The black-and-white short Moving Barcelona is the eighth film in London-based director Jevan Chowdhury’s series Moving Cities – dedicated to exploring cities in motion. The concept of the film is easily comprehensible and instantly excites the imagination of anyone who loves the ‘act’ of belonging to a city. The belonging is recognised precisely as an act, as action, related to social commitment; as an effort, attention and vivid interest in the surrounding world, because cities are worlds and the world can be contained in a city. What kind of world is Barcelona? Or, what is Barcelona, according to Jevan Chowdhury’s dance film? Let’s quickly point out the most visible. Barcelona is dynamic, turbulent, palpitating, and in constant motion. Like every big and multicultural centre, it possesses these characteristics of intensity. But Barcelona is also not like any other place. It is laden with history; its streets tell of battles of bodies and battles of minds. Exhausted, Barcelona falls asleep late at night, but in the morning awakens again to rush, to protest, to declare itself, to be a city of freedom, creation, colours and love. A city to dive into and a city stage.

I was excited by the idea of commenting and interpreting a beloved ‘moving city’ and was happy to have had the opportunity to spend a few intriguing Zoom minutes in the company of the director of Moving Barcelona and ask him questions. The core of our conversation was the artistic process of creating the work. The director shared that in capturing the images, he favours his intuition, while in the subsequent editing process, he aims for a meticulous arrangement of the city puzzle pieces. In the beginning, there is no storyboard; a ‘story’ or a ‘plot’ is not necessary either. The planning follows the perception of the specific city as well as the artistic interactions. Similarly, the aim of the choreography is not to be strict, accurate and perfectly precise. Jevan works side-by-side with the dancers and quickly trusts them as collaborators. However, the choice of location, the position of the camera and its movement are his firm creative decisions – possibly because of his professional experience as a photographer. Undoubtedly, he is the eyes of this dance film, the creative force behind the project and the one ‘composing’ the complete artwork.

The director’s intention is reflected in the reaction of Moving Barcelona’s audience, which first and foremost feels. In the beginning, the viewer is invited to hear and watch carefully. And later is swooped by the city, by its people, its objects, machines, buildings, terraces, escalators, scale, traffic! The viewer is immersed in Barcelona day, at the moment in which the city is at its noisiest – like a young and driven person, who longs to belong, to discover and love, but is also susceptible to negative emotions and is angry and chaotically shuffles the surrounding world with long hands and agile fingers.

Short movie “Moving Barcelona” by  Jevan Chowdhury

At the 1-minute and 28 seconds mark of the film, we see a woman with a dress and sunglasses, reaching forward with her hand as if to greet a massive truck, moving into the frame from left to right. The focus is still on her; then a car moves behind her; the eye of the camera follows it; the editing scissors cut and we see another moving person.

A few minutes later, at the end of the movie, right before the captions, we see a wide and empty space; a girl kicks a bucket; new shot, in which the camera moves gently from left to right and then from right to left; the girl runs in one place, looking at the sky; new shot – the same girl runs, but now we see one side of her face; the mechanical camera eye slowly approaches her before abruptly panning to the right; new shot – the girl runs and runs and runs and we are there with her. This is how the movie ends before we see the black screen and the words ‘the city does not tell its past’.

Two examples of film moments that convince the viewer that Barcelona will never stop and that all the city’s inhabitants – people or machines – are in constant interconnectedness, depending on each other, generating each other’s movement. At first sight, this motion seems to have a chaotic and illogical rhythm, but it is actually within a concentrated cosmos of human decisions, paved paths, and, of course, dancing bodies. Camera, dancers, city, montage, music – the constant mixing of these elements and means of expression infuses the movie and gives it texture, which overflows from the screen to the viewer.

Music has an important role in Jevan’s work and Moving Barcelona is an example thereof. And it shows: as if due to the melody, the whole film gradually escalates into a fascinating experience. The director says that often everything starts with the music and the artistic path follows the line – music, image, complete audiovisual work. Perhaps, the first drops of inspiration for Moving Barcelona are the emotional music, as well as the city as a focus of research (like in every creation within the series Moving Cities).

In all of the dance films in the bigger project Moving Cities, there are shots in the epicentre of hectic intersections with cars, heavy buses, and the curious eyes of people passing by. The city is presented as a living organism, maintaining its pulse with the help of machines, engines and their symbiosis with people. In our video conversation, Jevan shared that he is intrigued by this concept – the world, constructed and moved every day by us, the people. It is almost like nature isn’t part of the city space. Still, some water elements find their place in Barcelona and its screendance reflection – the sea coast, not calm, but rough, exactly like the crowds on the bustling boulevards; fountains, sheltering someone’s nudity as an authentic and at the same time extravagant existence in the here and now; two male figures with bathing suits ready to jump-dive, dancing humorously, their background – the dense city landscape. This is Moving Barcelona: pieces from an exciting puzzle of architecture, people and objects, captured in a memorable shots from above and afar and up-close. Describing some of the film’s fragments (as an audiovisual experience rather than an academic analysis), I hope the invitation to encounter this dance film is certain and clear and intrigues curious minds and people, eager for diverse forms of art.

