This past year my friend tagged me in Rami’s Facebook post requesting dancers for film. Although I wasn’t sure exactly what he was looking for, I quickly sent him a message eager for the opportunity. Many rain dates later, we were finally able to work together and I am continually impressed by his project Pedestrian Wanderlust and how much it has grown. It is with excitement and pleasure that I feature Rami Shafi and his work this month.
How it all started…
In early March I was walking through the West Village with my girlfriend and our good friend Aaron Moses Robin. As we passed by Gay Street, I couldn’t help but be captivated by the street’s charm. I had just downloaded the Hyperlapse App that day and wanted to play around with it so I knelt at one end of the street with my iPhone propped up on my knee and asked Aaron to start at the opposite end of the street and improvise his way towards me. The resulting footage which lasted thirty seconds was the first Pedestrian Wanderlust video. Since then the project has featured over forty dancers in video portraits of them improvising in public spaces around New York City.
1. What is your vision for Pedestrian Wanderlust or is it still evolving?
Part of the excitement for me is that Pedestrian Wanderlust is constantly evolving. Its come a long way since that first thirty second video but I never set out to have an end game or definitive vision. At least now while I’m still exploring and learning, I like to keep the project as open ended as possible. I allow the dancers to take as much control of the project as possible so that it more accurately reflects them. Each dancer pulls the project in their own unique direction and through the videos we get a sense of who they are, how they move, and what their tastes are. I don’t plan too far ahead but now that I have created a database of dancers with the solo shoots, the next step will be to have the dancers start meeting one another in new locations and capturing what unfolds as two people who have never exchanged a word get to know each other through movement.
So far I’ve had two installments of approximately 20 videos each rounded off by a montage film of all the dancers featured in that given time frame. For the third installment, I’ve also begun asking the dancers to share some text to go hand in hand with their film to give some insight on their experience. Eventually, I would like to make a Pedestrian Wanderlust film where we can share behind the scenes footage of the process and interviews with the dancers. Another idea is to expand the project to include other cities and showcase dancers from all over the world.
2. How did you come up with the name Pedestrian Wanderlust?
Despite the majesty of New York City, sometimes it’s easy to lose yourself in the tunnel vision of daily tasks; thinking of our bodies as merely a vessel to transport our minds from point A to point B. I think it’s important to be constantly inspired by the world around us.
I came up with the name Pedestrian Wanderlust the same day that we made that 30 second video that started it all. Watching Aaron dance through the street in contrast to the other pedestrians with their purely functional movement made me feel like Aaron was breaking free from something; from some kind of mold. He revealed himself to us in a whirlwind of free-flowing expression, creativity, and physicality in such a way that anyone watching the video could get a sense of who he is. You can tell a lot about a person by watching them dance. Movement never lies.
After experimenting with the idea for the first two installments, I’ve fallen into the practice of filming the dancers for one long take which lasts about 10-15 minutes. I’m always interested to hear about what their experience was like and almost always the dancers exclaim how good it feels to have an excuse to just move outside carelessly and let their body do as it will. I’m against the idea that we need any excuse other than the existence of our capable bodies to dance wherever we please. I believe this urge to move and explore is somewhere inside all of us whether we recognize it or not. The project is named in honor of the courageous collaborators who take to the street and express themselves in such a way; to those who want more than standard functional movement and stray from what it means to be a pedestrian. It’s taking the dance we do in our heads as we listen to music on our headphones and bringing that dance to life. It’s the urge to follow our curiosities and surprise ourselves with new ways to move and experience our surroundings.
3. Do you have a background in filming or videography? What equipment do you use to make your videos?
I don’t have a formal background in either but for as long as I can remember I have loved to document and loved to dance. This project marries the two in a duet between camera man and dancer. I want the viewer to feel like they are a part of the dance as well so taking them for a ride with the filming is where I find a lot of excitement.
I took a dance on film course while studying to receive my BFA in Dance from Florida State University and that sparked my interest in dance film but prior to this project I’ve never spent time pursuing anything with it. It’s been an incredible experience so far to learn through trial and error and with every shoot I become more and more confident in myself and the process. I’ve learned to trust my instincts and to make my choices as boldly as the dancers make theirs.
All footage is shot on the iPhone6. I do have to sacrifice a bit of quality when it comes to resolution and exposure but I love how casual and well, pedestrian it is to use the iPhone. That’s how this whole project began and I appreciate the novelty of it. I hope to inspire others to grab the tools available to them and create art. Often times we can get lost in excuses. It doesn’t take fancy equipment to create something of value. All it takes is a bit of creativity and the more you practice and trust it, the more creative you become.
4. NYC is known as the city of dreams. People say that if you think it, you can do it. Artists especially seem to find so much freedom working here and exploring their craft. Do you feel as though the dancers and city culture has encouraged you to pursue this idea?
Absolutely! I’m so grateful to be in a place where there are so many beautiful artists ready to arrive in a space with such vulnerability and share themselves for this project. Each dancer has inspired me in a different way and has informed the idea of the project uniquely. I’m grateful to be able to capture and share their magic while showcasing some of the great locations around this historical city.
5. Do you find the filming or editing process more difficult?
I like to keep the edits to a minimum in order to maintain the integrity of it all being done in a single take so filming is definitely the hardest part. When the filming goes well, the editing is easy. Improvising the videography definitely has its drawbacks. In trying to keep up with the dancers while traveling backwards I’ve tripped on steps, run into trees and people, and even fallen flat on my butt a few times. In those cases I unfortunately have to cut the footage but I tend to keep minor mistakes in because following the journey and trajectory of the dancer is more important to me than it looking perfect. Sometimes editing is frustrating because whatever I happen to capture is all I have to work with and sometimes that leaves me very limited and pressed for options. No second takes, no do-overs. The captivating part of the films for me is watching the dancer have an authentic experience and if we are calling cut or redoing takes, it all starts to feel a bit false and stale. I’m slowly finding my rhythm with the filming and editing though. I find that it helps for me to hum a tune while I film to also keep the camera work musical and interesting. As for editing, I’ve learned to trust and make the best of whatever footage I get.
6. Is this something you could see yourself doing professionally or do you prefer working on Pedestrian Wanderlust as a hobby?
What started as a hobby has now become the main focus and joy of my life. I can’t remember the last time I’ve done something that left me feeling this fulfilled and personally satisfied. I’m in love with the entire process and the endless possibilities for where this journey might lead. I’m trying to get my work out there and seek out ways to make it a lucrative venture so that I might be able to dedicate more time to it and continue creating and sharing these films. Once I save up some money I would like to start submitting the films to festivals and begin working on Pedestrian Wanderlust the movie. I do as much as I can while still being able to meet my needs but it would be a dream come true to find a way to be able to do this for the rest of my life. It’s a gift to find a medium through which you can learn, progress, and enjoy every day. I hope to inspire others to explore their bodies and find joy in their movement; to bring their dance to the streets and take the theatre out of immersive theatre. Each of us move and operate differently and that identity is as unique as a fingerprint.
As of now, all income is donation based. If you like the films and would like to see them continue, you can support the project via the donate button on the bottom of the “About” section on pedestrianwanderlust.com. Be sure to follow us on Instagram @pedestrianwanderlust and see full videos at pedestrianwanderlust.com.