With their new documentary, Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter, director Greg Vander Veer and cinematographer Peter Buntaine lay bare the inspirational story of Martha Hill, who revolutionized Modern Dance from behind the scenes, eventually founding both the Bennington School of Dance and then the Juilliard School of Dance.
“I liked the idea of how unknown her story was, despite how interesting it is,” said Veer. “She pulled people together into a community and made Modern Dance a lasting thing.”
The process has taken nearly four years, with pre-production starting in 2009 and filming beginning in 2010. This involved conducting over 40 interviews with dance masters and enthusiasts and visiting the sites of Hill’s past shows to capture the same feel and even the same camera angle.
“I love shooting dance and the performative element,” said Buntaine. “Modern dance and film were both new and more populist art forms and there was a perfect marriage in it.”
Key to the film was combing through vaults of archival footage, some of which was shot at Hill’s own request all those years ago, and using it to bring the history of the form and Hill’s efforts to the screen. Though Geer said he can’t promise he’s the first to access this footage, he does feel the project gives it a new prominence previously unseen.
“Watching the footage, you can feel how new it was and how important it was,” said Geer. “It really sets the mood for the film.”
Above all, the filmmakers wanted to tell the story of a woman who gave everything she had for the art she loved and asked little in return. (“It’s the classic story of sacrificing yourself for art,” said Buntaine.) While Martha Hill’s work may not have received the deserving recognition quite yet, Miss Hill is a step in the right direction.
“I hope the dance community will be inspired by her selfless pursuit,” added Geer. “And I think it’s a story that can bring people into that community.”
Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter is screening twice in the Sarasota Film Festival as a YouthFest feature: Apr. 5 at 4:45pm in Theater 9 and Apr. 6 at 6:15pm in Theater 11.