Motion/Pictures Dance Project is a Chicago-based film production collective created by Talia Koylass.
On Oct. 8, 2018, Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of 16 counts of aggravated battery and second degree murder. In response to that a new dance film has been created called Better Off Dead, loosely based on the 2014 incident with Laquan McDonald and Van Dyke.
This is the first installment of a five-part dance series called Bleeding Backwards. The short film premieres at Links Hall, 3111 N. Western Ave., on Dec. 7 and 9 as part of the Co-MISSION Festival of New Works.
Each volume is planned to present a take on how the justice system affects communities of color.
Several queer artists were involved in Better Off Dead including production assistant Jordan Rome as well as dancers Nick Schrier and Solomon Bowser.
Koylass, the director and choreographer for Better Off Dead, started dancing at age 14 and began working on dance films during her final year of college.
The Fordham/Alley School of Dance graduate's first film The Human Experience was driven by her brother's battle with cancer.
After viewing the recent movie The Hate U Give, she found many parallels with her dance film. Having the talk between parents and their children about how to handle police in a situation is addressed in both films. "I saw that film and then went in the following Monday to meet with my composer. He had added the narration from Black activist Clint Smith and it was the exact same with the discussion between parents and kids. I think it is important to show what Black children go through," she explained. "There are books about these topics and movies such as The Hate U Give so it may have been covered before, but the way I am addressing it has not been done. Through dance film the emotional response will hopefully make people get involved and want to know more. I want people to imagine themselves in it and feel the weight and importance of the situation."
In addition to her career as a filmmaker, Koylass is a dancer with Winifred Haun and Dancers and is a Co-MISSION resident artist at Links Hall where Better Off Dead will be screened.
MPDP has partnered with First Defense Legal Aid, an organization in Chicago that gives around the clock free legal aid to people that are incarcerated by the Chicago Police Department. FDLA is bringing in a bigger audience to the upcoming screening where a specialty cocktail will be sold and proceeds will go toward benefitting the organization. A presentation from FLDA will follow the screening and portion of the ticket sales will go back to them.
The police force have not been approached directly by the Better Off Dead production team with the dance film as of yet, but they worked hard to not present the police as villains. "I tried to show an inner battle with Nick's solo. I didn't bring in police officers to see it yet, but that is something to think about for the future of this film," Koylass said.
The director said the title of Better Off Dead refers to many people's views that Black people should be imprisoned or dead. "Some people may feel that is dramatic, but if we look at the racism that we will be addressing in the series the system is just set up that way," she explained.
Future installments of Bleeding Backwards are planned to take on the prison system after this first one focusing on police brutality. "Generational trauma is something I would like to cover and the mistreatment of prisoners plus the reintegration back into society is also a huge problem," Koylass said. "I want to center the voices of people involved through dance film."
Tickets and information about this screening and future work can be found at MP-DP.com/Bleeding-Backwards .