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Movement Song (2023)
Film, 110 min.

Fiction - Documentary hybrid

A fig leaf leading to the main works page of the website
Two screenshots from the film Movement Song

Noa (portrayed by Victoria McKenzie) is a researcher, an artist, a collector of stories as well as an intuitive practitioner of re-storying; honing methods of crafting homespace on earth against systemic odds. She moves with her Caribbean lineage, having already moved to many different places, and is also moving with a recently heightened presence of grief. She is heartbroken. Through her friend Jules (portrayed by Jules Davis-Dufayard), a mysterious glass hammer connects her to Saffron (portrayed by Sabrina Miller); a poet, writer, editor and a trusted protector of rare objects.

Noa and Saffron develop deep intimacy and move through conflict among and with their friends. Their passion, grief and joy instigates movement as their love builds resilience.

Noa's heartbreak takes her to Saint Paul-de-Vence in southern France, in the footsteps of James Baldwin whose unprocessed grief took him there in 1971 to spend the last 16 years of his life in that small village. Traces of an exile or a final home can be difficult to see on the surface level due to the erasure of Black domesticity. Who is allowed to put down roots, and where? Whose home is only temporarily tolerated? Whose tangible legacies are seen worthy of protection? What makes an enduring homespace?

Two screenshots from the film Movement Song

The research for Movement Song began when Mayıs Rukel travelled to the small southern France village St.Paul-de-Vence in 2022, to trace the legacy of James Baldwin, simultaneously on a grief pilgrimage himself. A writer largely known for living a life of exile, Saint-Paul-de-Vence was a special place for being chosen as a home for Baldwin. He wanted the house to be turned into a writer’s retreat for African diaspora writers after his death, but the estate fell into the hands of developers, was destroyed, and a luxurious gated community was built upon its grounds.

Mayıs Rukel established contact with Magdalena J. Zaborowska, the Baldwin scholar at the Univeristy of Michigan and the writer of books Me and My House: James Baldwin's Last Decade in France and James Baldwin's Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile. Zaborowska generously opened up her archival material and made her own connections available. This meant access to photos of Baldwin’s home prior to its destruction, as well as connection with Jill Hutchinson.

Jill was the beloved partner of James Baldwin’s brother David. After David’s death, a lot of the tangible remnants of James' St.Paul-de-Vence home went to Jill’s protection: his typewriter, tambourine, LP collection, Légion d'honneur and more. In May 2023, Jill accepted to take part in Movement Song and invited Mayıs and Victoria to her home in Vence to document the archive.

Two screenshots from the film Movement Song

The encounter with Jill immediately made it clear that this process could not be yet another exercise of extractivist archiving of precious material.

Love holds archive. The story of James Baldwin's tangible remnants ending up under Jill's protection was also the love story of Jill and David Baldwin; love that comes with its companions joy, loss, grief, wonder, memory, care.

This encounter shaped Noa's story. Through establishing touch with the archive, love, memory and grief of a real person, the fictional character Noa became capable of moving her own grief; finally finding softening of the tightness of her chest the grief kept her sleepless with. Through this encounter, Noa becomes able to move with love again.

Two screenshots from the film Movement Song

How can the practices of archiving/unarchiving, documentation, gathering, guarding, protecting, re-storying be transformed in order to disconnect from the reproduction of colonial extractivism, and connected back to care, respect, honesty, reciprocity, transparency, and accountability?

Two screenshots from the film Movement Song

Movement Song shares the title with the Audre Lorde poem.

"I have studied the tight curls on the back of your neck   
moving away from me
beyond anger or failure
your face in the evening schools of longing
through mornings of wish and ripen
we were always saying goodbye
in the blood in the bone over coffee
before dashing for elevators going
in opposite directions
without goodbyes.


Two screenshots from the film Movement Song
Two screenshots from the film Movement Song
Two screenshots from the film Movement Song
Screenshot from the film Movement Song

Film by
Mayıs Rukel
Victoria McKenzie
Sabrina Miller
Jules Davis-Dufayard

Directed by
Mayıs Rukel

Written by
Mayıs Rukel
with the participation of
Victoria McKenzie
Sabrina Miller
Jules Davis-Dufayard

Noa Da'Costa - Victoria McKenzie
Saffron Williams - Sabrina Miller
Jules - Jules Davis-Dufayard
Noa's parting lover - Anna Raiola
Mira Thompson
Jill Hutchinson
Sean-Claude Barnaby Neufville
Lina Bravo Mora
Mar Maiques Diaz
Effy Fu Yuanyuan
Jerrold Saija
Emma van Bokhoven
Ro Buur

Cinematography, edit, colour-grading, sound design by
Mayıs Rukel

Sound mix and mastering by
Rick Haring

3D design by
Teun Grondman

Original piano by
Patrick Walinga

Autoharp by
Mayıs Rukel

"Memories Collection" by
Mira Thompson

Falling shark dream seen by
Effy Fu Yuanyuan

Glass hammer by
Mayıs Rukel

James Baldwin's St.Paul-de-Vence house images are courtesy of Magdalena Zaborowska: "Chez Baldwin Writer's House Digital Collection" University of Michigan Library Digital Collections

James Baldwin interview Mavis on Four video excerpt courtesy of Fremantle

Gratitude for

Jill Hutchinson, for love and trust
Victoria McKenzie, Sabrina Miller, Jules Davis-Dufayard, for brilliance, patience and friendship
Magdalena Zaborowska, for generously sharing information, creating connections
Camille Barton for the gift of Ecologies of Transformation, for the grief toolkit
Cohort of EoT for the journey we shared
Char CA for teaching the Resilience Toolkit (Nkem Ndefo - Lumos Transforms)
Mar Maiques Diaz and Kai Cheng Thom for conflict transformation wisdom
Joy Mariama Smith for two years of somatic integration and liminal objectives
belit sağ for loving guidance through thesis research
Angelo Christiaan and Nagare Willemsen for holding our space with care
Georges Matisse, Gwenaelle Fossard and Sister Bernadette Fabre for allowing us to film inside La Chapelle du Rosaire of Matisse
Rietveld and Sandberg Library for allowing us to make a mess there
Medialab Ineke Bakker, Ivo van Stiphout, Ramon Coelho for your support and kindness
Michael & Luc Tombeur for support in St.Paul-de-Vence
Patrick Walinga for love, care and genius
Saturn return, for feeling again

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