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Interview with Israel Rivera

Filmmaker Israel Rivera in Brisbane for the exclusive season of the American Ballet Theatre

7 min read

Filmmaker Israel Rivera in Brisbane for the exclusive season of the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) talks about his project A New York moment.


Q: What made you want to work on this project?

A New York Moment has probably been one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever filmed. I was totally attracted to the challenge of working with such an exclusive and incredible dance company like the ABT, whilst also trying to bring a little of where we live into a very unique way of filming dance and creating a visual story. From conception, visualising the story, the filming, the way the music was composed, performed and recorded to the editing process, each of these have been experiences and bit of a journey.

Q: Having not met the dancers before filming and with little creative direction; how did you come up with the concept/story board for the film/music composition?

There was not much time for them to get to know me so I knew that first impressions would be incredibly important. I have to admit, I was in awe of Gillian and James, and maybe a bit anxious in terms of how they would react to my way of working. The first stage of the filming was in the studio, so I pretty much let them perform just for me and I worked around them so I could show them what I could do with their dance visually. Once they saw what I was doing, they both put an incredible amount of trust and love into what they did for me. It was such an emotional and inspiring thing watching them dance for me personally, it was incredibly moving. Even though it was amazing to shoot them in the middle of the city, to have an opportunity to witness two incredible dancers like Gillian and James dance in a lonely studio on a moody day was one that I will never forget. To be there to capture it was a bonus.

After I was asked if I wanted to shoot this film, the very first thing I did was actually ring my good friend Alex to tell him about it, to ask his advice and also bounce a few ideas that I had. I felt I needed to create something unique both visually and emotionally and I felt that our good friend Rohin Jones would be perfect to compose a unique musical piece. Music for me is a very visual medium and I need to be able to connect to sound. Rohin and I have worked and collaborated on a few projects together, we really connect to each other's craft. We have a very similar way of visualising so I knew he would understand my vision and I knew he would also be quite passionate and his music would be a key feature of the uniqueness and unpredictability of this project.

Q: Tell us a little bit more about your creative process when putting something like this together?

Actually the creative process for me on this has been a bit back to front! Normally I would have music already done and ready, and then build my story, but on this one just the logistics of how it evolved and happened was quite the other way around! I spent a huge amount time listening to very ambient classical music and then pictured how Gillian and James would react in dance. This is quite scary having not had any direct contact with either of them prior to filming. I unconsciously created this love story of two people who are physically connected together every day in dance, but they cannot be emotionally together and it almost unbearable for them both. It was highly emotional to capture and both of them really dove into their characters on the day. I feel the film really captures the emotion of the day, it was wonderful to witness.

Rohin is not only an incredible musician but also a true visionary and he really jumped into the deep end with me on this project. I always love working with Rohin, you never know what is going to come out and I really love and enjoy this challenge of his art and unpredictably. It's quite a unique visual relationship, we have so much trust and respect for each other's craft. We spent many hours discussing the direction of how it would evolve, how emotionally the piece would develop for these two characters. The musical piece was always going to be the script for the vision. Once we got some final ideas I felt it would be great to put my ideas to paper and that is what I sent to NY for them to read so they would have some understanding of what they would be doing with me, but at all times I wanted to keep the creative process open to accommodate the unpredictability of the project.

Q: Once the piece was filmed, did you get back together to edit the final version, or did you work quite independently?

Both Rohin and I have very different ways of working and I really felt that to maintain an honest amount of individuality, it was super important that Rohin have his creative space to develop his sound and visual landscape. The editing stage was highly challenging, as there were a few hurdles to overcome, being such a raw and unpredictable way of shooting and also the complexity of Rohin's music, it was not an easy film to edit. I called on the help of a good friend and fantastic editor Andy Thompson to try and lay out my emotional rational and flow of the story. Andy and I have spent a good part of 6 months working on work projects together and I felt his connection and understanding of my style of shooting would really fit into how the film would be laid out. He spent many, many hours dissecting a flow trying to connect story to dance, story to music. I still remember the moment I first saw the very first proper edit, I could hardly contain my excitement, and it suddenly became alive. Originally the film was all going to be black and white, but the more we got deeper into the story the more we both felt it needed separation to help dramatise the story and keep the story and feel more unpredictable. Editing dance has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but incredibly rewarding. I am very proud of what we have done.

Q: What is it that you love about Brisbane and its creative scene?

I feel currently there is this incredible maturity in the arts that is of a world standard here in Brisbane. There is a fantastic creative vibe in this city that is totally intoxicating. Music, visual arts, performance art, food, design, there are so many incredible talented people doing quite unique things and putting their stamp culturally on our beautiful city. I am very proud of what is happening here and that I am getting opportunities to express my visions through my work. There is always that seduction to move away to other parts of the world or cites to challenge yourself creatively, but I feel there are no limitations to creativity and as time goes by there is more and more vision and acceptance to the creative scene. We are attracting so many world-class performers and companies to Brisbane. A good example of this is having a dance company like the ABT performing here, exclusively. One thing I will say though is that there is a challenge that we will lose talent if we don't respect our heritage. We are losing so many old buildings and creative spaces due to the fast pace of growth. Growth is important but growth has to adapt also culturally and we will lose identify and if we don't retain these inspiring places.

Q: What is the main thing you took out of this project?

There are so many things I have taken out of this project. Too many to list, but the main one for me is how incredibly proud and blessed I am to have been given the opportunity to work on such a wonderful project like this one for the ABT, but also to collaborate with some of the most creative and inspiring people I know. There is nothing more inspiring than doing something that you really love and even more so when you are doing it with people you really admire.

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