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|Area filmmaker Liza Johnson screens "In the Air" at the Wex
N. SHUMATE, OUT OF THE BLUE
Females and males of all ages, shapes and sizes dangle from trapezes, do front
flips, dance with no regard to form and run up walls to back flip and propel
themselves down to land on their feet.
Filmmaker Liza Johnson was inspired by watching these motions inside Cirque
D’Art circus school, located in her hometown of Portsmouth, Ohio. She put
the circus school images and stories against the economically depressed
backdrop of the town to make her film “In the Air.”
The 22-minuet film is being looped continually for free at The Wexner Center’
s exhibition space for video, The Box, seven days a week through Nov. 30.
“We wanted to show the special atmosphere of life in the school,” said
Johnson, “but also show the scenes of everyday general life, which isn’t as fun
as the circus.”
Two years ago, while visiting Portsmouth to research a future project, Johnson
was invited to the circus school by teacher Pegi Wilkes.
Stepping inside the school, Johnson said she saw people from all over the
county, including children from different school districts.
“They were super democratic people in a democratic environment. I saw
really young kids mixed with adults just doing fun stuff with their bodies,”
After her visit, Johnson began to workshop ideas for filming in the school.
Between teaching art at Williams College in western Massachusetts, Johnson
made three different trips to the circus school.
“I went back to observe, meet more people and work with everyone to find
out what we all wanted to do before filming,” Johnson said.
The Wexner Center’s Art and Tech department loaned their 16mm camera
and production equipment to Johnson for filming, which lasted 10 days in
“It was really cold, but we captured good scenes of ice flows on the Ohio
River,” she said. “I don’t think there have been many images like those
incorporated into films.”
Johnson said she edited for several weeks and returned to Portsmouth in
March to complete the project after three more days of filming. A film editor
for “In the Air” helped Johnson decide on a title.
“It’s about the atmosphere and the quality of what they do,” Johnson said.
“What they do in the circus school is uplifting. But the physical actions in a
circus aren’t always on the ground.”
The persistent economic challenges faced by many in the un-industrialized
southern Ohio city and the struggles of adolescence were used as backdrops.
“It’s been hard times,” Johnson said. “There’s not enough work and the area
has been slammed by recent demographics of drugs.”
As for the future of “In the Air,” Johnson said she hopes for many viewings.
“They haven’t been announced yet, but we’re really excited for the film to be
in some festivals,” Johnson said. “The film will also be shown in good venues
across the U.S. and Europe.”
Johnson has a background in visual arts, and she specializes in short
experimental film projects as well as instillation projects. Some of her work
has been shown in New York, Berlin and Rotterdam Film Festivals.
Previous films by Johnson include “South of Ten,” “Desert Motel,” and “Good
Johnson said she admires the work of director Gus van Sant and appreciates
international film forms of realism.
The “In the Air” screening is showing from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through
Wednesday; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday; and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. (photos courtesy Tim Fulter)