Over the next month, we at IDA will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work is represented in the DocuWeeks™ Theatrical Documentary Showcase, which runs from August 3 through August 30 in New York City and Los Angeles. We asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films—the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.
So, to launch this series of conversations, here is Tali Yankelevich, director of The Perfect Fit.
Synopsis: Ballet shoes may be worn by delicate girls, but they're crafted by big burly men whose hands tell another story.
IDA: How did you get started in non-fiction filmmaking?
Tali Yankelevich: The truth is I actually didn’t know much about documentaries when I went on to study filmmaking. I was 19 years old when I enrolled in a Media Foundation course in London where I got to try a few different audiovisual media, and I guess it became a case of natural selection. I hadn’t seen many documentaries at that age; all my reference came from fiction films. I soon realized I had really no talent for fiction. I wasn’t any good at writing or creating situations, but I did truly enjoy observing. And so I was instantly drawn to the documentary practice and its process.
IDA: What inspired you to make The Perfect Fit?
TY: I was trained in classical ballet and danced for 10 years when I was growing up, so I always wanted to make a film on the subject. I felt the right approach never came to me. So many films are made about dance and ballet and I didn’t want to make just one more.
The idea for the film came from an article I found on the Internet about a pointe shoe factory in London. Reading that article was to me a complete shock, as I had danced in pointe shoes for so long and it never occurred to me where they actually came from. I think I probably had a picture in my mind of a little shoe coming out of a machine or something like that.
I read that the shoes where completely handmade, from beginning to end, that they were made of paper and glue, and that a shoemaker would glue layer after layer together to make the shoe hard enough to support the feet of a dancer. And each principle dancer had her one shoemaker who would craft her handmade shoes for her whole career. At the end of the article I remember reading a quote from one of the cobblers, who said, "The dancer should feel the soul of the shoemaker in the shoes." I then knew there was a film here, and I guess because of my experience with dance this felt really moving. To me the shoes were like an instrument of torture and caused me so much pain, but it was a contradiction as I loved dancing. So in this moment I could see that there was a story to be told between those two worlds.
I also thought the idea of this mysterious kind of bond between the dancer and the maker was so interesting and very cinematic even. I completely fell in love with the idea of a story, which could explore the parallelism of the lives of those two characters. So this became my door back into ballet and to making The Perfect Fit.
IDA: How did you get in touch with Denise The Dancer and Patrick The Shoemaker?
TY: I met Denise through a place in Edinburgh called Dance Base. I was looking for professional dancers and one of their teachers put me in contact with her. Denise is a very successful and experienced dancer who had been dancing all her life—she started her career in professional ballet companies at a very early age. I was particularly interested in those early years. On one of our first meetings she told me stories about her transition from being a student to becoming a professional dancer that were extremely moving. Much of the voice-over in the film was recorded in one of those early meetings. It is a very complex universe, the ballet, and Denise verbalized it in quite a memorable way.
With Patrick it was quite a different encounter. I met him during my first visit to Freed of London, the ballet shoe factory. I went there to shot some footage for a trailer. I was there with a friend and we had a limited time at the factory as it was quite a busy season for them. We were given a tour around the factory and I can say we were completely overwhelmed with what we saw. Everything there was just so visual and full of character. The workers there also were so warm and extremely friendly. I can remember every second of that visit so well; everywhere I looked was just filled with incredible details. I could have spent hours and hours there filming and not wanting to go home.
While we had a walk around, one of the shoemakers really grabbed my attention. This was Patrick. Can we say 'love at first sight' about a documentary character? This is how I felt. There was an incredible energy in the way he worked and made his shoes that was hypnotizing to watch. He almost looked like he was dancing—there was a rhythm and a fascinating synchronization in his movements and how he worked. His face was also so full of expression. We were observing how he worked and he spontaneously started talking to my friend and I. We filmed I think a conversation of around 20 min which was also so strong that at the end much of the film is built around this conversation.
IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the production process?
TY: My original vision for the film was to work with a dancer at the start of her career. When young dancers enter companies, this is time when they start looking for the perfect shoe for them [and start to have them] custom made. So I though it would be an interesting moment to capture in relation to the shoe making world too. I was interested in establishing a strong direct relationship between the cobbler and a dancer. However, this was really impossible in terms of production. I had very limited time, therefore it just wasn’t possible to get permission to film in a ballet company.
But at the end it all worked out really well. Denise wasn’t dancing in a company at the time we met but there was a strong emotional journey in how she remembered and talked about the early years of her career. So it really ended up being 'a perfect fit' alongside Patrick’s story.
IDA: What documentaries or documentary filmmakers have inspired you?
TY: So many! [It] would be difficult to name them all. But I guess I can name two masters, whose films I feel I will never stop learning from. Sergei Dvortsevoy and Victor Kossakovsky are two filmmakers I truly admire. There is an incredible depth to every single moment in their films, to me they are able to explore something quite unique in their filmmaking; every shot has a life of its own that even transcends the narrative. There is a fascinating energy to the way they film their subjects. Their work carries so much poetry and an incredible sense of humanity.
IDA: What do you hope to get out of your participation in DocuWeeks?
TY: Well, I have to say this is an extraordinary event for me. When I finished this film I never in a million years imagined it would travel so much, and that it would be seen by so many people. Getting a week[long] theatrical release is something that probably won’t happen many times in the course of my career. I feel extremely lucky to have a short film screening at DocuWeeks. I currently reside in Brazil so I wont be in NYC, but I really hope that audiences enjoy the film, and that hopefully it will present them with a take into the ballet universe that they haven’t seen before.
The Perfect Fit will be screening August 3 through 9 at the IFC Center in New York City.
To purchase tickets for The Perfect Fit and the rest of the films in the DocuWeeks New York Shorts Program for Week 1, click here.