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The Arts

No clowning around here

In ‘World Circus,’ Brattleboro native looks at the high-stakes world of professional circus performers

After the screening of “World Circus,” NECCA will provide a question and answer session with Angela Snow. Space is limited for this free event, although there will be a suggested donation at the door. NECCA’s second-floor studio is at 74 Cotton Mill Hill in Brattleboro. For more information about the film, visit www.worldcircusculturemovie.com.

BRATTLEBORO—On Saturday, Nov. 2, at 7:30 p.m., the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) in Brattleboro presents the hometown premiere of “World Circus,” the first feature film of its director and producer, Angela Snow.

For two months, Snow and her crew followed five top circus acts from around the world as each prepared for the Academy Awards of circus competitions, the Monte Carlo Circus Festival.

In collaboration with the World Circus Federation, and including interviews from the founder of the Big Apple Circus, the owner of Ringling Bros., and artistic director at Cirque du Soleil, Snow’s documentary reveals the behind-the-scenes life, history, and culture of circus on an international scale.

Ian Issitt was the cinematographer for the documentary, Emma Morris was the editor, and Josh Gibson served as second unit camera team leader and media specialist.

“I’m so excited to be able to bring my film to my hometown and show so many that have supported me throughout the years,” says Snow.

“World Circus” had its U.S. premiere last March at the Sedona International Film Festival, after which it began a round of a festival rounds, including the Sarasota, RiverRun, and Coney Island Film Festivals.

The film has also had screening at circus schools, such as at NECCA, and in Los Angeles at Le Studio. Partnering with the distributor FilmBuff, the documentary will be available for video-on-demand platforms later this year, and on DVD following shortly after. The film’s soundtrack is available on iTunes.

Snow says that she has been drawn to the world of the circus since before she can remember.

“To me, the circus is the utmost example of people giving in completely to their dream and taking the risk to push themselves creatively and physically to the limit,” she says.

“Who knows: if my parents had taken me to any more circuses I probably would’ve have run away and joined one. Instead, here I am, with my camera and love of filmmaking trying to capture what it is that fascinates me and others worldwide about this unique and unexplored world.”

From local roots to the world

Snow was born and raised in Brattleboro. “My dad is Dan Snow, the dry stone waller, and my mom is Connie Cline, the new principal at Neighborhood Schoolhouse,” she says.

Snow is a graduate from Columbia College-Chicago with a B.A. in film/video directing. While at Columbia, she directed her first short films and was involved in the production of more than 20 others.

Working in film and television — first in Los Angeles and then later in New York, where she now resides — Snow has been freelancing for networks such as NatGeo and on such shows as “The Deadliest Catch” on the Discovery Channel.

In addition, she started her own travel video company, To the Moon Productions.

“I love, as a filmmaker, to have the power to take something, some other world, living in my head and show it to others, and just maybe somewhere along the line to make a difference,” she says.

“In addition to the narrative work living in my head, I want to show others the reality that lives around us in other cultures, personal stories and places not seen by everyday eyes.”

With these ideals in mind, Snow dedicated herself to making her first feature film about circus arts.

“The circus has a culture of its own, beyond age, country and time, where differences are suspended and magic and art unite,” she says.

The circus acts which Snow followed were the Cirque du Soleil’s Russian bear act; Troupe Yakubov’s strap act from Kazakhstan and China; Martin Lacy Jr.’s lion act from England; Rob Torres, clown from the United States; and Petra and Roland in the Duss Family sea lion act from Germany.

Snow filmed in France, Germany, Holland, London, Italy and Monaco.

Giving circus its proper respect

A major reason that Snow made most of her film in Europe is simple enough: circus is often either overlooked in the United States or is put into the category of “freak show.”

“When I tell people here in America that I am making a film on circus, often they will ask, ‘What are you doing, following the carnies?’ Or, ‘Have you dug up any dirt on those roustabouts?’”

Snow contends that in Europe the attitude is very different.

“One thing that the film will uncover is how huge the world of circus is. ‘Circus World’ shows clowns being asked for autographs, and sold out tents holding 5,000 people for two performances a day,” she says.

She also says circus people are the most charismatic, fit and intelligent people she has ever met:

“Some speak seven languages. Circus is not accepted by the U.S. government as an art the way it is by other countries’ governments in Europe and Asia. This is circus in Europe; this is the reality.”

Perhaps the apex of European circus culture is the ceremony in Monaco, the world’s oldest circus competition, she says.

At the Monte Carlo Circus Festival, what is at stake in winning the Golden Clown, the equivalent of an Academy Award; with it comes recognition, respect, and guaranteed work.

“At this ceremony, you see people arriving by in Rolls Royces, in diamonds and furs, and acts receiving long ovations,” says Snow.

Nonetheless, Snow adds, “I know I emphasize a lot about Europe, but we did film some in the United States, including interviews with a circus historian; with Paul Binder, founder of the Big Apple Circus; Kenneth Feld, owner of Ringling Bros.; and in Canada, with Cirque du Soleil.”

The 63-minute documentary took three years to complete.

“I couldn’t get the access to the artists I needed until the World Circus Association came on board, which was only a short time before I left to Europe to film,” says Snow. “I was worried the whole project would fall apart.”

Filming circus acts for two months was a dream come true for Snow.

“But right after we returned from Europe, I went straight back to reality,” she says, “worrying about my bank account, working full time at my other job to support the film, and losing nights of sleep fretting about all the details that go into making this project.”

She says she believes that the completed film has been well worth all her effort, but life moves on: She is eager now to promote the film and to dedicate herself to other projects.

Second feature in the works

Snow has also been working on a second feature documentary: “Solo No Puedo,” which has been filming for the last six years in a small town in Peru where one of the first architecturally sustainable hospitals to South America is being built.

“Seeing such a foundation arise from the jungles of Peru, with its subsequent tribulation for the country’s culture, has been a fascinating journey,” she says. “I believe the subject will make a very revealing film when it is finished.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #227 (Wednesday, October 30, 2013). This story appeared on page B1.

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