and the last section is either revelation or catharsis, that is that sixth section. I think Courtney really ran with that idea and made a story out of it that is all her own, so I really love the way this collaboration worked. I think the idea is by her in a sense.”

Ware took that idea, and based the film Blue Disquietude on an artist who is constantly experiencing social anxiety, as she struggles with others’ perception of her and her creative process and work.

“All the pieces I’ve written and the couple of short films I’ve done so far come out of very personal places for me as an artist,” Ware says. “It sort of made sense that this is where the story was as it was coming to fruition. I find that in my directing work when I can have that personal connection to the characters or to the story that it’s honestly a better experience for the audience. It creates characters that I think are more easily able to connect to audiences.”

Barrett noted that their collaboration process was the inverse of what is usually done, even with this festival in particular.

“I enjoyed that flipping of roles,” Barrett says. “As a musician, I think it’s a real honor to have something done to your music instead of the other way around and that’s what’s so cool about the Sight of Sound competition is its really challenging for artists to respond to music and often music responds to other artists.”

Photo: Courtesy
Filmmaker Courtney Ware

With more than 50 entries from around the world, eight made it to the festival’s final round. Several came from what McKay referred to as some of the best arts school in the country, including California Institute of Art, University of Southern California, and UCLA. A number also came from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, including Brock’s.

“The takeaway that I got from seeing the submissions myself is that it’s really incredible how many very young filmmakers already have all the tools to make some very professional compelling products,” McKay says. “It hasn’t always been the case that you could so readily make a really stunning, interesting visualization for a piece of music. That’s what’s so new and so great about this program. We received quite a few [submissions] from Booker T. and we’re very happy to have that collaboration with them, and their students are absolutely producing some really excellent work. It stands on its own, and it’s really quite impressive.”

Films can win one of two awards: Audience Choice and Best Video. Brock sees just being selected as a finalist as a big step in his budding career.

“It would extremely rewarding to have that, and to start making our mark, creating our portfolio, just becoming an artist,” Brock says. “I can be an artist at home and create something but there’s a point where it goes from arts and crafts to ‘I’m a serious artist’ and that’s going to be my career. I think an award is a good symbol of that. But just the fact that I get to be here and be in it and show other people what I’ve created is just as much an award.”

The showcase happens at 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 28 at Dallas City Performance Hall, and this year is co-presented by the Dallas Video Festival, which collaborated with Dallas Chamber Symphony for its annual festival last year. Music from the other films is by Shostakovich, Philip Glass, Grieg, Elgar and others.

Brock encourages people to attend, as he feels that, “there’s a good chance that somebody will be inspired by something and that could drive them to do something greater.” Barrett feels that the festival is a great way to spread to local audiences artistic representations of what we experience daily.

“I think collaboration in art is really exciting and this event does something no other Dallas event is doing in terms of providing live music for films,” Barrett says. “Especially when I think of Courtney’s and my film, it was created in Dallas, the music and the film, and I think that really is exciting because Dallas audiences get to experience creative people directly responding to art in their midst.”

The films that will be shown are:

  • Above the Clouds, directed by Jonathan Keijser 
  • Arvo Pärt Said, directed by Azadeh Navai and Trey Gilmore 
  • Blue Disquietude, directed by Courtney Ware 
  • Davie’s Woods, directed by Zac Titus 
  • Face Down, directed by Zoé Kraft 
  • The Fatales, directed by Aleksandra Rastovic 
  • Impetus, directed by Silvia Lara 
  • The Last Spring, directed by Montana Brock
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Sounding Off
The Dallas Chamber Symphony's second annual Sight of Sound showcases eight short films with striking messages set to selected works of music.
by Linda Smith

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