Short movie “Moving Barcelona” by  Jevan Chowdhury

Moved by cities, Jevan Chowdhury waves an inspired hand at Italo Calvino; and his Invisible Cities wink back at us from the screen. The director writes a text for the actor Pep Munné, taking lines directly from the novel, but partly transforming them gives them a new sound and a new meaning. Right here we can ask ourselves – do cities (as an extension of people) change? In the beginning, Moving Barcelona says ‘yes’, there is a change and it is linked to the loss of something or to the inability to forgive; to the impossibility to turn anger into happiness, the difficulty breathing, the looking into a city that won’t tell its secrets, but will make you dig in it for them. Universal human conflicts. In its end, however, the artwork seems to determine that nothing has changed, that people will always want to belong, to rebel, to search with open arms and embrace the cities, in which they live; the cities they come back to, and sometimes the cities they wander as foreigners. Barcelona is constantly moving and inevitably changes its looks, its ideals and its dreams, but at its core, they are always the same – simple and easy to interpret, more through sensibility rather than through intellect.

This is just one interpretation of Moving Barcelona. The wonderful thing is that a lot more are possible. In our online conversation, Jevan made it clear that he is reluctant to label his artwork. Moving Barcelona can be a political film, but this is not its only goal. It can be analysed with the help of screendance characteristics and terms, but it doesn’t feel the need to belong to this field. For some viewers Moving Barcelona is without a doubt a dance film, socially engaged with Barcelona, the heart of Catalonia – a vibrant and contradictory place with a complex identity and a specific cultural and historical stance, characterised by disunity and dangerous ideological gaps. For others, the work is a collaboration between an ambitious camera, bodies moving in a variety of dance styles, and a musical symphony of classical and electronic sounds. And for someone else, it is neither one, nor the other, but a pure and crystallised experience of art.

The audience feels Moving Barcelona, especially if the people are familiar with life in the city (any big city). They are ready to debate which exact element makes the film meaningful and powerful. It is interesting to distinguish the differences in the perceptions of people who know Barcelona only from the internet, books or television and those who have visited the city and have spent considerable time there. In this context, a typical example is the criticism that the movie has a black-and-white aesthetic that is ‘dissonant’ with the colourful character of the city. For Jevan this is a deliberate choice and a thread that connects the works within the Moving Cities project. The artist focuses on the movement of the city, its people and objects, their constant and surprising interactions. Colour would be a distraction and would blur the concept. More essential is the kinetic energy and the possibility for us to feel like a part of something vast, beautiful and meaningful, albeit for a few minutes.

Moving Barcelona contains in itself surprises and charges, as well as a provocation for interpreting the goal and the message of the film. This is the 8th film of the series Moving Cities. London, Paris, Brussels, Dallas, Prague, Yerevan and Athens already have their dynamic dance portraits. All of them are united by aesthetic choices, movement and a primary concept, but at the same time, every one of them hides its uniqueness and is deserving of exploration. Barcelona, as well as Moving Barcelona, tie together the universal and the special, artistic and social dimensions, rich culture and wild instinct. There are billions of people and thousands of cities on our planet and that is why the project can be practically everlasting. It is exciting to think about Jevan’s next destination – who will be the collaborators he will meet, what will they create together and what will they present to us? Unforgettable moving cities, no doubt.

Ana-Maria Sotirova has a degree in Film from the University of Reading and a Master’s degree in Film Studies from the University of Amsterdam. She is a collaborator at the Moving Body Festival in Varna with lead organisers Svetlozara Hristova and Iskra Ivanova.

Miryana Mezeklieva (1987) graduated in Cultural Studies at Sofia University Kliment Ohridski. Since 2008 until today she has been working as a translator of feature films and series for dubbing mainly for the channels of Nova Broadcasting Group.

This material was created within the project Translation on Air – a section dedicated to screendance. Every month we invite professional and amateur audiences, tempted by this intriguing symbiosis between film and dance, to join our readings, conversations and discussions with active choreographers in the field from the country and abroad. The project “Translation on Air” is implemented with the financial support of the National Culture Fund under the programs “Audiences” 2020 and “One-Year Grant” 2021.

Short movie “Moving Barcelona”

Jeffery, Luisa, 2015. Working Backwards: An interview with Filmmaker, Jevan Chowdhury, Marmoset. 

Li, Natalie, 2022. The St Albans Filmmaker Capturing Cities In A New Light, Absolutely Hertfordshire.