By Katie Davidson
Falls Church’s Joanne Burke, a mother and filmmaker, has combined both of these roles to create her latest film, “Negotiating Girl.” The documentary examines the energy between mothers and teenage daughters and how they negotiate space and control.
Burke got the idea for “Negotiating Girl” from attending a workshop at Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, Maryland, which used tools developed by owner and creator Liz Lerman that motivate movement throughout space and art techniques. Burke’s daughter, Nora Baker, was a member of Teen Exchange at Dance Exchange and had danced there for 10 years.
“This film is very, very typical of the kinds of things that they do at Dance Exchange,” Burke said. At the end of the workshop, the participants used a tool called bulking, in which the dancers define a space and set rules for use of the space, such as how one must enter and exit the space and how one must behave in the space in relation to other participants.
“At the time, I observed there was a lot of nonverbal negotiating going on, and it resonated for me in terms of being a mother of a 13-year-old at the time,” Burke said.
She began creating “Negotiating Girl” in March 2012, and it would be her first documentary. Burke, who holds a master’s degree in film, had filmed many narrative fiction films but faced challenges in managing and creating her first documentary, specifically because management and creation style is so different for a documentary.
For Burke, the film allowed her to do what she loved while working with her daughter.
“Truthfully, as an artist, my goal was just to get the film made,” Burke said. “But artistically, my goal was to demonstrate what the relationships between mothers and teenage girls look like physically, on their bodies.”
Baker is an active facilitator of the workshop in the film with Wayles Haynes, the leader of Young and Teen Exchange at the studio, and also appears on screen to explain the processes of the workshop with her mother.
The film, which features original music by local musician Jerry Allen, takes the viewer through a movement workshop, which is interspersed with interviews of the mothers and daughters. Participants came from different backgrounds, some with dance experience and some without. Dancers included Baker’s friend from George Mason High School, Honora Overby, and her mother, Alexandra Roth, and one mother-daughter pair that responded to an opportunity to participate in a community list-serve.
“There’s a mother and daughter making the film, and then the other mothers and daughters are kind of presented in the same way,” Burke said. “It was a great experience. To see her perform and to lead a group of people was really fun. And to be able to record that and document that, I got to see her in a different light than I normally do as her mother. I was very proud of her.”
Creating Negotiating Girl allowed Burke to delve further into how people communicate with their bodies and nonverbal actions. The film shows viewers these communication techniques.
“I hope that they take away the value of really looking at people and really seeing them in the present time and responding to what they see,” Burke said.
The film was screened for the first time at Dance Exchange on June 26. Burke is currently looking for a location to screen the film in Northern Virginia, and plans to submit it to various film festivals.