Filmmakers in Focus - Born to Fly

Written by Jim Kolmar | May 6, 2014
Photo by Tom Caravaglia.

Have you ever considered just how far you can push the limits of your soft, squishy body? Catherine Gund's extraordinary Born to Fly follows "Action architect" Elizabeth Streb as she explores those possibilities with her truly inventive extension of dance and choreographed human movement.

Photo of Catherine Gund by Esy CaseyWe spoke with Gund ahead of SXSW 2014, where her film premiered in the Documentary Feature Competition. Stay tuned for more Filmmakers in Focus, and read all the interviews so far on this page.

Interview conducted in January 2014

Catherine Gund on Born to Fly

Tell us a little about your film.

Born To Fly asks a number of questions. Why is one person’s circus another person’s dance and one dancer’s gorgeous flight another dancer’s stunt work? Why call it art? Why choreograph it? Why have a role in performing it? Why watch it? What will it change? How has the action architect Elizabeth Streb created a plane of thought; a launchpad in a theater; a spectacle of provocation for the mind and the street, for the art world and the sky? What happens when two artists try each other on for size? What comes of live action, live thought, a live wire being recorded, edited, reconfigured, and represented? How can the film Born to Fly - my “art about art” – jumpstart viewers’ lives, take them to the edge? How does my collaboration with Streb inspire a broad audience, hungry for a more tactile and fierce existence in the world?

Born To Fly declares the power and necessity of art in practice. The film approaches Streb and her Extreme Action Company with the same curiosity, openness, and questioning that Streb exhibits with regard to physics, risk, power, fear, and beauty. By interpreting Streb’s story, BORN TO FLY dares us all to prioritize the extraordinary in our everyday lives.

Why did you start making films?

Movies can change lives, and for me, making them is powerful, creative and optimistic. Collaborating in production is one of my most gratifying, inspiring and transformative personal and professional experiences; so, I choose my collaborators carefully and work with people who share my passions. We work together to nurture each other’s slightly off-beat sensibilities because they are grounded in the authenticity of the everyday and the specificity of genuine experience.

When you watch Born To Fly, you will notice that in the opening credits the fearless and brilliant mind who stars in our film, Elizabeth Streb, spends a moment applying her chapstick. I love film’s capacity to reveal the sides of people we do not normally see, so you believe them, so you care about them. Through tapping into our joint humanity, the medium of film can bring us closer together and draw attention to issues that matter to a broad community. I make films because art can renew and remake the world.

Have you been to SXSW before? What are you most looking forward to?

I haven't been to SXSW before, but I'm looking forward to sharing my film Born To Fly in it's world premiere with a savvy, film-loving audience. I also want to dip my body into the myriad swimming holes Austin offers. And I've heard something about drive-thru liquor stores...

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help audiences get a better idea of who you are.

Born to Fly was sparked at a STREB event when Elizabeth offered me a surprising honor. I got to shimmy 30 feet up a tress and drop a bowling ball into the waiting hands of Zaire Baptiste, emcee extraordinaire. When I scrambled back down, I felt exhilarated, giddy and eager to celebrate with Zaire. I had tasted the thrill. He gave me a high-five but cautioned, “You hesitated.” In that moment, I learned that an extreme action hero has to practice without fear and with trust and devotion. This flood of emotion inspired Born To Fly.