Award-winning Wright State filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar have another hit on their hands. Their latest project, Sparkle, won the Audience Award for Best Short Documentary at SilverDocs, the largest documentary film festival in the United States.
Sparkle tells the story of celebrated Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) dancer Sheri “Sparkle” Williams as she recovers from the first major injury in her 38-year career. Reichert and Bognar began the project to answer the question “Will she ever dance again.”
“We all face these kind of crossroads, especially as we get older,” said Reichert. “Can we continue the life we’ve always known? Can we continue the career we love?”
Reichert and Bognar were nominated for a 2010 Academy Award for their documentary The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant. Their film A Lion in the House premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, won a Primetime Emmy and was nominated for Best Documentary in the 2007 Independent Spirit Awards.
With a crew composed mostly of Wright State film students and alumni, the pair followed Williams through her months-long recovery process. The film offers audiences a rare behind-the-scenes look at DCDC’s rehearsals and performances.
“As filmmakers, we crave visual experiences,” said Bognar, a 1986 graduate of Wright State’s motion pictures program. “So often in documentaries, people are just talking. This was the opposite—kinetic and rhythmic.”
The longevity of Williams’ career is unusual in the world of dance. The 50-year-old dancer joined DCDC in 1973. A native Daytonian, Williams has received numerous awards throughout her career including the JOSIE Award, Fisk University’s Excellence in Artistry Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District and the coveted New York Dance and Performance Award (the Bessie).
Bognar said that the film depicts Williams and her DCDC company as a family of caring, fun people who are not only great performers, but also exceptionally hard workers.
“It was incredibly challenging to film because they’re always moving,” he said. “But sometimes it comes out just poetic and perfect. It’s magic when those moments happen.”
Reichert said it was an honor for the film just to be accepted to SilverDocs. This year, the festival received more than 2,000 new documentary submissions from around the world. She and Bognar never expected that Sparkle would win the coveted Audience Award, beating the more than two dozen other short documentaries in the festival.
“We are truly stunned,” said Reichert, Wright State film professor. “There were so many great films shown. But when the audiences jumped to their feet with standing ovations for Sheri, we could see that her story of resilience and determination captivated them.”
Reichert and Bognar are planning Sparkle’s Dayton premiere in collaboration with DCDC. They hope to announce details of the event soon.