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Abandoned limestone mill was inspiration behind award-winning film of movement and dance

New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities grant helps get project off and dancing

May 11, 2018

When Allen Hahn stumbled across Bloomington’s Woolery Mill in late summer 2016, he knew the beautiful, industrial, rusting structure was begging for a film to be made there.

“I find abandoned spaces have a romance to them,” said Hahn, associate professor and head of lighting design in the Indiana University Bloomington Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance. “I explored the grounds and just had to let someone know about this.”

This led him to associate professor Elizabeth Shea, “the adventurous sort” as described by Hahn. Within two weeks, the pair had visited the mill, decided to work on a film together, and successfully submitted a proposal for one of IU’s New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities grants.

“The mill was beautiful, with a lot of spaces for dancing and movement to take place,” said Shea, who is also director of IU’s Contemporary Dance program. “The grant was essential to getting the project started. Nothing could have been manufactured without the grant.”

The New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities funding program supports IU faculty in their pursuit of path-breaking and transformative scholarly creative activity or investigation. Shea and Hahn used the bulk of the $90,000 grant to hire Venture Productions, run by IU alums Andrew Lee and Ryan Newman. This allowed them to film in 4K and work with a production company that had experience filming athletes and capturing movement. 

“It’s pretty extraordinary what we were able to accomplish with the New Frontiers grant,” Hahn said. “We had access to the expertise we needed to make a high-quality film. We feel very privileged.”

The end result was “Breath | Light | Stone.” The 15-minute film was captured at Woolery Mill, which “set the stage for stone and steel and flesh and bone to become one, breathing life and beauty into decay and uncovering distant memories,” according to the film’s description.

A scene from Breath Light Stone
Another scene from Breath Light Stone

Shea and Hahn refer to this as site-specific work, meaning the choreography is unique to the place, and the location inspired the idea for the film. As part of the development and planning process, the team visited a working limestone mill to research its operations, which influenced the choreography and the story the film tells.

Earlier this year, “Breath | Light | Stone” was an official selection in the Utah Dance Film Festival and earned a number of awards, including three first-place finishes for cinematography, sound design and ensemble performance. The film made its European premiere at Exposure, a curated installation of moving art in Fermignano, Italy, and was just announced as a finalist for the Front & Main Dance Festival, Temecula 2018. Shea and Hahn are now working to schedule showings in Bloomington and Indianapolis and submit the film to additional international festivals.

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“Film is automatically international, which is different than a live performance. You’re in competition with folks from all over the world. It’s a global medium,” Shea said. “I learned a ton from this project and want to do another film or new media project; I really enjoy that. For now, though, I want to let this one sink in. We did this so fast and learned so much. I want to soak that in for now.”


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Amanda Roach

Executive Director of Media Relations & Editorial Content

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