BFI Future Film Festival series: Sam Arbor & Yandass Ndlovu (Dir. Sam Arbor). Source: BFI

Sam Arbor and Yandass Ndlovu’s film YANDASS.MOV (2019),  nominated for the ‘Best Experimental Film’ and ‘Best New Talent’ at the BFI Future Film Festival last month, looks at the relationship of dance and film as art forms and separate entities, and interestingly, how these expressions interplay. 

Sam and Yandass are both filmmakers and have both been on Channel 4’s Random Acts. They met for the first time to work on a film together, then pitched their ideas to 100 people. Their styles seemed starkly opposed. Sam explains his as organised and methodical; Yandass prefers to be more free flowing, relying on audience energy and improvisation. Despite this obvious difference, they managed to win a £10,000 grant by Arts Council England to produce the film. 

And so the collaboration began.

The idea for the film came from a conversation Yandass had with Sam about how she finds it difficult to dance in front of camera and there arose the question: how were they to make a dance film in front of camera if it felt so weird? 

YANDASS.MOV explores the discomfort of performing for the camera – a robotic, stiff and eerily reflective object. 

It is hard to take your eye away from this short which plunges the viewer into new spectral spaces, uncomfortable and cold with limited furnishing – except a sofa. I ask the filmmakers about this, and they seem just as interested in my reading of the sofa’s meaning. The exploration and playful nature of this film renders the sofa emblematic of Yandass’ living room, which is essential to the film, yet allows it to be irrelevant to the machinery of the piece, given that it is barely used and remains in the background.

The bare furnishings help draw our attention to Yandass herself, who dances with light moving into more intimate and private spaces outside of its illumination then directly into it, even becoming part of it. The film plays with light and allows a multitude of readings into what this light is, how the body becomes the light, the necessity of light and perhaps even what we lose in the process of illuminating. “Film is so unkind to dance, to make it cinematic you close it off with a letterbox,” Sam explains. 

Yandass agrees that her “best performances of dance have been in that living room… but as soon as I put a camera on, it suddenly makes a difference”. An inquiry into film and its own limitations and additions to art is an interesting slant to this short. Viewers watch the lens chase, stalk and dance with Yandass, and are at times left in the dark by her absence. The pervasive power of film seems tangential and reliant on light; the vulnerabilities therefore of film as a medium is interestingly played with.

The ‘difference’ in emotion that Yandass speaks of when being in front of a camera is a feeling which is visceral and gauged momentarily, however there is a definite sense of progression in the film. The lighting, scenes and ambience change in such a way throughout to suggest a three-act structure with a ‘breakthrough’ middle scene. Yandass’ dancing in and out of lights culminates at the point where she effectively becomes the light, shown by a satisfying harmony of dance and emotion and a radiant expression on Yandass’ face – a lightbulb moment. 

Sam says he “needed to avoid it being too impressionistic” – giving weight to the storyline and the structure was in fact what helped him achieve his narrative goals. Yandass says, “it’s my favourite film and production I’ve ever done but it’s not my favourite performance technically.” This opens an interesting dialogue between dance as a technical endeavour, and dance as a medium of acting in a story, and whether they can be married as styles.

The film is complimented by a journeying tune from Underworld which works incredibly with the pace of this film. The duo are currently releasing a new film which they have been working on in lockdown called ‘Let’s Go’, focusing on a group of dancers breaking into venues around Manchester. They tell me that they’re “going to keep their individual journeys going and then bring what they’ve learned back together”.

You can find out more about Sam’s work here; follow Yandass on Instagram here.