INTERVIEW WITH DANI KRISTINA

Singer-songwriter Dani Kristina (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

Singer-songwriter Dani Kristina (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

By Anita Malhotra

Twenty-year-old Toronto-based singer-songwriter Dani Kristina wrote her first composition when she was only five years old, her first break-up song when she was six, and since then has written more than 600 songs in a variety of genres and released several music videos.  

In October, she released her first EP, Aura, which features her soulful and powerful voice in five evocative songs chronicling her inner conflicts and journey as an artist. The EP was co-produced by Grammy nominated producer Trevor James Anderson, who also produced her 2019 debut single, “I Wanna Belong.”  

Anita Malhotra spoke with Dani Kristina about her music via Zoom on December 21, 2020.  

AM: How did you get started in music? 

DK: I started playing piano and writing music at the age of five because my sister started taking piano lessons and I always looked up to her. And just as I started, there was this competition for compositions in my music school. I ended up writing my first composition at five and winning the competition, which was really good for my self-esteem.  

Dani Kristina at the age of 6 (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

Dani Kristina at the age of 6 (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

Since then, I started adding lyrics to songs, and eventually singing without any formal training. By the time I got to age 12, 13, I started taking professional vocal lessons to refine my technique. And I took 15 years of piano.  So it all started with wanting to be like my sister. Eventually we performed together, and to this day she’s my go-to when I’m producing or singing. 

AM: Can you tell me about that first composition? 

DK: It was an abstract piano piece called “Thunder and Rain.” It was taking advantage of the spectrum of the piano, with the low end being the thunder and the high end being rain.  

Dani Kristina at Noble Street Studios in Toronto (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

Dani Kristina at Noble Street Studios in Toronto (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

AM: Are you parents musical too? 

DK: My dad is, and my mom’s quite artistic as well. They’re both dancers. My mom’s an artist so she paints and draws, and she also took piano lessons. And my dad actually won a national music festival back in the day.

Dani Kristina (second from right) with her sister (second from left) and parents (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

Dani Kristina (second from right) with her sister (second from left) and parents (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

So they were both really pushing us to express ourselves artistically, and they’ve always been really supportive of doing music as a career. 

AM: How old were you when you wrote your first song with words? 

DK: I was six. 

AM: What was that song about? 

DK: Funnily enough, it was a break-up song. I read a lot of books when I was young and I listened to a lot of music because my family always had music on in the background. I recorded it professionally when I was about seven and it was released when I was 10.

It’s called “One Day” and it’s exactly what you’d expect from a breakup song. As a six-year-old I knew nothing about relationships, but at a young age I was really fascinated by this idea of writing stories about people who I didn’t know.  

Dani Kristina recording a song at the age of 7 (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

Dani Kristina recording a song at the age of 7 (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

AM: How did your songwriting develop over the years? 

DK: I always like challenging myself, so I went through a phase where I would write songs only in the key of C. Sometimes I’d write only rock songs, sometimes only jazz, sometimes pop. I did a bit of poetry, spoken word. 

Now my songs have become a bit more mature. I like exploring different kinds of themes in my writing. So, in one phase I was fascinated with this idea of death and loss, which sounds morbid, but I looked for the nuances of that.

And right now I’m in this nuanced area of relationships. It’s not just two people who lose each other – it’s that grey area where people aren’t all good or all bad. So that’s how it’s evolved – very much in this kind of storytelling manner. 

Image from Dani Kristina's EP "Aura" (artwork by Deadlight Films)

Image from Dani Kristina’s EP “Aura” (artwork by Deadlight Films)

AM: Can you tell me a little bit about your debut EP, Aura

DK: I like to think about Aura as a kind of story. I went about choosing the songs based on which ones I liked when I was first going into the studio, and then my sister did the production for most of them. 

I wanted to tell the story of this character who’s seemingly living this perfect life, but there are a lot of power dynamics at play that are affecting their ability to make their own choices. And eventually everything kind of falls apart and everyone is casting some kind of judgement. And then this journey to self-acceptance – realizing you can make your own choices.

Image from "Burning Parachute" by Dani Kristina (artwork by Anthony Lau)

Image from “Burning Parachute” by Dani Kristina (artwork by Anthony Lau)

And then it’s metaphorical in a lot of ways. “Burning Parachute” is a song about being hung dry, but it uses fire imagery. And in the “You Don’t get to Choose” music video, there’s a lot of water imagery. I really like playing around with these contrasting parallels. 

AM: Most of these songs are accompanied by music videos. What is the process of making a music video like? 

DK: I usually go in with a rough concept, but when I’m working with other people who are creative, I don’t like limiting them. I really believe in collaboration. For example, for “Burning Parachute” all I told them was, “I want fire.” And they said, “We were thinking of going to a field, and throwing stuff in a fire, and burning a guitar” and I said, “Yeah, that sounds cool.” I think when someone’s really passionate about something, it’s important to give them a creative voice – otherwise the end product can be a bit dry.

