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Conversations with Mary Trunk

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mary Trunk.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?

The beginning.

• Wanted to be a ballerina.
• Took figure skating lessons instead. More convenient for parents.
• Loved to draw and read. Escape.
• Lived in my imagination as much as possible.

The middle.
• Kept drawing despite teachers and father making corrections.
• Folk dancing was offered in public school. Loved it.
• Saved up money to take ballet at night. Rode my bike to get there.
• Needed a lot of opportunities to escape. Divorce, poverty, secrets, creativity.

More middle.
• College. Art Major.
• Bad boyfriends, etc.
• Laurie Anderson performs in our dorm dining hall.
• Students do a dance performance. I’m transfixed by both.
• Audition for dance department and switch majors.
• My life changes.

Later middle.
• Dance, more dance, choreograph, perform. LOVE IT MORE THAN ANYTHING.
• No bad boyfriends. No boyfriends at all. I don’t care.
• Dance company in San Francisco for ten years.
• Meet a good boyfriend, now husband, who collaborates with me on work. He’s brilliant.
• We start making films. Opens up a whole new world.

Late middle.
• More films, performances, installations, experiments.
• Constant working and creating despite shitty day jobs. But we love it.
• How to make a living: graduate school.
• MFA in Film.

• Making lots of films, some with dancers.
• Teaching. Gives me the space and time to keep making my own stuff – mostly.
• Direct and produce three documentary features, many short documentaries, a few scripted narratives and lots of screen dance videos.

• Completed fourth documentary feature: Muscle Memory, a film that looks back at how dance changed my life and how it affected my friends at the time. Public release soon. Free screening opportunities now. Contact:
• Director of Holding Still, a documentary about a meditation practice in Folsom Prison.
• Director of the CSJ Oral History project about the nuns who started Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles.
• Screen Dance Instructor at Loyola Marymount University.
• Full-time professor at Mount St. Mary’s University.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?

I feel fortunate that if I don’t create I get depressed. Depression sucks but it motivates me to keep making things. The fact is that I like to get lost in the work. It doesn’t matter if I’m sleep-deprived or hungry because I want to be in that zone.

Things that prevent me from working:

• Distractions. Phone calls, Texts. Emails. Cat meowing. Doing laundry. Things breaking or needing repair in the house. Showering. Hair washing. Looking in the mirror. No coffee in the house. No dark chocolate. Anything that impedes or halts the action of working.

• Challenges. Quieting the inner doubts and critiques. Looking in the mirror. Envy. Comparisons. Jealousy. Lurking on social media. Worrying too much about what other people think. Worrying about status. Thinking I have to be inspired before I start.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?

I have always given priority to my creative interests. I make films and dances and I also make art every day, drawings, photos or digital images. I have directed four feature films, countless short films, and I find great satisfaction and inspiration nurturing new talent as a film professor at Mount Saint Mary’s University Film Department. Prior to all that, I had my own dance company in San Francisco called Trunk Company. This was just before Silicon Valley swallowed up the Bay Area underground art scene.
My documentary process may seem unusual. I film for a long time. Three years for my first film, two for my 2nd, seven for my 3rd and six for my most recent. When I decide to pursue a topic, I am committed to working toward the discovery and vision of the project. I don’t get bored or tired. I like to go very, very deep. The interesting stuff never arrives right away and I am fine with waiting. I like to react to what I see, hear and assemble and if that means more time to develop the work or pursue a new angle, I don’t hesitate to go there. I cast my net wide and find the connections, rhythms and patterns as I sift through what I’ve caught in the net.

I recently completed my fourth feature-length documentary. This film integrates almost every art form I have worked in. I choreograph, dance, film and even draw. It was an opportunity for me to reflect on how everything I’ve done and will continue to do are connected. The film is called Muscle Memory.

Muscle Memory is a moving look at the power of first obsessions to haunt the totality of our lives. The film follows eight former college dance majors over six years. Together again after several decades, the dancers use the language of movement to convey the emotional terrain of remembering.

Risk taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts.

My motto: Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be fierce and original in your work. – Gustave Flaubert

I have always found great satisfaction living in my imagination. I don’t have strong desires to travel the world or be a contestant on Survivor (not at all). But I am intensely intrigued by human behavior and movement. I am a keen observer and I want to know why. That can take me to places that involve connecting with people who are unfamiliar to me or may even seem frightening at first. Working on Holding Still, the film about the Folsom prison meditation practice was completely new territory for me. While the inmates had past circumstances very different from my own, the effects of those circumstances – shame and lack of self-worth – I also felt. I take risks to connect with others, to share my vulnerabilities so others feel they can too. In that way, we both discover compassion and empathy.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Paul Sanchez Mary Trunk

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