Spontaneity, Dance and Filmmaking: A Conversation with Izabel Barsive
by Chelsea Churchill
Throughout her career, independent producer, filmmaker, camera person, and editor Izabel Barsive has shown stunning diversity. She began her career as a filmmaker after spontaneously entering and winning a contest for new francophone filmmakers, sponsored by Francophone Television (TFO). Barsive now runs her own company, Barsive Productions, a successful company based in Ottawa that offers bilingual services in video productions from pre-production to final delivery. Barsive Productions specializes in many different types of projects: corporate (promotional, educational, information), documentary, “screendance,” live performance documentation, short fiction, podcasts and more. Without any formal training in filmmaking, Barsive developed her skills through her own persevering spirit and hard work, something she gained experience in while working as a freelance reporter for the CBC (Radio-Canada). “I learned how to tell a story as a reporter and I used to do a lot of long radio reports. I was one of the first ones doing a lot of digital editing for the radio, and I did it by myself, not with a technician,” says Barsive. With her background in photography, sound editing and reporting (she also went to school for Journalism), Barsive combined these talents together to make her transition into filmmaking.
A recurring subject in Barsive’s films has been the art of dance. Her experience with contact improvisation, a postmodern dance movement in which an emphasis is placed on points of physical contact, led to her interest and ultimate specialization in the movement of dance on film. The filmmaker enjoys the opportunity to show dance in her own personal way. “When you see dance onstage, it’s your vision from your seat, but if you have a filmmaker between you and the choreographer, the filmmaker will transform the vision of the dance. You are the intermediate between the public and the choreographer, and you express your own vision as a filmmaker.” Another element that she enjoys is the freedom of expression involved in dance. “I like it because there are no limits. When you produce fiction, you never know how the public will receive it, and people have a lot of judgment on fiction. But with dance, because there is no specific reference, it’s totally open to experimentation and totally open to any style of filming.”
Barsive’s inspiration comes from watching different dancers and observing how they move. She appreciates performers who can improvise and create as they go along, something that she hopes to incorporate more of into her own filmmaking. “I am interested first of all in working with dancers and choreographers ready to improvise in front of the camera and I will improvise too. I usually do a storyboard, a structure of where I want to put the camera, but now I want to go with experimentation in the moment, rather than to be ready and prepared and knowing exactly what will be the film at the end. So my next step will be more like that, more experimental with the dance and as a filmmaker.”
Barsive is currently promoting her latest “screendance” Patsy on the festival circuit. Patsy explores one woman’s journey of dealing with age and alcoholism through the medium of dance. In Patsy, Barsive highlights the importance of colour within the medium of motion pictures. She insists that it is not enough for filmmakers to choose their colours, they must have reasons for their choices. “Something I didn’t realize when I did the colour grading of Patsy is that it was not the technical knowledge [that mattered], it was the artistic decision[s] to make for colouring your film. What kind of mood do you want to give the image, and why? What is my intention? As an artist I need to justify my decision. I wanted to be sure that the public, through my colour, will understand some meaning of the emotions. The colourization is the meaning of your artistic vision, not just where you place your camera, or [the] music you use.”
Barsive is also doing research trough her Master’s thesis on the concept of screendance.
While Barsive’s filmmaking has taken her all over Canada, she still enjoys the filmmaking scene in Ottawa due to its collaborative atmosphere. In her opinion, the generosity and kindness of the artistic community in Ottawa is what makes it so distinctive. “I find the artistic community in Ottawa very humble. People are not playing the big star in Ottawa, we know each other and we help each other. I like the courage of people starting different series of screenings, and the contests that people organize, like Digi60 (Ottawa Digital Film Festival). I think it’s very dynamic for young people and beginners.” Part of this artistic scene includes companies such as SAW Video, which she calls a staple of the community and an invaluable resource. She has taught many different workshops at SAW including Video Production, HD Camera Clinic, Grant Writing (in French), and has also been a mentor for the Jumpstart program. As a part-time professor at the University of Ottawa and Saint-Paul University in video production classes and other courses, she also uses SAW Video as a means to show her students’ work outside the confines of the classroom. “The community needs SAW Video. It’s very important for me to make a connection between my classes and SAW Video. I do a screening of works from my classroom here... This way they are in contact with Club SAW, SAW Video [and] SAW Gallery, and they are not just students, they are artists presenting their work to a public.”
Another artistic organization that is important to Barsive is the Front des Realisateurs Independants du Canada. They are a group of francophone directors from across Canada, dedicated to representing their members on the political and cultural scene in Canada. Barsive gave two presentations at this year’s conference in Ottawa and is proud of its legacy for francophone directors. “I [have been] a member of this association since 2004. I was one of the first ones on the board of directors of this association. As a member you can receive information, services, training [and] grants, in order to develop your professional career as a francophone filmmaker outside Quebec.”
At the end of the day, for Barsive, filmmaking is first and foremost an art form, and an individual must have the right qualities already ingrained. “You need to be organized, you need to be able to anticipate, [and] you need to have very good problem-solving skills. You need to be a leader… because you have to direct a team. In my opinion, you need some knowledge, but you also need to develop or to have, at the beginning, a specific personality to be a filmmaker… and artistic vision, of course.” When asked what advice she would give to emerging filmmakers, Barsive encourages taking chances. “Go and jump. Get dirty, make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
For more information on Izabel Barsive, you can access her website here: