Wednesday, May 2, 2012

First Position film opens May 4th

Catch the Dance Film FIRST POSITION 
A Film by Bess Kargman

 The film will be opening on May 4th at the following cinemas:
IFC Center - New York, NY
Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center - New York, NY

For the young dancers at the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world's most prestigious ballet competitions, lifelong dreams are at stake. With hundreds competing for a handful of elite scholarships and contracts, practice and discipline are paramount, and nothing short of perfection is expected. 

Bess Kargman's award-winning documentary, FIRST POSITION, follows six young dancers as they prepare for a chance to enter the world of professional ballet, struggling through bloodied feet, near exhaustion and debilitating injuries all while navigating the drama of adolescence. A showcase of awe-inspiring talent, tenacity and passion, FIRST POSITION paints a thrilling and moving portrait of the most gifted young ballet stars of tomorrow.

View the Film Trailer Below 


Director Bess Kargman  

My entire childhood I danced. I always had this huge love of ballet, despite my early “retirement” at the age of 14. Fourteen years later, when I took a break from journalism and set out to direct my first feature film, I decided to make a movie that I always wished had existed. And then I got lucky: One day I was walking in lower Manhattan and saw a pack of ballet dancers waiting to get into the final round of the Youth America Grand Prix competition, held annually each spring. It was sold out so I snuck in and sat in the back. On stage walked an 11-year-old girl (“bitty baby ballerina,” I called her), whose 2-minute performance had such artistry, grace, and strength that I stood up, walked out of the theater and said, “This Is My Movie.” What unfolded next was a thrilling (and sometimes exhausting) year of fundraising and shooting, and then nearly a year of editing. I knew I wanted to show how diverse the ballet world is in terms of socio-economic status, race, and geography.  Additionally, I wanted to shatter stereotypes (not all skinny ballerinas are anorexic, not all male ballet dancers are gay, not all stage mothers are psycho, and so on). I also wanted to show that a competition that awards scholarships to elite ballet schools can pave the way to making it as a dancer, but that the steep climb to get there is daunting, as ballet training is extremely expensive and injuries often ruin careers. Most importantly, I wanted to show that the level of devotion (and amount of training) required to succeed as a dancer is no different from any other professional sport.

I’m thrilled to finally have that opportunity and grateful to the talented people (both behind and in front of the camera) who gave it their all to see FIRST POSITION turn into the movie I always wished had existed. 


Q&A with Bess Kargman

What do you want audiences to learn from FIRST POSITION?
I think there is a lot of misconception about the ballet world, so I made sure to select subjects that I knew would be able to challenge certain stereotypes. I wanted to show that not all ballet dancers are rich, not all are white, not all male ballet dancers are gay, not all female ballet dancers are anorexic, and not all stage moms are psycho…etc.

Also, few people realize the toll that ballet takes on the body (or that the pain threshold of professional dancers is close to superhuman). I knew that if I could thoroughly document the worlds these dancers inhabit, and the challenges they face on a daily basis, I would be able to craft an extremely unique documentary.

A behind the scenes look at FIRST POSITION
What prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?
My entire childhood I danced. I always had this huge love of ballet (even after quitting to play ice hockey). There are two things that compelled me to direct and produce FIRST POSITION. 

I believed that my ballet background was enough of an asset to help me overcome some of the mistakes that I feared making as a first-time director. Secondly, growing up this was a film I wished had existed (or to put it more selfishly, I was tired of waiting for someone else to make the movie).

There were a slew of veteran filmmakers who (in an effort to provide well-intentioned advice) told me I was biting off more than I could chew. They reminded me how few documentaries are released theatrically each year, and how much work is required to distill hundreds of hours of footage into a 90-minute feature. These are things I never forgot along the way, but I forced myself to pretend otherwise. Maintaining such an outlook helped me stay focused (and optimistic) during the two years it took to shoot and edit the film.

Jules Jarvis Fogarty in FIRST POSITION
Elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film. 

The two most important things that I learned as a student at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism are that a story is only as good as its characters, and that access is everything. These principles hold true no matter what format the story is told (whether it be print, radio or on film).

I knew I would have to convince the competition to grant me exclusive access, and so I put together a detailed proposal that outlined my desire to create an honest portrayal of what it means to have a dream at such a young age, and the sacrifice required to make it as a dancer. I also knew that for some youths (especially in this economic climate), winning a scholarship can mean the difference between making it as a dancer or relinquishing a dream.

Lastly, I feared that if I solely relied on outcome (who wins) I would be risking the entire project on factors I had no control over. So I selected subjects whose personal stories were so compelling that even if everyone tanked, the audience would still leave the theater feeling moved and inspired by a group of extraordinary dancers who, at such a young age, have devoted their lives to ballet.  


Miko Fogarty
Miko Fogarty was born in London, England in 1997 and trains with Viktor Kabaniaev in the Professional Program at the Westlake School for Performing Arts in San Francisco, USA. She currently lives in Orinda, California near San Francisco with her brother Jules, her mother Satoko, and her father Mat.  During the filming, she was training at the Diablo Apprentice Program.  From as long as she can remember, she has always aspired to become a professional ballerina. In the summers of 2008, 2009 and 2010, Miko trained at the Royal Ballet School’s International Summer Program in London and was selected to dance solos in the final performances and received the Commendation Award each year. In 2009 and 2011, Miko won the Gold Medal at the World Ballet Competition in Florida.  In 2010, she won the Bronze Medal at the New York Finals of the Youth America Grand Prix. In 2011, Miko was invited to perform on the “YAGP’s 2011 Ballet Grand Prix Tour” and danced with accomplished artists: Jose Manuel Carreno, Igor Kolb, Elisa Carrillo Cabrera, Mikhail Kaniskin, Oksana Skorik, Drew Jacoby and Rubinald Pronk. Miko was featured in the ballet documentary "First Position", which won multiple prizes at film festivals.  “First Position” will be in movie theaters internationally in the Spring of 2012. Since 2009 (age 12), she has been doing online school to give her more time to dedicate to ballet. This allows her to dance 4 to 5 hours a day and also travel for competitions and tours. Miko was listed as one of “The Most Influential People of 2011” in the Dance Spirit Magazine.

Jules Fogarty
Jules Fogarty was born in London, UK in March 1999.  His father is English and his mother Japanese.  When Jules was 5 months old, he moved to California and started ballet when he was 4 years old.  It was a lot of fun when he was a little kid as it was good to be with his friends, acting, and jumping around.
When Jules was 9, he did his first YAGP and won first place in the regional and the bronze medal in the New York finals. The following year he did YAGP again (as shown in First Position) but did not win. Some day he hopes to be an entrepreneur like his father.

Joan Sebastian Zamora
Strong and serious, Joan Sebastian, 16, has left his mountainside village near Cali, Colombia for a brighter future in America. His mother, who describes herself as a former frustrated ballerina, is his greatest source of encouragement. Every time he calls home he is reminded of the sacrifices his family has made on his behalf, and their high expectations of him to help support them in the future. Joan Sebastian's dream is to dance for the Royal Ballet in London, England, where his inspiration, the Cuban star Carlos Acosta, dances. If he wins a Youth America Grand Prix scholarship to train at the Royal Ballet School, he is one step closer to achieving this dream.

Aran Bell
Aran Bell, who is eleven years old in the film, began his training at age four in Bremerton, Washington with Michiko Black and continued training at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Originally from Washington, his family relocated to a US Navy base in Naples, Italy after his father, a military doctor, returned from a tour of duty in Kuwait. In 2009, Aran began studying with Denys Ganio in Rome, Italy. He has also attended the Royal Ballet School, and American Ballet Theatre summer programs. Aran was the winner of the Hope Award at the Youth America Grand Prix Finals in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, he was also the Grand Prix winner of the Milan International Ballet Competition. He was awarded the Junior Grand Prix at the 2011 YAGP Finals, and the gold medal at the Rieti (Italy) International ballet competition. Aran has performed in numerous galas in Italy, France, Germany, England, Austria, Poland, Romania, and several U.S. cities. Today, Aran is home schooled in order to spend 2 hours a day commuting to his dance school in Rome, where he trains for five hours a day. Aran’s hobbies include skateboarding, snowboarding, playing with action figures and collecting toy guns.

Michaela DePrince
A war orphan from Sierra Leone, Michaela DePrince was adopted by a large American family in New Jersey when she was four years old. At that time her only exposure to ballet was from a crushed and smudged magazine photo that she found clinging to the gates of the orphanage. Michaela begged her new American mother for dance lessons, and soon she was studying ballet, modern, tap dancing and jazz at Dalia Hay’s Dance Academy in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. She also studied ballet for seven years at The Rock School for Dance Education, where she continued her interest in modern, jazz and tap dancing. While at The Rock School, Michaela won both the Hope Award and the Junior Grand Prix at the Philadelphia Regional Youth American Grand Prix. From age eleven to thirteen, Michaela studied ballet in Northern Vermont, from Vanina Wilson, a French dance trained in the Paris Opera Ballet, Alain Albertson Murphy, a former principal dancer in the San Francisco Ballet and Alex Nagiba, a former soloist of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. During that period of her childhood, Michaela also had the good fortune to study with two legends of the ballet world, Monsieur Daniel Seillier in Montreal and Mr. Arthur Mitchell at the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Summer Intensive. She first attended the American Ballet Theatre’s Summer Intensive in New York City when she was thirteen. Michaela was named a National Training Scholar at the end of that summer. She was a participant in the 2010 International Ballet Competition in Jackson, but it was through the Youth American Grand Prix, where she was an annual finalist for five years, that Michaela was first awarded a scholarship to The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of the American Ballet Theatre. Last year she felt honored to be awarded The Beverly G. Smith Scholarship. This year Michaela is doubly honored to receive this scholarship again.


Bess Kargman (Director/Producer/Editor)
Bess has crafted timely, socially and politically relevant stories for numerous media outlets including National Public Radio, The Washington Post and a variety of online publications. She holds degrees from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and Amherst College. Long before entering the world of film and radio, Bess trained at Boston Ballet School (until she was recruited to play varsity ice hockey). FIRST POSITION is her first film, and premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (where it took People’s Choice runner-up for best documentary). When she’s not living out of a suitcase, Kargman divides her time between New York and Los Angeles.

Nick Higgins (Director of Photography/Associate Producer)
Nick has shot documentaries for such award-winning directors as Lucy Walker, Morgan Spurlock and Stuart Sender. Currently he is shooting new projects for National Geographic and PBS. Nick has spent most of his life living everywhere except his Scottish birthplace; most notably Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Brazil and now Los Angeles. Along the way he picked up Portuguese, earned a Masters in Cinematography from AFI and became a father.

Rose Caiola (Executive Producer)
With a love of ballet since childhood, Rose Caiola is now the Founder and Executive Artistic Director of the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center (MMAC) and the Manhattan Youth Ballet. Caiola is also a Broadway producer and the co-author and producer of the new musical Freckleface Strawberry.  Caiola’s goal throughout all her projects has been to provide equal educational, cultural and artistic opportunities for inner city youth. She is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and is a member of The Broadway League of Theatres and Producers, and the Screen Actors Guild.

Chris Hajian (Composer)
Born and raised in Queens, New York, Chris’ formal musical training started at  the “Famed” High School of the Performing Arts, and continued at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied classical composition. He has created scores for a wide range of narrative films, indies and documentaries, including “The Take” (2007), “Nursery University” (2008) and “Unraveled” (2011), which had its US premiere at the LA Film Festival and will have its TV broadcast premiere on Showtime.

Kate Amend (Editor)
Kate’s editing work includes two Academy Award-winning documentaries: The Long Way Home and Into The Arms of Strangers (for which she won an American Cinema Editor's Eddie award). Her many other credits include Thin (HBO) and The World According To Sesame Street (both of which premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival). She is an advisor at the Sundance Institute Documentary Edit and Story Lab and is a faculty member of the Cinema Department at USC.

Jennilyn Merten (Associate Producer)
Before working on First Position, Jennilyn co-directed the documentary Sons of Perdition, which premiered at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and was bought by Oprah Winfrey for her Documentary Film Club. A partner in Left Turn Films, she has also directed, produced, and edited numerous commercial projects for corporate clients.

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