The Best Work You May Never See: Tamika Miller Directs "To be of use" For Motionpoems

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Robert Goldrich
Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020

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The newest short film from director Tamika Miller (who’s with production house Wondros Collective) has been unveiled by Motionpoems. Entitled To be of use, the short film is an interpretive celebration of a poem by poet-novelist-memoirist Marge Piercy. Miller’s concept for the film was selected by Piercy herself from a short list of finalists. To be of use was launched on the Motionpoems website earlier this month as part of a special season amidst the COVID-19 Crisis, with support from the Center for the Art of Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

“I was honored when I received the news that Motionpoems selected me to interpret Marge Piercy’s poem,” said Miller. “While the poem was written in 1973, I was asked to draw the connection of its relevance today, living in the time of COVID.  ‘To be of use’ spoke to me because it speaks to our resilience as people.  It speaks to those who tirelessly, ‘without dallying,’ get up everyday and just do the work that needs to be done--over and over again. My film pays homage to them and ancestors who did the work before them.” 

On her choice of filmmaking techniques, Miller related, “This was my first time merging animation with live-action (dance), and it was fun and affecting seeing this come to life--every frame deliberate and with intention. My animator, Margaret To, and I were really in sync creatively and together we honed in on the visual approach to my concept.  It was important to me that my film, while speaking to COVID, death, protest and socioeconomic uncertainty also speaks to life springing forward and the importance of honoring Mother Earth. I hope people enjoy the film as much as I enjoyed making it!”

Danielle Peretz, sr. EP at Wondros Collective, recently signed Miller to the production company’s talent roster for representation in commercials and branded content, Peretz assessed, “Tamika’s lush and powerful filmed interpretation of Marge Piercy’s poem breathes. Tamika deftly captures her every line and layer; perfectly marrying Ms. Piercy’s words with dance, animation and life. The final piece is full, organic, moving, and stunning. Tamika worked swiftly within a tight deadline and limited budget, and the outcome is a beautifully filmed tribute to the culture and people inhabited in Ms. Piercy’s written words.”

Wondros founder and director Jesse Dylan noteed, “Tamika artfully visualizes the important role essential workers play in our societies, and emphasizes that those who do real work are often overlooked or under appreciated. By skillfully interpreting the poem through the lens of recent events, she is able to bring a powerful story and meaningful message beautifully to life.”

For the leadership team at Motionpoems, led by Executive Producer Roxanne Artesona, owner of ROXANNEandco, who guest produced this special season, collaborating with a filmmaker like Tamika Miller is exactly what she wanted this series to embrace. “I was tasked to find the next talent to bring this second COVID-19 Motionpoems piece to life,” she noted. “I immediately thought that Tamika might be the strong powerful voice that could speak to that, and Marge Piercy agreed. It was clear by her concept that Tamika really understood the poem and how it relates to the challenging time we are currently living in. A special shout out to Shindig Music for ‘jumping into work head first’ and composing the music that moves this film.”

Todd Boss, poet and co-founder of Motionpoems, added, “The world is positively parched for ‘what’s-it-all-about’ content right now, and that’s the stuff of poetry. Despite the fact that so many millions are out of work, this modern classic rings the bells of gratitude for those whose continued work is made harder and more dangerous by COVID-19. This poem, written in the 1970s by a white woman but adapted by a young black filmmaker in 2020, takes a historical, cross-cultural, and yet timely approach to the text that says what so many of us are too pent-up-in-our-houses-right-now to say: that we are—how can we not be?—profoundly grateful for the essential services so many working people are doing on a daily basis, despite the circumstances. Everything would grind to a halt without them. This poem is also an oddly prescient barometer of our economic moment. Collectively, we’ve had it with the bloated fatcat 1%. Here’s to the people!” 

The sponsor for this special season of Motionpoems, Dr. Jon Hallberg, director of the Center for the Art of Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School, concluded, “It gives me enormous pleasure to support the production of this Motionpoems film. Marge Piercy’s poem, ‘To be of use,’ has been a favorite of mine (and many others in healthcare) for years, as it speaks to the hard work we do, day-in, day-out.  It takes on new resonance during this time of pandemic, as we realize that essential workers, those who engage in ‘work that is real,’ have been the glue of our society. Finally, having Tamika Miller add a strong social justice element to the film has been a masterstroke, speaking to us the way it does at this time.”

Miller is an alum of SHOOT’s 2019 New Directors Showcase. She also earned distinction as being chosen for the DGA/AICP’s Commercial Directors Diversity Program (CDDP).

Credits

Client Motionpoems Production Tamika Miller, director/writer; Roxanne Artesona, Todd Boss, Jon Hallberg, executive producers; Margaret To, animation & design; Kara Jenelle Wade, choreography & dance; Danny Toback, DP. Editorial Alisa Banks, editor. Color Grading Colin Trenbeath, colorist. Sound Design Cary Daniels, sound designer. Music Shindig Music & Sound Scott Glenn, creative director; Debbi Landon, exec producer; Austin Shupe, composer.

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