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The Amazing 18th Parallel

This film connects rituals related to dance and prayer in nations on the 18? latitude, writes Renuka Narayanan.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2007 15:17 IST

The 18th Parallel is an international feature-length film currently being developed by two New Yorkers, award-winning filmmaker Jodi Kaplan who also books tours for important American dance companies and Broadway shows (like the recent Sidd, based on Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha), and the lyrical dance photographer Lois Greenfield.

It sounds visionary: under the label of Elijah Films, their newly formed film production company, Kaplan and Greenfield will embark on an exploration of ritual dance ceremonies from around the world.

Focusing on the movement of prayer, they will illuminate the connection between dance and prayer in countries that lie on the 18th Parallel - 18° Latitude North and South.

By illustrating these ceremonies through the creative intersection of film and photography, says Kaplan, currently in Delhi for Danslenz, a video filmfest, “Elijah Films wants to create a work that inspires audiences to consider new ways of envisioning prayer and dance in the world. It is not a documentary or a feature, but a creative art film.”

Educated at Smith College and Columbia University, where she learnt film making, Kaplan choreographs the movement in her own movies. Her dance films were screened at the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum. She has exhibited at the Seattle International Film Festival, the ‘Dance on Camera’ Festival and Flanders International Film Festival.

Kaplan used stills by Greenfield in a film last year on the dynamics in the brutal sport of boxing. “When I first went to Lois’s studio to pitch my ideas about my film on boxing, we got along right away and ended up going out to dinner. We decided to do a joint project next. When we thought of this one, we hired researchers to find out about the world, a person to look at videos and a librarian,” says Kaplan.

“They got really excited about the line of prayer and ritual around the 27th Parallel. But that didn’t have enough variety. So I thought, not that line, let us try the 18th, because in Judaism, 18 (chai, pronounced ’hai) is the mystic number for ‘life’.

The researcher came back with her mind blown: you can’t believe the amount of prayerdance-ritual on this parallel. It runs through nearly 34 countries!” There are as many as 64 groups of people on that parallel — Brazilians, Peruvians, Tuaregs, Berbers, Nubians, the Yao and Yumbri of Thailand, the Kalingas of The Philippines. Mexico alone has the Chontal of Tabasco, the Cuicatec, Zapotec and Tlapanec, while Jamaica has the Kumina.

“Finding out that Jamaica was on that parallel was a definite sign,” says Kaplan, “because I had spent a year in Jamaica as a Fulbright scholar with an interest in anthropology — Margaret Meade is my hero —and I knew we were on the track of something extraordinary.”

The India quotient of this film is through the Maharashtra Plateau (the 18th Parallel runs south of Mumbai) and so far the communities identified by Kaplan’s team are the Parsis, the Chitpavan Brahmins and the Bondos, a tribal community.

Says Kaplan, “There are so many groups in India, right across the country — like the Konyaks of Nagaland and Cheraws of Mizoram, outside the parallel — that I think we’ll have to do another film just here.”

The film could cost something in the region of 10 million dollars, but Kaplan exudes confidence. “There is some mysterious and holy pattern at work around the world,” she says, "Our goal is to connect creatively with it."