Among the many projects of Will Zavala, full-time instructor at Filmmakers, are two documentary films strikingly different in subject matter and aesthetic, but similar in theme.
The films are San Francisco Beledi, which documents the Bay Area based American tribal belly dance troupe FatChanceBellyDance, and Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat, which is about the lives of sheep ranchers in Montana. San Francisco Beledi focuses on the collision of cultures and the tension between the art and its reputation. The theme of Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat is to “bring people in touch with something they’ve become divorced from.”
Although belly dancers and sheep ranchers represent different sides of the spectrum of American livelihoods, Zavala found that they have certain similarities. Both are down-to-earth people who are in touch with tradition. The dancers find inspiration for their work in the dances of nomadic peoples of the Middle East, and have created a hybrid of ancient and modern styles. The ranchers are also grounded in a nomadic tradition, following and tending their flocks.
The films have an opposite aesthetic impact. San Francisco Beledi is filled with the bright and intense colors of costumes and tattooed urban dancers. The light is strong, and in some scenes theatrical lighting was used, which intensified both color and shadow. The end result is a vibrant, kinetic film. Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat, on the other hand, has a muted tone. It takes place on the treeless hills of Montana in cloudy weather. Will Zavala explains that the sheep aren’t ever washed and thus “the sheep themselves get a little dirty.”
In a documentary, certain scenes are salient, summarizing the theme in a few images and words. In the case of San Francisco Beledi, one such scene takes place in a restaurant where the women are dancing. They are on a stage that is in front of a window that faces out onto the street. As the women dance, two men are to be seen outside, pointing at the dancers and joking around. As this image is played, it is overlaid with an interview in which a dancer discusses the bad reputation of belly dancers, and her desire to rehabilitate the art. This scene represents the tension between the art and its image, as well as the dancers’ place as both artists and agents of social change. In Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat, the ranchers do not call a veterinarian or try to save ailing sheep, yet they help a sheep give birth. It shows how the ranchers “do not form bonds with the animals, yet are intimately involved with them.”
Both films are currently available for viewing. For more information on these films, go to Will Zavala’s website at http://www.morselpictures.com/