Fuel is an experimental short film that explores the complexities of our current social conditions through movement.

Suited editor-in-chief and creative director, Ashley Owens, spoke to Fuel director and co-choreographer Amy Gardner about the making of the short film.

Ashley Owens: What was the inspiration behind the project?

Amy Gardner: It all began with the desire to merge dance and film. When I say film, I mean 35mm film. Those are really my two favorite things and means of expression. I also wanted to create and direct my own project, as opposed to contribute to someone else’s idea. In terms of structure, I wanted to create an essay, a movement essay, if you will, to reflect upon current social conditions, feminism, and human nature. As the idea grew, the idea to assemble a female crew became another component to the project. What I find interesting is that in the past year feminism and the idea of women supporting women has grown so substantially. When this idea came about, it wasn’t quite as relevant as it is now.

AO: What’s made this topic more relevant now?

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AG: I wouldn’t say the topic of feminism and equal rights is anything new, however, there is an extremely prominent movement happening right now. From the Times Up campaign to the Golden Globes, this subject matter, especially in the entertainment industry, is one of the most significant topics out there. I think it is powerful that we are releasing Fuel at a time like this.

AO: What have you learned from the process and the project?

AG: I’m not even sure where to begin. I mean, I‘ve definitely learned a lot technically and am more conscious of what it takes to produce your own work. I also have a renewed understanding and perception of what it means to be a director. The discovery of this craft throughout the making of Fuel is something I am very in love with and intend on pursuing relentlessly. I also find that every creative process allows you to discover a little bit more about yourself on a pretty intimate level. Something I have always loved about being a choreographer, is that I often discover what I am trying to say throughout the creation process. My conscious mind doesn’t just decide it has something to say. I just begin, and that is what allows the subconscious to come forward. Once I have spit something out, I can then look back and start to make sense of what is actually going on inside my mind. I have found this also rolls over into filmmaking and directing. When this all began, I had no idea Fuel would turn out the way it did. For example, the third chapter, which I‘ve called “We Reap” was originally an exploration of the domesticated woman. I wanted to explore the conflict and tension between a woman’s domestic instinct and the desire to fulfill her potential in the world. When I watch this excerpt, which I eventually placed to the words of Ngalangka Nola Taylor, I realize how much this initial concept turned into something far more complex and winded up having a much more global message.

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AO: It’s interesting you’re talking about this old-school way of thinking. So there seems to be conflict and tension in your work about the historical and nostalgic relationship of being a woman in society versus now. Is that true?

AG: Yeah! I like that you use the words conflict and tension because I actually think that is present in all my work, which is definitely intentional. Conflict and tension are what make things interesting, especially with movement. “We Rise,” the first chapter of the film, revolves around five women and examines feminism. It was important for me to highlight the complexities of feminism during this creation and to question the notion that women empowering other women is straightforward. I think it is the tension and conflict in this choreography that really tell this story.

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AO: On that note, it is interesting to watch the #MeToo movement happening in real time—these two splitting narratives of women thinking some are not participating in the “right” way. A lot of the tension between women now seems to be within what they see that feminism is. Different women have different ideas of feminism and empowerment and we are watching that unfold.

AG: Absolutely. I think people’s definitions of these words like ‘feminism’ and ‘sexual harassment’ is a huge issue.  What I like to talk about, is equality in the workplace. We deserve equal pay and women should be respected and deserve the same opportunities as men. I believe that the sexual harassment issues are often a result of the hierarchy system and lack of equality within the workplace. I like to hope that these issues will become less prevalent once equality is the norm.

AO: There is something in the mindset that needs to change. Women to realize, “I don’t need this and I am worth more than this” and men to realize, “I need to treat women better and they deserve that.” I don’t think we are there yet in our society.

AG: Yeah, probably not, but it’s nice to feel the change happening. It’s funny because the choice to make Fuel a female production came about in a very light hearted manner. As I started getting my team together and the first few were females, I thought  “woah, wouldn’t it be cool if it was all women” and the realization set in that I’ve never experienced that before on a set. The film world can be a bit of a boys club, but the choice to have Fuel lead by women was not an angry revolt against men. I’ve worked with some incredible men and want to continue to do so. It felt great to get some girls together and make a film together, but at the end of the day, what matters to me is equality, not domination from one side or another.

AO: We’ve talked a lot about feminism; there are a lot of men in your film, strong men at that. There’s a lot of concepts in this film that span beyond feminism, can you tell me more about that?

AG: The piece featuring the three men is much more a reflection on human nature then it is about a specific social condition. It is about change. The hope for change or transformation is a beautiful thing, however, it can be quite idealistic and actions don’t always back up the intention—or if they do, it doesn’t always last. I think real change is hard. Whether it be personal or social, trying to do better is not a game that is simply won. The final chapter, “We Return,” is a reflection on that. In the final scene, when I watch the men crawl back into their cells and the hesitation that precedes it, I feel something very deeply. I think we’ve all crawled back to a negative habit, person or way of being in our lives. And while my intention was not to end my film on a negative note, I do think reminding ourselves of this raw truth might actually be the culprit to instigating real change.

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AO: Tell me about the piece with men and women, what’s going on there?

AG: Ah, yes, the nudity piece. This piece is entitled “We Refuge.” When you hear the term “refuge” or “refugee” you often associate the word with immigrants or people trying to escape harsh social conditions. While this element is definitely present within the context of the piece, I wanted to create a more universal expression of the word. To me, this is less about one specific race and more about a universal need for human beings to seek protection and a need to feel safe. The reason they are naked is because it illustrates human beings in their purest state. It is borderline animalistic, especially when paired with the sounds of whips. When I began developing the movement for this portion of the film, my goal was to create a human engine. I wanted each movement to indirectly initiate the movement of the next person, creating a sort of domino effect. During the second half of this excerpt, the bodies begin to crawl on top of one another in a very beautiful way. What I love so dearly about this, is that is juxtaposes the need to escape with the need to come together in order to move forward. That is the heart of this piece.

AO: So what do you want the viewer to take away?

AG: I have no idea what the viewers are going to take away from Fuel. It’s rare that you see 11-minute dance films. It is frequently incorporated into film these days, but it’s typically a quick excerpt of a cool move and then it moves on. Dance is rarely used as the backbone to storytelling and I wanted to try and showcase the narrative power of movement within a film. What I have made is an experimental art film and I don’t think everyone will necessarily like it. To be honest, I don’t really want to make work that everyone likes anyway. I wanted to create something authentic and raw, and to honor bold choices. If my work can elicit an emotional response and generate some sort of reflection, then that is great to me.

Photography JAC MARTINEZ

Directed by AMY GARDNER

Director of Photography KATELIN ARIZMENDI