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“The Semicircle of Empty Chairs Being Set Up and Attended To”: James D. Stern | Giving Voice

A still from Giving Voice by James D. Stern and Fernando Villena (courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Whether capturing or creating a world, the objects onscreen tell as much of a story as the people within it. Whether sourced or accidental, insert shot or background detail, what prop or piece of set decoration do you find particularly integral to your film? What story does it tell?

I think the shot of the semicircle of empty chairs being set up and attended to before the finals of the competition at the August Wilson Theater on Broadway in New York is the prop or set design that truly stays with me. The image speaks to the anticipation of the competition as well as being a symbol of how the students (and we as an audience) sit and listen to stories as well as tell our stories (as Wilson did). Finally, as the young actors get up from these chairs to deliver their monologues, it suggests the students getting up, taking a chance and a step towards, quite literally, giving voice to August Wilson’s words.

Sundance Responses 2020

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