Complementing and adding to the festival is the documentary film Dancing Free by Elettra Fiumi which describes the making of this first edition and which, once filming has been completed, will be participating in leading international film festivals.

From its title, the project Dancing Free suggests the relationship between film and the dance, the representation of a utopia on film, seeking perfect movement and freedom.  The same theme is at the heart of the first edition of the Lugano Dance Project towards which artists strive ceaslessly. To achieve this, Elettra Fiumi set out on a journey of exploration that lasted over a year and took her around the world where she observed, documented and interviewed three choreographers while they were preparing their performances for the LAC stage: Virginie Brunelle, Annie Hanauer and Lea Moro.

Elettra Fiumi is an award-winning Lugano-based documentary film director, producer and editor. Her films often explore themes of innovation, sense of place and what drives us. She has worked on films for Netflix, Amazon Prime, The New Yorker, BBC, Teen Vogue, Siemens, WhatsApp and others. Hailing from Florence, she lived many years in New York. She is an alum of the Columbia University School of Journalism and Mount Holyoke College.



Fiumi Studios is a full-service production and online content strategy company based in Lugano and New York City. It combines the journalistic approach of curiosity, exclusive access, in depth research, often integrating vast archives and interviews with cinematic storytelling to tell intimate portraits in awe dropping locations. It approaches its own stories with a keen international knowledge and experience, understanding zeitgeist while preserving local character. It tells compelling stories of people, brands and places across nations and industries, including in art, architecture, music, food, technology, adventure travel and fashion.

Q&A with Elettra Fiumi
by Marco Cacioppo, Filmmaker, Journalist and Film Critic

Interview with director and producer Elettra Fiumi who directed the documentary film Dancing Free in collaboration with the LAC and Franklin University.

1) How was the project “Dancing Free” born?

I teach non-fiction content production and journalism at Franklin University in Lugano. It was the university that suggested that I help them tell the story of the contemporary dance festival they were organizing together with the LAC.

2) What does the title refer to?

It was inspired by the idea of the Festival itself to go back and pay homage to Monte Verità’s past. It was there that idealists, artists and intellectuals gathered around the Hungarian choreographer Rudolf von Laban, who was striving to set the dance free from the constraints of traditional doctrine. Contemporary dance essentially breaks the barriers of classical dance. For us this also means the spirit of freedom one finds in the quest for a utopia. It may well be that this utopia doesn’t exist or that it can’t be reached but in the meantime, the very act of dancing, and therefore, of living, sets us free.

3) Does “Dancing Free” have anything in common with other projects you’ve done?

I’ve explored so many themes in my films, but in effect, there is one aspect they all share in common: intimacy. In every story I tell, I always try to enter as much as possible inside the soul of my characters. I also often work with archives. “Radical Landscapes”, for example, is based on the archives of the “Gruppo 9999”, the group of radical architects my father belonged to. Also for Siemens I drew on their vast archive.

4) What’s your background?

I started out as a journalist working for American Express’ travel and culture magazines. While doing my Masters in journalism at Columbia University I became passionate about documentaries and became a filmmaker. Since 2011 I’ve been working on my own as a producer, director and editor, mainly creating web video content for news organizations like the BBC and The New Yorker and companies like Siemens and Whatsapp. I was born and raised in Florence but I went to university in Massachusetts. Then I lived 14 years in New York before moving to Lugano nearly 4 years ago.

5) Did you ever have anything to do with the dance before “Dancing Free”?

I always liked it and when I was living in New York I often used to go to dance performances. With my ex-partner I even created a series on women for MSNBC. Its title was “Breaking Glass”, and it was made up of several films that explored the dance in various forms, from Burlesque to contemporary dance, from the festival Creative Time “Drifting in Daylight” in Central Park, and even a musical for a profile of Anna Louizos, one of the few set designers on Broadway.

6) What is “Dancing Free” exactly about?

It’s basically about how contemporary dance has the power to change peoples’ perception of reality. Through an interweaving of dreams, motivations, bodies, movements and music, the film will be a journey inside the creative process of three internationally renowned young choreographers, Virginie Brunelle, Lea Moro and Annie Hanauer, in view of their performances at the LAC in Lugano during the last week of May 2022.