Then, the day of the music video is usually a very long day. “Burning Parachute” was almost 20 hours. It was filmed in February at minus 17 but we decided we wanted to do this. We just played the track in the background, did a bunch of takes, and then it went on to production.  

AM: Can you tell me a bit about another of the songs on Aura, “Drift Away”?  

DK: I actually wrote “Drift Away” in the Spotify Secret Genius Studio in Toronto with the producer on that track, Trevor James Anderson. He worked with me on my first single and then I got a call from him asking me to come to the studio. I went in, and he had this song that he’d been working on for quite a while but had never quite finished.

It was such an honour to be asked to even collaborate with him on this. We wrote out the song – laid down the vocals that night – and we never revisited it. That song was recorded, written and everything all in one night. It was definitely a super cool experience to work with someone who has so much knowledge in the industry and who has worked with so many incredible artists like 5 Seconds of Summer and Andrea Bocelli.  

AM: When writing your songs, how do you choose the genre of music to work in? 

A still from the song "Burning Parachute" by Dani Kristina (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

Dani Kristina at Noble Street Studios (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

DK:  I actually started off writing my EP keeping this kind of country-roots-folk sound in mind, but that’s nothing of what came out. I don’t tie myself to a genre because I don’t want to limit myself when I’m in the studio.

If there’s a really cool trap drum that’s going to show up I’m like, “Yeah let’s put it in. Why not?” Same with a banjo. On “See You” there’s this really intense hip-hop drum and vocoder paired with a banjo.  

I don’t necessarily write my songs in the style that they are released in. A lot of times it’s just piano and voice, so it’s way slower than it’s heard, for example, on the EP.

And then I’m like, “Okay, if this is going to be a single, I want people to be able to drive along to it.” So a lot of thought goes into how people are going to be listening to it, and that’s how I build things around it.  

AM: What are some of the challenges of building a career as a singer/songwriter? 

Image from Dani Kristina's EP "Aura" (artwork by Deadlight Films)

Image from Dani Kristina’s EP “Aura” (artwork by Deadlight Films)

DK: The biggest thing is putting yourself out there. It’s really, really hard to be so vulnerable. That’s why I go to songs of storytelling very often in my music, because I have this fear of exposing myself to everyone  – that’s my life I’m putting out there for everyone to comment on, whether it be a video or a song.

But through the creation of this EP and working on music videos I’ve decided that it’s worth opening up to see even a glimmer of positivity from other people and see other people resonate.

For example, with “You Don’t Get to Choose,” I got so many personal messages from people telling me how much that song means to them. So I’m definitely making it my goal for my new releases to let myself open up a bit more. 

AM: Over the years, what have you learned about songwriting that you didn’t know at the beginning? 

DK: What I’ve noticed the most is that the beauty is in the details. When I used to write music I would be very broad. For example, I’d write, “I was sitting in my room and I was sad.” But now I’m more like, “I was sitting in my room on the white sheets looking through the window at the cityscape feeling sad.”

Adding those extra details helps people imagine themselves in your situation, and I think being a good songwriter is being able to make other people feel what you’re feeling.  

AM: Is there a trick to writing a good hook for a song? 

DK: I don’t necessarily follow a formula when I do this. For me it just comes to me, and if the song sticks with, let’s say my mom and I hear her singing it in the kitchen the next day, I know that song is good.

But I’d say you have to employ certain mechanisms like repetition, but still adding enough variation so that it’s interesting, as well as sometimes simplifying it. A lot of times a catchy hook. If you think of “Livin’ on a Prayer,” there’s nothing really to it, but you keep singing it over and over again because anyone can sing it. So if it’s singable to an audience of non-singers, a lot of the time that’s a hook that will stick.  

Image from "Aura" by Dani Kristina (artwork by Deadlight Films)

Image from “Aura” by Dani Kristina (artwork by Deadlight Films)

AM: What is your typical week like? 

DK: My life is extremely hectic. I usually work four to five jobs regularly. They’re freelance jobs, so I’m a contract worker. I’m also a student at Wilfred Laurier University. I find school really important, so I dedicate a lot of time to that.

I enjoy spending time with my family as well, so I always make sure to slip in a coffee time with my parents and my sister. And I song-write whenever I have a free moment. I have a grand piano in my house, so if I have a little break I will sit down and play a few chords. If I’m feeling inspired I’ll write a song. If not, I’ll call it for the day. 

Dani Kristina recording a song (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

Dani Kristina recording a song (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

But a lot of the time, if I’m feeling overwhelmed with any kind of emotion – whether it be happiness, sadness, stress, anxiety – I just go to the piano. And a song comes out because it’s what I need to do in order to alleviate that stress and let myself feel emotions.

I think that’s how I learned about the world – through seeing my reflection of how I perceived something, and then hearing it back as I’m playing it and understanding, “Oh, that’s what it means.” So a lot of time, I’m making sense of the world through writing about it. 

Dani Kristina performing (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

Dani Kristina performing (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

AM: Do you have plans to reach a wider audience? 

DK: I think a big challenge for all artists these days is growing your audience on social media and not only relying on performances and your talent. There’s a lot of business savvy that’s involved and a lot of time spent marketing yourself.

Everyone is trying to make their art more accessible to everybody, and I think that’s on my priority list for sure, but first and foremost it’s a means of expression for me. As long as people are feeling that emotional connection to my music, I think that it will resonate with more and more people.  

AM: Can you tell me about the new music you will be releasing next year?  

DK: I have it written already and most of it is recorded, which is really exciting. I’m in the pre-release stages right now. I’m also going to be doing a lot of music videos next year because I think it’s really cool to use different mediums to tell the same story. There will be at least three new singles coming out next year – probably double that. So I’m keeping super busy during this COVID time. I think it’s a good time to be creating. 

For more information about Dani Kristina and her music, visit danikristina.com

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INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS JORDAN

Photographer and filmmaker Chris Jordan on Midway Atoll, where he documented the effect of plastic waste on albatrosses in a photo series and a film (photo courtesy of Chris Jordan)

Photographer and filmmaker Chris Jordan on Midway Atoll, where he documented the effect of plastic waste on albatrosses in a photo series and a film (photo courtesy of Chris Jordan)

Seattle-based photographer and filmmaker Chris Jordan’s works are infused with a passion for highlighting environmental and social issues as well as a desire to convey the beauty of the natural world.

Several of his photo series document mass consumption and consumerism, including Intolerable Beauty (2003-2005), which draws attention to industrial waste in America’s shipping ports and industrial yards, and Running the Numbers, two series of photographic mosaics that cleverly transform sobering statistics into visual representations.

"Cans Seurat" (2007) by Chris Jordan, depicting 106,000 aluminum cans - the number used in the US every 30 seconds (photo courtesy of Chris Jordan)

“Cans Seurat” (2007) by Chris Jordan, depicting 106,000 aluminum cans – the number used in the US every 30 seconds (photo courtesy of Chris Jordan)

Jordan’s desire to portray the effects of plastic waste on the environment led to his series Midway: Message from the Gyre (2009-2013), which starkly documents the impact of plastic waste on albatross chicks. Building on this theme, he went on to make the stunning poetic documentary Albatross (2017), which depicts the beauty of these birds and their life cycle as well as the tragedy that befalls their progeny.

A photo from Chris Jordan's 2011 series "Ushirikiano" depicting a Borana toddler in front of his home in Gotu Village, Kenya (photo courtesy of Chris Jordan)

A photo from Chris Jordan’s 2011 series “Ushirikiano” depicting a Borana toddler in front of his home in Gotu Village, Kenya (photo courtesy of Chris Jordan)

A recipient of the 2011 Prix Pictet (a global award in photography and sustainability), Jordan has exhibited all over the world and has given several TED and TEDx talks. His film Albatross has been viewed over a million times.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Jordan, who was in  remote area of southern Chile making a documentary on lithium mining, on July 15, 2020 via Zoom.

AM: Can you tell me about your early photographs?

CJ: My early work was all done under the influence and teachings of my dad, who was a photo historian. His interest in photography was in formalism: beauty for the sake of beauty. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH ALAN COURTIS

Argentine musician and sound artist Alan Courtis (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Argentine musician and sound artist Alan Courtis (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

By Anita Malhotra

The work of Argentine musician and sound artist Alan Courtis (also known as Anla Courtis) is all about expanding musical, artistic and social boundaries.

With a background in teaching music to people with disabilities as well as a communications degree, he co-founded and plays guitar in the groundbreaking experimental band Reynols, which integrated a former student with Down’s Syndrome as its drummer and singer.

Courtis has composed a wealth of electric and acoustic experimental music and has also collaborated in live improvisations across a wide variety of genres and media with musicians all over the world.

Still from Alan Courtis' 2009 live internet collaboration with Pauline Oliveros (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Still from Alan Courtis’ 2009 live internet collaboration with Pauline Oliveros (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

He has released over 300 recordings, many of them in non-digital format, and some of them collectors’ items. He also teaches at several universities and music schools in Buenos Aires.

Courtis’ latest release is Telematic Concert, a live internet collaboration from 2009 with the renowned American experimental composer Pauline Oliveros, whose written work he has also translated.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Alan Courtis, who was at his home in Buenos Aires, by Zoom on June 5, 2020.

AM: What are your earliest memories of music or sound?

AC: I’ve always been curious about sound and music. My brother, who’s a little bit older than me, brought home a lot of music My parents were more into classical music and some Argentinian folklore, but later my brother was also into rock, jazz, soundtracks, contemporary, electronic, field recordings, etcetera, so I heard quite a wide range of musical styles.

Alan Courtis as a child in 1974 (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Alan Courtis as a child in 1974 (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

AM: Were there any musicians in your family?

AC: My father played a little bit of Argentinian folklore on the guitar, but he was a doctor – a cardiologist. My grandfather came from the Czech Republic and he was a piano player and also played violin and viola. In the Czech Republic, music is very important.

AM: You had some formal musical training in Western music. Could you tell me a bit about that?

AC: I studied classical guitar and piano as well as theory and composition. At the same time, I was playing rock, improvising, and doing experimental stuff in the late ’80s and early ’90s, so I was doing a little bit of everything. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH MARK KURLANSKY

Bestselling American author Mark Kurlansky (photo provided by GL Portrait / Alamy Stock Photo)

Bestselling American author Mark Kurlansky (photo provided by GL Portrait / Alamy Stock Photo)

By Anita Malhotra

Acclaimed New York Times bestselling writer Mark Kurlansky is best known for his meticulously researched and entertaining histories on topics that may at first seem mundane but become springboards for fascinating journeys through time and across continents.

Kurlansky has written extensively about food (including cod, milk, salt, oysters and salmon), as well as places (Havana, the Caribbean), peoples (Basques, Jews), cultural moments (1968), ideas (nonviolence), and more.

Starting his career as a playwright, he became a foreign correspondent in the mid-’70s, writing for several major American newspapers while based in Paris and then Mexico. He began writing non-fiction books in the early ’90s, achieving his first major success with Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (1997), which was both a New York Times and international bestseller.

Kurlansky's 2020 book "Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate"

Kurlansky’s 2020 book “Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate”

Kurlansky has written 33 non-fiction, fiction and children’s books, including four more international bestsellers: Salt,1968Food of a Younger Land and The Basque History of the World. His latest book, Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate, was published in March by Patagonia.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Mark Kurlansky, who was at his office in New York City, by phone on April 28, 2020.

AM: Salmon is your 33rd book, and you’ve written about fish several times before. Why did you choose salmon as a topic this time?

MK: In 1997, I wrote a book about cod at a time when the northern stocks on the Canadian Grand Banks had collapsed and people for the first time were thinking about issues of overfishing and fishery management. Actually, when I was a commercial fisherman in the 1960s it was all fishermen ever talked about, but now the general public was becoming aware of it. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH ZHOU BING

Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhou Bing (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhou Bing (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

By Anita Malhotra

Renowned Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhou Bing has directed and produced over 100 documentaries, many of them on historical and cultural topics.

After completing a PhD in art history at Nankai University, he worked for CCTV (China Central Television) for 20 years. In 2014, he launched his own company, Sun Media International, which has offices in Hong Kong, Beijing and Los Angeles.

Zhou Bing’s award-winning productions include Dunhuang, Forbidden City, When the Louvre Meets the Forbidden City, The Bund, A Century with Cars, South of the Ocean, Millennium Bodhi Road and Snow Leopard.

They have been broadcast on CCTV as well as internationally on National Geographic, History, Sky TV, NDR Fernsehen, ARTE and elsewhere.

Protestors in Zhou Bing's 2020 documentary "Hong Kong Moments" (photo courtesy of Hot Docs Festival and Zhou Bing)

Protestors in Zhou Bing’s 2020 documentary “Hong Kong Moments” (photo courtesy of Hot Docs Festival and Zhou Bing)

His most recent film, Hong Kong Moments, follows seven Hong Kong residents (a front-line protestor, police officer, volunteer paramedic, taxi driver, tea-house owner, and two candidates in local elections) during the protests that took place in Hong Kong in 2019.

The film is being shown via digital streaming at the 2020 Hot Docs Festival Online until June 24.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Zhou Bing, who was in Los Angeles, on May 29, 2020 via Zoom and with translation by Executive Producer Ricky Choy.

AM: Why did you decide to make a film about the Hong Kong protests?

ZB: I am a new immigrant to Hong Kong but I love Hong Kong, and have always wanted to make a documentary about Hong Kong. Three or four years ago I had the idea to make a documentary with people from different backgrounds to show their life in Hong Kong – their dreams and hopes. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH MANFRED BAUMANN

Austrian photographer Manfred Baumann (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Austrian photographer Manfred Baumann (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

By Anita Malhotra

The photos of Austrian photographer Manfred Baumann have a kaleidoscopic range from portraits of glamorous models and international celebrities to hard-hitting portraits of those at the margins of society; from animal and landscape photos to street photographs.

Actress Madeline Zima (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Actress Madeline Zima (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Beginning his career photographing models for books and calendars, he segued into celebrity photography, doing portraits of a long list of celebrities that includes Sir Roger Moore, Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Angelina Jolie, Lionel Richie and Natalie Portman, among others.

A desire to shine a light on unconventional subjects led to some ground-breaking projects, including Alive, featuring portraits of the homeless; End of Line, a photo essay on the last journey of death row prisoners in Texas; and Special, about developmentally disabled people.

An animal lover, Baumann is an Honorary Ambassador for Jane Goodall and an ambassador for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

"Mustangs" (photo by Manfred Baumann)

“Mustangs” (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Baumann is also a frequent collaborator with National Geographic and an official Leica photographer.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Manfred Baumann, who had just returned to Vienna on the last flight from Los Angeles during the Covid-19 pandemic, by Skype on March 26, 2020.

Manfred Baumann posing with actor Danny Trejo (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Manfred Baumann posing with actor Danny Trejo (photo by Manfred Baumann)

AM: When did you first get interested in photography? 

MB: I got my first camera when I was 10 years old from my grandfather – I think it was Christmas. My grandfather was a photographer and I was always looking at his pictures and was interested in his camera. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH NASCA UNO

Nasca Uno in front of the mural he created for the 2019 Berlin Lollapalooza music festival (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2019)

Nasca Uno in front of the mural he created for the 2019 Berlin Lollapalooza music festival (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2019)

By Anita Malhotra

27-year-old muralist, painter and illustrator Nasca Uno (alias Armin E. Mendocilla) is best known for his lush, colourful murals featuring striking imagery of indigenous people and ethno-political topics from around the world.

A tribute (untitled) by Nasca Uno to the indigenous Andean people of Latin America (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

A tribute (untitled) by Nasca Uno to the indigenous Andean people of Latin America (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

Based in Berlin, he began developing his craft when he was a child, doing street graffiti and later murals in his hometown of Munich. His distinctive style is influenced by American and Japanese comic strips and by his Peruvian heritage (his mother is Peruvian).

Nasca Uno’s work is often commissioned and has appeared all over Europe as well as in Peru, Cuba, the Philippines, Morocco, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia, among others.

Last year, he was invited along with several other artists to create a mural for an art wall at the 2019 Lollapalooza Berlin festival.  Anita Malhotra spoke with him on Sept. 7, 2019.

Nasca Uno working on his mural for Lollapalooza Berlin on Sept. 7, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Nasca Uno working on his mural for Lollapalooza Berlin on Sept. 7, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: How did this project at Lollapalooza Berlin come about?

NU: I got a request two months ago from an agency that was collaborating with SEAT, the festival’s official partner, and they asked me to do a mural painting for the festival. The festival is about music and people, and we were asked to interpret those elements visually. We were supported by the Spanish spray paint brand Montana Colors, and I painted alongside some very cool artists. In the end it was a beautiful project and I had fun working on that mural. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER BAUDER

Light artist Christopher Bauder and DEEP WEB (photo by Ralph Larmann)

Light artist Christopher Bauder and DEEP WEB (photo by Ralph Larmann)

By Anita Malhotra

German artist and designer Christopher Bauder has married his love of light with technology he invented to create large-scale, otherworldly installations and performances that combine kinetic light with electronic music.

SKALAR, by Christopher Bauder and Kangding Ray, at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

SKALAR, by Christopher Bauder and Kangding Ray, at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

Among his award-winning works are SKALAR (2018), a large-scale installation created with musician and DJ Kangding Ray; DEEP WEB (2016), a monumental installation and live performance done in collaboration with electronic musician Robert Henke; and LICHTGRENZE, created in 2014 with his brother Marc, a filmmaker, for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Bauder’s installations and live performances have been presented in Germany and around the world, including at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Design in Zurich, MUTEK festival in Montreal and Mexico City, and numerous other venues and festivals.

An audience experiencing SKALAR at the CTM Festival in Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

An audience experiencing SKALAR at the CTM Festival in Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

He is also the founder of the companies WHITEvoid, the design agency that produces his shows, and KINETIC LIGHTS, which manufacturers and distributes the light systems used in them.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Christopher Bauder at his office in Berlin on Sept. 10, 2019.

Christopher Bauder at his office in Berlin on Sept. 10, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Christopher Bauder at his office in Berlin on Sept. 10, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: When did you first get interested in light?

CB: I was basically always interested in light. Even as a kid I started collecting candles and lighters and matchers in a drawer under my bed. I was three or four when my mom caught me collecting them.

