Text by Alec Coiro
Images by Lauren Lancaster, Fabio Silva, and Breaking Fad.
Lily Baldwin has evolved as a filmmaker, or perhaps it would be more correct to say she has evolved into a filmmaker, or maybe it would be most apt to say Lily Baldwin is an evolved filmmaker. Originally a dancer, her early films were very much dance pieces in the film medium. She not only directed them but appeared in them as a dancer. Her initial approach to these films was almost a historical throwback to the origin of cinema, using still photography to create stop motion animation. These first movies are gorgeous pieces of visual and kinetic art, which would have formed the firmament of a fine career. But Lily has steadily expanded into more narrative work with a full feature and episodic ideas soon to come to fruition.
This idea of corrupting our sexy fronts, the objectified facades we present to the world. Then peeling them back like a layer of skin.
The genesis of Lily’s film career was her tour with David Byrne for “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.” She was one of three dancers in a performance that evolved as the tour spanned the globe for 150 performances. “After that tour I knew I couldn’t just go back into contemporary dance. I knew I had to grow into something else.” Interestingly the tour was not only her initiation into filmmaking, but in a more disturbing way the kernel for what would become her first feature film.
More on the disturbing bits later.
Lily embodies the spectrum of modern movie making. She is part of the counterthrust who propose that long-form features in the movie theater are not dead, but she also likes “building sentient things that can live on small devices.” She can work in the world of “fast consumption, easily accessible for a diverse audience,” but she is also proficient in the “niche, arthouse, old-school, New York Times reviewed” world. Often, it seems, both ends of this tension exist in a single project. Her most recent release, BFF, is a prime example. BFF is a return to stop motion for Lily, the first in her Liquid Skin series of analogue portraits. It’s a five-minute movie inspired by Sarah Gerard’s book BFF, “about her true story with this dangerously alluring chick who she loved, hated and loved hating”, with a meaty synth score by Mark degli Antoni. For the film Lily “got together three teenagers with distinct personalities, and explored the blurry space of intimacy and triangulation. I’d been wanting to work with teenagers and also non-dancers, with this idea of corrupting our sexy fronts, the objectified facades we present to the world. Then peeling them back like a layer of skin. Subverting expectation and who we think somebody is.” Her friend Alan Ortiz shot it. “He has a killer eye and understands how to make his subjects feel special.”
Her first feature, which her team plans to start shooting at the end of the year, is called GLASS. “It’s a true stalking story” based on Lily’s own experience being stalked, that will live in the realm of “elevated thriller.” This fictional film launches from the case built with the NYC Special Victims Unit for five years. “I was performing on tour with David Byrne when [the stalker] saw me and thought that we kissed and built a fictional reality around a lie. I never met this man. I was hiding for a month.” The way she has fictionalized the experience has everything to do with our modern moment. “It’s about fantasism and projection and how we use our phones as a stage to play alternate versions of ourselves.” The “glass” in the title refers to perception, presumably the lenses that increasingly mediate our experience with reality. Fortunately, Lily is a master of describing the artifice of two-thousand-and-selfie America, and at the same time maintains a dancer’s understanding of the visceral realness of our bodies and by extension the tactile reality of the world at large.
Her upcoming television projects include a murder mystery series with the working title NANTUCKET WATERS. “I had a fellowship on the island with The Screenwriters Colony for my feature GLASS and fell in love with the vast ocean, textured sandbar terrain, the island’s culture and its history, the female society that was burgeoning in the late 1800s.” It was a homosocial sphere of women who remained on land while their husbands went off to sea. “I’m also convinced there were secret female societies on the island.” The specific theme of NANTUCKET WATERS will stay to true to the 18th-century struggle of “woman against the ocean.” But the series will be set in the present day, a fictionalized account that begins with two real unsolved Nantucket murders as its inspiration, and will feature a “brazen female detective with a propensity for death” as the lead. “I’m also a serious sucker for Murder She Wrote,” Lily adds.
Her other TV project is a Soap Opera series called ACTION which she is writing with Chris Radcliff, set behind the scenes of the making of a film. Depicting the twisted web of relationships between cast and crew, it quickly becomes apparent that things aren’t what they seem to be. “For years I’ve been intrigued by the soap’s non-sequitur, tableaux structure that gets dark and absurd fast. Episodes are these juicy, raw, caustic slices of life where you just cut to the heart of the matter. Curve balls happen for no apparent reason and catastrophes don’t need resolve.” Her first Soap Series SLEEPING WITH FRANK was told without words.” As I move towards more traditional story structures, collaborating with Chris’ meticulous investigation of language and narrative reveal has been stellar.” Lily improvised a soap plot for me: “This man I killed, is actually not dead, he’s actually my sister.” I have to say: she’s clearly a natural fit for the genre.
Other things in the works: “More collaboration with friends.” Lily’s new horror film SWALLOWED, produced by Andrew Houchens, is part of the upcoming omnibus feature project Collective:Unconscious, in which filmmakers adapt each other’s dreams. She is collaborating with Saschka Unseld on a VR film.