• CNAP Award  
  • Flash Competition


Lucy Kerr

Hushed voices announce a girl’s death. Kneeling around the corpse, the teenage girls stare at her. Again, they whisper, chanting in unison “light as a feather, stiff as a board”, a magic formula from the depths of time, as they lift the body, which almost levitates. We’re in the sitting room of a house, dimly lit, candles dotted around everywhere, pop-corn spilt on the couch. Right from the start, with its motifs and set, Site of Passage evokes those teen movies portraying young witches, and horror films from the 1980s and 90s where the sleepover turns into a nightmare. In Crashing Waves (FID 2021) Lucy Kerr made the reverse side of images from genre cinema her subject matter. In this film, she applies herself to reduction, stripping her set of any horror and retaining only the invisible trace of it, suggesting it in a brief, pared-down gesture. There are no morbid tales here, just the series of mysterious motions from the six teenage girls with their angelic faces. The light- heartedness of the games they play offers a counterpoint to the fantasised horror despite a lingering and disturbing strangeness. To the creaking of the floorboards caused by girls’ movements, the minimalist sound treatment adds a continuous background noise of the film equipment, a ghostly presence in the middle of the room. A final image shows them collapsing and getting up again, supporting each other in a game of balance and counterbalance. Kerr offers a choreographic variation suspended in time, representing adolescent sisterhood in the ritualised union, like in the final scene, where the pastel colours blend into the ballet of intertwined bodies, which, in this site of passage, seem to become one.
(Louise Martin Papasian) Lucy Kerr

Interview with Lucy Kerr

As you say, Site of Passage is “a choreographic study on girlhood games and the unique interdependent, semiotic networks these games create”. Where did your interest in this subject come from and what was the origin of the film?

The film began with me finding a game on YouTube called “Four Girl Chair Trick,” which is the last game that the girls play. In this game, four people sit on chairs and lean back and lay on one another’s laps, then someone else pulls the chairs out, and the four people appear to levitate with one another. I became fascinated with this game and how the young women appeared to both support and limit one another simultaneously, in ways both physically and politically. I made a performance piece with this game with adult performers, which is more abstract, and then that inspired this short film, which is more set in the environment of a sleepover. I collaborated with the young women to find other games, like “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” and “The object game” which they also play in this film.

How did you meet the young protagonists of the film and how did you work with them to compose the performances?

Since I made this film during my time at CalArts in Los Angeles, there are many young people interested in going into acting in the city, so it wasn’t too hard to find people through the website backstage.com. Also, once I found a couple young girls, they recruited more of their friends to be in it. I know I wanted to create the film as a series of ritual games, but many of the games I learned about, like the second game, “The object game”, came from the girls themselves and their experiences.

The film opens with what appears to be a funeral rite. How did this idea come about?

My friends and I loved playing Ouija boards and having seances and practicing witchcraft. Something about young women getting together to conjure invisible entities, and the association this has with subversion against the Christian culture I grew up in in Texas was particularly cinematic to me. After finding “Four Girl Chair Trick”, I did research on “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” and learned that the game started during the Middle Ages, during the Black Plague, when there were many dead bodies strewn in rivers in the cities. Children saw death on a daily basis, and the game started in a playful way, about death. Children, especially young girls, would recite the chant I have in the film while playing the game, and make stories about how the lifted had possibly died while performing the game.

If on the one hand the film evokes the temporal dimension of the passage, on the other hand the title emphasises the spatial aspect. And indeed, the film takes place entirely within a living room. Could you comment on this choice?

I started with the idea for games and rituals, and we struggled for a long time figuring out where the games would take place, looking into Airbnb’s etc., but it was so expensive and impossible to bring CalArts’s fisher dolly. Then, Alex, the DP, suggested CalArts’s permanent set – which is a super weird set meant to look like a house, but it really feels like an old school, cheap set. The production designer, Tim Nicholas, made the space look much more like a living room by bringing in furniture, drapes, props, etc. In the end, the space felt suspended in time, with the room being shrouded in darkness. It ended up achieving both a sense of a space where a sleepover could happen and also the slightly artificial feeling of it possibly being a set – it’s uncanny in a way. I was happy with the temporal rites of passage in the space and the space feeling like a site – almost like a church. Hence the name Site of Passage, not Rite of Passage.

The feeling of togetherness and intimacy is also reinforced by the lighting and the exclusive use of direct sound. Were these choices planned from the beginning? Could you tell us more about how you worked on the photography of the film, shot in 16mm?

The light was very much composed by Alex. He intended for it to look more like a living room than a set, so I think we used just one light from above and some behind the fake windows. Achieving the uncanny realist/artificial feeling of the mise en scene. The sound was very intentional on my part. I wanted it to feel very minimal – so that the floor creaking or any extra sounds beyond that made by the women and their bodies came from the movement of the dolly and DP – creating a sense of a ghost in the room with the young girls.

Interview by Marco Cipollini

  • CNAP Award  
  • Flash Competition

Technical sheet

United States / 2022 / Colour / 16 mm / 7’

Original version : english
Subtitles : french
Script : Lucy Kerr
Photography : Alexey Kurbatov
Editing : Lucy Kerr
Sound : Andrew Siedenburg
Casting : Reese Taylor, Presley Alexander, Loren Hanson, Madelin Wilson, Hannah Lee, Rachel Withers

Production : Lucy Kerr (Lost Horizon Films)

Filmography :
Crashing Waves, 2021
Sensible Ecstasy, 2019
Lydon, 2018.