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Stefanos Tai ’13 | Capturing Every Day Beauty on Film

“In Hong Kong there are about 200,000 Filipina domestic workers. They work non-stop and many are abused, but in spite of their sacrifice and suffering, they dance wildly in  the streets on Sundays.” Stefanos Tai ’13 sought out to capture the beauty, grace and perseverance of these women while he was working as a commercial director in Hong Kong. Within three months of living there, he knew a film had to be made. The film we don’t dance for nothing combines still images with high-octane dance numbers, all shot on super 16 film, to tell the story of these women. The film is the world’s first of its kind.
When asked why he made the artistic choice to use freeze frames, Stefanos said, “We wanted to highlight the “helper’s” feelings of being trapped in small apartments by literally freezing our performers within the frozen world of a photograph. The stills are haunting, and the audience yearns for them to move, which mirrors the characters’ journeys. When the characters do dance their way to freedom on their off-days, we use motion footage in the most impressionistic, liquid, and beautiful way we could.” Stefanos highlights that for the viewer, it is a new experience, and one that could potentially be disruptive to the traditional ways of filmmaking. “Everything (in our world) is becoming more immersive and intense, we are surrounded by total consumption. This alternative style (of the film) allows your mind to wander. It allows you to make your own inferences, almost as if you were reading a novel. In the modern age, this space for imagination and disconnection can be a luxury.”

When asked how Friends Seminary has influenced his current work, Stefanos simply said, “The answer is everything.” He expanded, “Friends and its Quaker values are idealistic. They force you to consider right from wrong. I always thought everyone grew up considering those questions, but when I left Friends, I realized it had been a true gift to be asked, ‘How do you bring about a world that ought to be?’ This was evident while I was in Hong Kong. I would approach these Filipina workers and many of them told me, ‘you are the only person who has spoken to us like equals.’ There were so many people outside of their world who would ignore the question: is this ethical? No one was acknowledging that these 200,000 women are not treated fairly.” 

When asked how he sees this work as bringing about the world that ought to be, Stefanos shared, “I hope  the film will appeal to the widest audience possible for an independent film—and inform people about domestic workers and their experience.” He has already been able to see the fruit of this labor. “We did some private pre-screenings, and it spurred questions in the Hong Kong community. Some people thought we exaggerated the employers’ abuses, others vehemently disagreed. We were creating a conversation. Globally, there are millions of these women—it is not a total secret that they have been oppressed. But what I had never seen was something colorful and empowering that shows the fun and passion they readily display. Without glossing over their heartbreak, we wanted to show their immense grace.” Stefanos continued, “Film is a tool for understanding and discovery. Mine should touch people and show that we are all 99% the same and 1% different.”

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Friends Seminary — the oldest continuously operated, coeducational school in NYC — serves college-bound day students in Kindergarten-Grade 12.