I was fascinated with all kinds of light and that’s what I could get my hands on. Later, I started experimenting with light bulbs – with my own fixtures, desk lamps and table lamps. Then I got to know LED and other technologies, and it basically developed from there. It was a continuing love that I have been sharing until today.

AM: What is the fascination about?

CB: It’s the materiality of the light itself. I’m very interested in the output of the light. For example, a laser has a very iridescent, otherworldly, alien kind of look to it. You think you can touch it because it looks so real, but it’s not really there. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH JEFTA VAN DINTHER

Choreographer and dancer Jefta van Dinther (photo by Nina Andersson)

Choreographer and dancer Jefta van Dinther (photo by Nina Andersson)

By Anita Malhotra

Dutch-Swedish choreographer Jefta van Dinther’s work is driven by his explorations of the physicality of the moving human body as it interacts with light, sound and materials, and the sensory affect of these explorations on the audience.

A graduate of the Amsterdam School of the Arts, van Dinther was a dancer before becoming a choreographer in 2008. Since then he has choreographed 10 works, four of which are currently touring in Europe: Plateau Effect (2013), Protagonist (2016), Dark Field Analysis (2017) and The Quiet (2019). 

A still from Jefta van Dinther's "Plateau Effect" (photo by Jubal Battisti)

A still from Jefta van Dinther’s “Plateau Effect” (photo by Jubal Battisti)

Based in Berlin but with close working ties to Stockholm, van Dinther has received numerous grants and awards, including the Swedish Theater Critics’ Dance Award for Plateau Effect.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Jefta van Dinther in Berlin on Sept. 5, the day before Plateau Effect received its Berlin premiere by the city’s prestigious Staatsballett.  

Jefta van Dinther on Sept. 5, 2019 at the Relish Restaurant in Berlin following his interview with Artsmania (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Jefta van Dinther on Sept. 5, 2019 at the Relish Restaurant in Berlin following his interview with Artsmania (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: When did you first become interested in dance?

JvD: My interest in dance as an art form started when I was 17, when I was brought to a studio by chance by a friend in Stockholm. It was an open class – a jazz class – to see if you wanted to start one of those evening hobby courses.

The teacher was so enthusiastic about me that he immediately pushed me to start dancing four times a week. I had danced before, but that was the turning point for me becoming really serious about it.

The reason I became serious about it was that I was in Gymnasium – senior secondary school – in Sweden and I was on a track of becoming an academic. I was very good at everything at school, and it came easily to me. I found that dancing was the only thing that I really had to work hard to achieve. It felt like getting your hands dirty – in a very complete sense. So from one day to the next, I decided to join that program. And a year and a half later, I did an audition for a dance academy. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH DIANA SCHNIEDERMEIER (INTERACTIVE MEDIA FOUNDATION)

Diana Schniedermeier of the Berlin-based Interactive Media Foundation (© Interactive Media Foundation)

Diana Schniedermeier of the Berlin-based Interactive Media Foundation (© Interactive Media Foundation)

By Anita Malhotra

Diana Schniedermeier is a Managing Director and Executive Producer at the Interactive Media Foundation, an award-winning, non-profit company based in Berlin that produces culturally and socially relevant productions in a variety of media.

Their innovative projects include Inside Tumucumaque, a breathtaking VR installation that allows participants to “see” from the perspective of five animals in the Amazon rainforest; Baukraft, a Minecraft contest aimed at improving social conditions in an overcrowded Berlin neighbourhood; and Das Totale Tanz Theater, a stunning VR installation inspired by Bauhaus concepts in which the participant interacts with hundreds of digital dancers on a multi-story virtual stage.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Diana Schniedermeier on September 9, 2019 about the Interactive Media Foundation’s work at its office in Berlin.

AM: Can you tell me a bit about the Interactive Media Foundation?

Diana Schniedermeier at her Interactive Media Foundation office in Berlin (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Diana Schniedermeier at her Interactive Media Foundation office in Berlin (photo by Anita Malhotra)

DS: The Interactive Media Foundation started in 2013 and we are a team of experts from digital media, from narrative, from film, from games, and what we are trying to do is find expressions for topics that are relevant to society. These might be cultural topics, ecological topics, or health topics, for example.

When we start to research a topic that is interesting to us, we always have two questions: to whom do we want to communicate, and how do we have to communicate it so that it reaches people intellectually and emotionally? And so we have done graphic novels, motion graphic novels, games, and have been doing VR for a few years.

Then we look for partners: technological partners, partners for distribution, for financing, because we are a small company. Our main role is thinking about the topics, how to convey them, and who to work with. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH PATRICK WATSON

Montreal musician Patrick Watson (photo by Patrick Gouin)

Montreal musician Patrick Watson (photo by Patrick Gouin)

By Anita Malhotra

It’s hard to imagine a more authentic, sincere musical voice than that of Montreal singer-songwriter Patrick Watson (also the name of his band), who will release his sixth studio album this fall.