7) Were you given carte blanche to develop it?

Initially we proposed a film treatment. Once this was approved, I had total creative freedom. Of course, everybody knows that when you’re filming in real life, unexpected things always happen that can change some details of the story. All told, however, I have to say that, in this case, the film largely corresponds to the original idea.

8) What was your approach in terms of documentary filmmaking?

We did a lot of research including preliminary interviews with the protagonists and a detailed study of Monte Verità, which was the source of inspiration for the festival. The documentary is observational, so the filmed interviews will be used as the basis for the story. As regards the structure, the film is still in the process of being made which means that it might undergo some changes during the writing and editing phases. In any case, our idea is to keep the circular structure that starts with showing the performances at the festival and then goes back like a big flashback. In that way we will tell in parallel the creative processes of the three artists. Then bringing it altogether is the passion and story of the LAC’s general manager, Michel Gagnon, the visionary who gave birth to the idea of the festival.

9) Did you have visual references?

Everything started with the work of research with our protagonists, so the three choreographers were our main reference source. We asked to look at their notebooks, and to know what inspired them for their numbers. Given the theme of the dance, two documentaries were very useful like Pina by Wim Wenders and Fuoriscena about the La Scala theatre in Milan.

10) Was it hard to strike a balance between doing research on your protagonists and your work as a director?

The choreographers needed to concentrate as much as possible, so it was fundamental to find the right balance between allowing them to create without feeling they were being observed and our need to capture their creative process. Working in documentary film I’ve gotten accustomed to the idea that perfection only exists when you know how to adapt to what reality places at your disposal. That’s also why I prefer this language to fiction. Real life is much stronger and more complex, without counting how much harder it is to capture the most significant moments that characterize an individual. You can observe someone for days with the camera running and miss the moment you were waiting for. But maybe it’s in that very material that you discover something that’s even more representative that you hadn’t considered.

11) How did you work on the representation of the dance?

Through the parallels that exist between the fluidity of the act of dancing and water and sound. We filmed the bodies of water that are found in the various cities at the centre of the film, especially, Lugano. The LAC is right on the lake. Filming water in its various forms, it also becomes a leitmotif that can help create links between places and characters. As regards the psychology of our protagonists, we want to get the audience immersed in their creative process, thanks to a particular sound design aimed at bringing out the inner experience. A team of professionals from Milan is working on this.

12) Can you give us an example?

Lea Moro developed her number “Another Breath” based on a study of breathing. During a scene that we filmed with her in a forest, we created a sound design that could convey the origin of this idea of hers. While she’s walking and talking about herself, we hear the sound of her breathing becoming more intense, accompanying her to the edge of the forest, where her idea, symbolically materializes.

13) Did you also get your own students involved in the making of this film?

Yes. The kids in the spring course “Producing Non-Fiction Short Films” learned how to edit with the footage we filmed of Annie. As an exam they got into groups and made three videos. One on the story of Monte Verità, using the incredible archive that was made available to us. Another was on the profiles of the three choreographers and what it means for them to have these three women as models. The third is a series of interviews with professors and students in the three classes that were working on the project.

14) Will they be included in the documentary or will they have their own autonomous life?

At the moment they will have their own autonomous life, but we’ll have a better idea once we start editing!

15) What was your greatest challenge?

Without a doubt coordinating for more than a month shooting in various cities and countries to film the choreographers, with very complicated schedules and Covid protocols!

16) What did you discover that you didn’t know before thanks to “Dancing Free”?

As a newcomer to Ticino, it was a great pleasure to discover and learn about the rich history of Monte Verità.

17) And speaking of utopias? Did you find your own idea of perfection?

The choreographers often told us that they weren’t interested in perfection. Imperfection is much more interesting. Messier, richer. There’s a lot of truth in that, even in the end they attained perfection in a natural way after days and days of rehearsals. For me, on the other hand, perfection is in the very process of exploration. I’m more interested in exploring than in arriving. For me that’s utopia, that moment of being deeply immersed in the creative process.