Up-and-coming director Elena Parasco recently joined forces with The Mill’s Director of Photography Adam Carboni to shoot downtowngirlsbball; a short film that follows a New York based all-girls basketball team comprised of creatives, models, designers and photographers who organize games in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
After joining the team, Parasco soon realized the group’s bond and ritualistic
support for each other was something special made for being documented. "An
all-girls basketball team with a die-hard, show-up-every week all year round
mentality, yet with an ethos of inclusivity, artistic collaboration and
support. It’s this sweaty sacred moment that happened each week. I knew I
wanted to get it on video, if even just for us.” Parasco says.
Downtown Girls Basketball was initially organized by Performance Artist (Auto Body) and Designer, Aria McManus in 2013 as an effort to find a new social outlet to hang out with her friends that were leaving and arriving in New York City. The team propelled a “come one, come all” attitude, allowing women of all different skill levels to join and not feel discouraged on the court or feel the need to compete with each other.
With a crew of stylish individuals, the Downtown Girls Basketball team have been featured in i-D magazine, The New Jock, Cosmopolitan, The Fader, All Day Everyday, Sportv, Popeye Magazine, and TrendingNY.
The video was shot in ‘female gaze’ to target a demographic of young athletic women who aren’t considered typical “athletes,” but carry themselves with dedication and passion, becoming members of a team with a unique current of camaraderie. I intended for the film to celebrate the “non-narrative” while adopting the way females are perceived on screen through a female gaze.
The use of the female lens would pick up where the montage-style drops off, by cutting the tired mystification of female subjects we often lean on, myself included. I especially wanted to use heightened audio along with the jump cut to not only tell the team’s story -- rooted in nostalgia, familiar human flaws, gritty chinatown summer heat, unapologetic aggression, art, and family-vibes— but also to ground the female as individuals and leading subjects, though still within a larger group. For me, the final edit of the film was really important to marry a still, mise-en-scéne-like moment with augmented textural audio to create a final product that offers a more introspective state of mind.
To try and attempt to evoke this perspective, while still intending for the viewer to walk away with the feeling of having gotten to know this group of girls in this particular slot of time, I wanted to celebrate the “non-narrative” through an intentional and present female gaze. This was something that undoubtedly led the film.
I was aware that to
“de-mystify” the beautiful, moving golden-hour-lit-players and ground the
female gaze within the edit would be by delicately weighing out the “back-road”
shots, where we move around them, slowing inching in, and yet at the same time,
directly and fearlessly capturing their power, their essence.
My directing style is definitely one that strays from that Hitchkockian-grip over the viewer experience. Maybe because the stories I’m currently interested in aren’t heavily strictly narrative-based or feature-film length, but most likely, it’s because I’m more drawn to leveraging that short slice of attention we have over the viewer, stretching it, and offering a mélange of ingredients to play within the “introspective oven". Where the viewer can then go and bake the cake themselves.
One of the key challenges for me was incorporating my style whilst also shooting this film from the ‘female gaze’. Framing was the most important visual technique we employed. While pushing the ‘female gaze’ lens, we focused on earning our way in, slowly getting closer to the girls, and by doing so, revealing just enough to give short glimpses of their personalities and athleticism before moving with them on the court.
The visual brief was to capture a docu-art-sport hybrid video, sweaty, feminine, New York. So I made sure to always use diffusion in front of the lenses. It really helps take the edge off the digital images and helps push that ethereal-stretch of time vibe. I mainly used a mixture of Leica and Zeiss lenses on the RED EPIC Dragon Sensor.
Our colourist, Mikey
Rossiter from The Mill (NY), brought a great perspective to the visuals within
the grade. He really wanted to allow the footage to remain authentic, but at
the same time add some ‘magic’ and grit, and by doing so, gave attention through
colors and tonality. I think the final images we created together stand as a true
representation of NYC during their summer 2016 games.
While shooting this film, I quickly learned that this team is an important source of support for girls involved as well as a physical outlet. When they stretch before each practice, they go around the circle and talk about everything from their relationships to their upcoming art gallery shows. It was really inspiring to see a group of artists outside the typical New York “art scene” for a time.
Watch the short film below and follow Elena’s latest work on her website and Adam on his website. You can also find out more about the Downtown Girls Basketball team here and follow their latest adventures on Instagram.