Audiences connect with him on a highly personal level, as shown by the heartfelt comments left on his YouTube videos by fans and the warmth of audiences at his live shows.

Watson’s musical approach was influenced by growing up in the small Quebec town of Hudson, where he sang in local church choirs.

After studying music at Vanier College, he toured as himself and as a band with such artists as James Brown, John Cale, Philip Glass, The Cinematic Orchestra, Amon Tobin and Feist. He and his band have also toured extensively internationally in their own right.

Patrick Watson's second album, Close To Paradise, won the 2007 Polaris Music Prize (photo courtesy of Patrick Watson)

Patrick Watson’s second album, Close To Paradise, won the 2007 Polaris Music Prize (photo courtesy of Patrick Watson)

Releasing his first album in 2003, Watson won the Polaris Music Prize in 2007 for his second album, Close to Paradise, and went on to release Wooden Arms (2009), Adventures in Your Own Backyard (2012) and Love Songs for Robots (2015).

Several of his songs have been featured in movies as well as in TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, and Orange is the New Black.

Watson is also a soundtrack composer and recently created the sound and music for Gymnasia, a haunting virtual reality piece co-produced by the National Film Board and Felix & Paul Studios, and directed by animators Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski (aka Clyde Henry Productions).

Anita Malhotra spoke with Patrick Watson by phone on June 11, 2019 about his work on Gymnasia, his approach to music and his current projects.

AM: How did you get involved with doing the music and sound for Gymnasia?

PW: Chris and Maciek work for Clyde Henry Productions and I usually do all the music for their films. We got involved in VR because Felix & Paul Studios had asked Chris and Maciek to test out a camera of theirs – to do a little short.

We did this very humble video of me playing in my studio. In the initial test they noticed that a certain type of simplicity was really crucial. The whole thing is meant to feel like you’re sitting there, and at one point I look at you. If it’s done well, the effect of being alone with someone in VR is a strange experience, even before you start adding any kind of fancy stuff. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH SANDRA BEASLEY

Washington, D.C. poet Sandra Beasley (photo by Milly West)

Washington, D.C. poet Sandra Beasley (photo by Milly West)

By Anita Malhotra

Sandra Beasley’s poetry is striking, surprising, clever and funny – and often inspires the reader to learn more.

Based in Washington, D.C., Beasley is the author of three poetry collections – Theories of Falling (2008), I Was the Jukebox (2010) and Count the Waves (2015).

Her poetry has been published in dozens of magazines and journals, including Poetry, Black Warrior Review, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird and Oxford American and she has won numerous awards, most notably the New Issues Poetry Prize and the Barnard Women Poets Prize. 

In spring 2019, she held the John Montague International Poetry Fellowship sponsored by Ireland’s Munster Literature Centre and University College Cork. 

Beasley, who holds an MFA in creative writing from American University, is also a non-fiction author and book editor.

Beasley's 2015 book of poems, "Count the Waves" (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

Beasley’s 2015 book of poems, “Count the Waves” (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

Her memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life was released in 2011, and she is the editor of Vinegar and CharVerse from the Southern Foodways Alliance (2018), an anthology of poems about Southern food. She is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Tampa’s low-residency MFA program.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Beasley, who was at her home in Washington, D.C., on May 20, 2019.

AM: What are your earliest memories of being drawn to the written word?

SB: Probably the simple request to be excused from dinner early at my grandmother’s house.

I would usually beg to get away from the adult conversation and they’d send me downstairs. And downstairs usually meant picking up one of the books, or one of the Reader’s Digests off the table, and reading.

Sandra Beasley as a young girl celebrating her birthday (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

Sandra Beasley as a young girl celebrating her birthday (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

For many years my favorite first poet was Emily Dickinson, in part because there was a brown softcover reader of Emily Dickinson’s poems – I think it was one of my uncle’s college textbooks. That was the first one I would go to when I got away from the dinner table. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH ALISON SNOWDEN AND DAVID FINE

David Fine and Alison Snowden at their Vancouver home (photo © Chad Galloway)

David Fine and Alison Snowden at their Vancouver home (photo © Chad Galloway)

By Anita Malhotra

Vancouver-based animators, directors and writers Alison Snowden and David Fine received some very good news recently – an Oscar nomination for their most recent animated short film, Animal Behaviour.

The film, produced and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada, is a humorous look at what happens when a new animal joins a canine-led therapy session for five animals (a leech, praying mantis, pig, cat and bird), who are struggling with their natural instincts.

Still from "Animal Behaviour" by Alison Snowden and David Fine (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Still from “Animal Behaviour” by Alison Snowden and David Fine (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Snowden and Fine, a husband-and-wife team, have been working together since they met in the early ‘80s at England’s National Film and Television School.

Their films include the Oscar-winning short animation Bob’s Birthday (1994) and the Oscar-nominated shorts Second Class Mail and George and Rosemary.

Alison Snowden and David Fine at the National Film Board studio in Vancouver (photo by Katja De Bock)

Alison Snowden and David Fine at the National Film Board studio in Vancouver (photo by Katja De Bock)

They also created the animated TV series Bob and Margaret (1998-2001), for which they served as executive producers, writers, and in Snowden’s case, voice actor. Other TV series they created were Ricky Sprocket: Showbiz Boy and Shaun the Sheep.

Anita Malhotra spoke to Snowden and Fine, who were at their Vancouver home, by phone on Feb. 8, 2019, two weeks before Oscar night on Feb. 24, 2019.

AM: Congratulations on your Oscar nomination and the other awards you’ve won so far for Animal Behaviour. I understand you’ve just come back from Los Angeles. What were you doing there?

AS: They have a luncheon for the Oscar nominees. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere and they take a big group photo of this year’s nominees, and it was really lovely. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CAMILLE SEAMAN

Self-portrait by photographer Camille Seaman (© Camille Seaman)

Self-portrait by photographer Camille Seaman (© Camille Seaman)

By Anita Malhotra

Photographer Camille Seaman is best known for her stunning photos of polar ice and habitats as well as for her dramatic photographs taken while storm-chasing. Her unique style is informed by her Native American heritage and its emphasis on connection with and respect for nature.

A TED Senior Fellow since 2011 and a frequent public speaker, Seaman has received several awards, including a 2006 National Geographic Award and a 2014 John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University.

Three books of her work have been published, and her photos have appeared in National Geographic Magazine, The New York Times, Newsweek and Time Magazine, among others. 

Seaman recently moved from California to Ireland, where she is working on her first novel. Anita Malhotra spoke with her by phone on Dec. 3, 2018, a few days before she left for Antarctica on her latest photographic project.

The Last Iceberg Series III: Blue Underside Revealed II, Svalbard, July 5, 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

The Last Iceberg Series III: Blue Underside Revealed II, Svalbard, July 5, 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

AM: Can you tell me a bit about where you grew up and your childhood?

CS: I grew up on Long Island. My family on my father’s side are indigenous to Long Island. We’ve been there for thousands of years – part of the Shinnecock tribe. And my mother is black and Italian, so she came from New York City out to the island and met my dad and they got married. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CRISTINA COSTANTINI AND DARREN FOSTER

Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini, co-directors and producers (with Jeffrey Plunkett) of the award-winning documentary "Science Fair," at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival (photo by Francisco Sanchez)

Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini, co-directors and producers (with Jeffrey Plunkett) of the award-winning documentary “Science Fair,” at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival (photo by Francisco Sanchez)

By Anita Malhotra

Award-winning investigative journalists Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster have been getting a lot of positive buzz about their first feature film collaboration, Science Fair.

Full of humor and deftly crafted, the inspiring film follows nine extraordinary teenagers vying against 1,700 others to win coveted prizes at one of the world’s largest international science fairs.

The film has played to almost unanimous acclaim, winning audience awards at several film festivals, including Sundance and South by Southwest (SXSW). In April 2018, Science Fair was acquired by National Geographic, who are distributing it in cinemas and schools and plan to broadcast it in 2019.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Costantini and Foster, who are based in Los Angeles, on Nov. 6, 2018, a few days before Science Fair began its Nov. 9-18 run at Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema.

AM: Can you each tell me a bit about your career before Science Fair?

DF: Both of us were journalists before we became filmmakers. I did a lot of TV docs. The opioid crisis, immigration and the drug war were probably my primary areas of focus over the last 10 years or so.

So it was a bit of a departure for me to do something like Science Fair, but it was a much needed and very happy departure. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been partnered with Cristina on a previous project.

CC: Darren and I worked on a project about fentanyl together, which is a deadly opiate that has made both the U.S. and Canada’s opiate epidemic much more deadly. That was, like it sounds, a very sad story.

Cristina Costantini's previous work included award-winning investigative documentaries (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Cristina Costantini’s previous work included award-winning investigative documentaries (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

And I had done also a lot of reporting on immigration and sex trafficking and prisons and detention centers. So, like Darren, I was ready for a break. And it was actually during the fentanyl documentary that we started talking about this idea of doing a science fair documentary.

I was a science fair kid when I was in high school, and it totally changed my life, and it validated me during the dark years of high school. I learned just so much from it and I’m really in love with this world.

We started talking about how fun it would be to go to the fair and scout the characters and tell the story. So we went to the 2016 fair, and that’s where we met many of the kids that are in the movie.

Continue reading

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