Directors Kelsey Peterson and Daniel Klein join us on Close-Up Culture to talk about their new film, Move Me.
At 27, Kelsey Peterson dove into Lake Superior, off the shores of Wisconsin, and emerged paralyzed. Now, the former dancer struggles to redefine who she is while adapting to life with a disability. At the intersection of acceptance and hope, Kelsey unexpectedly finds herself facing an opportunity to dance again, showing her a new path toward acceptance, all the while grappling with a decision to participate in a cutting-edge clinical trial that could bring her much-desired change — forcing her to evaluate the possibilities of her recovery, body and spirit.
Firstly, congratulations on Move Me! How are you both feeling ahead of the film’s world premiere at Full Frame Doc Film Fest?
KP: We’re very excited. It’s an honor to premiere at Full Frame, it’s such a revered and respected documentary film festival. We were hoping to get into it, so this is a big moment for us.
DK: Very excited! Full Frame is such an iconic film festival, loved and revered by documentary filmmakers. So I feel very honored to premiere our film there. I especially love how close knit the festival is and even though in-person would be wonderful, the online format gives access to everyone.
The film gives an intimate look into Kelsey’s life at such an interesting moment, as she considers a cutting-edge clinical trial and prepares for a big dance performance. What was the impetus for you to starting filming?
KP: This film actually started very differently, but we realized that the story we were after wasn’t there. At the same time we surrendered to that, my life was changing dramatically — my dad got sick, Gabriel asked me to do A Cripple’s Dance and the clinical trial all came into my life at about the same time. It immediately felt like this was the story we were supposed to tell — this complicated, push and pull of my life in adaptation and transformation. So we turned the camera on me in a much more vulnerable way, I think it was worth it.
DK: Kelsey started filming long before I became a part of the project. It was my friendship with Kelsey, seeing her spirit and vulnerability that made me realize we could make a great film. I wanted to help bring Kelsey’s vision and story to life, and I saw some areas of filming that would really help move the story along.
Can you tell us how you two met and the dynamic you had during this project?
DK: We met in a coffee shop in Minneapolis after a friend introduced us. I immediately liked Kelsey and saw that she was passionate about making a movie, that she was unafraid, and that she had a point of view that was important to me. It took at least a year before we started working together fully on the film. A slow burn friendship/collaboration and one where we have always strived to be honest with one another. I think Kelsey has really learned to be unafraid through her experiences, and she has taught me to be better at that. We are both full of trust that we are trying to make the best movie, to value our friendship, and to be able to share. That has helped us make this movie without any drama. It’s also important to mention Nico Frank (our editor). She is listed as a writer and it was a true collaboration between the three of us… over zoom.
This is an incredibly honest and intimate film – it makes for powerful viewing. Kelsey, how did you find the experience of opening up so much of your story and life?
KP: This experience was so many things. Being that vulnerable can be really scary, but as many of us know, that space is where a lot of growth lies. It was challenging, of course, but to be honest, it also felt really good to bare my soul in this way. Because I felt so safe in this little therapeutic container the film created, it made it that much easier for me to be authentic and vulnerable. This team held me, there was so much respect, sensitivity and openness within this whole process, and it lent to a really emotional and healing process for me, for all of us I think.
One of the topics that really struck me was sexuality. It’s rare for women’s sexuality to be openly discussed on screen, let alone in relation to the disabled experience. How important was it to include this in the doc?
KP: This was a part of my experience that I knew I couldn’t leave out, it would be withholding a very deep part of my truth. I am a sexual woman, I’ve always loved that about myself and that hasn’t changed since my injury. The way that I access my sexuality and my pathways to pleasure have changed, but how I see myself as a sexual being and my sex drive haven’t changed, and that is a powerful thing to me that needs to be shared and understood, as a woman and as a person with a disability.
Not only that, but it would be doing a disservice to the disability community and the larger collective, where the narrative of desexualizing disabled people needs to shift. Sexuality is a human right, just because we are disabled doesn’t mean we are any less human, so to remove us from our existence as sexual beings is dehumanizing.
The dance scenes are beautiful. What were they like to film?
KP: Filming the dancing was probably my favorite part of this experience. Coming back into my body in that way and seeing myself as a dancer again was invaluable and incendiary. I love the emotions that these scenes evoke in me still and I love thinking about what it invokes in other people. Dance is for anyone and everyone, I’m excited for more people to see that. And expressing myself again in this way feels like coming alive.
DK: We initially filmed the actual performance. When we put it in the edit, we didn’t feel like the film had arrived at its destination — the viewer wouldn’t feel the beautiful release of the performance. So we went back to the theatre and shot without an audience in a way that would immerse the viewer in the dance. As the director, this was my favorite shoot. I was in the back of the room watching from the monitor and moving with Kelsey, moving with the steadicam operator, it was a wonderful moment.
Another dance scene was the “bed dance” — one that had us all crying during filming. This was inspired by a video Kelsey had done on Instagram and it really captured the essence of the film. Kelsey has this longing AND ability to dance, while also being stuck in bed — and it’s almost as if the limitations create a more beautiful and powerful performance.
In the film, we see Kelsey being torn between hope and acceptance. What are your outlooks coming out of this film?
KP: I think the biggest thing for me is being able to trust myself and be honest with myself. As long as I can do that I’ll do what’s right for me at the right time.
DK: We edited the film during the pandemic, so these themes of hope and acceptance helped us survive! I think those who have worked on the film saw this as a mantra of sorts: A hope and fight for something better, but also a realistic approach to the here and now.
As we near the premiere, how do you both reflect on the journey to make this film?
KP: Making this film has been such a gift. I have made beautiful friendships, and I have grown immensely as an artist and a person. I have come into my own as a woman with a disability and I’m continuing to grow in that, and that feels really good. I will always be curious about functional recovery, that’s just my truth, but I’m also thankful for what this body has given me, the community I’ve become a part of, and I’m excited to know and love myself more everyday in my beautifully disabled body.
DK: Making this film made me a better person, opening my eyes to struggles I hadn’t really given the time. It also created new friendships and gave realistic hope during a hard time.
What do you hope audiences take away from Move Me?
KP: I want people to think about how adaptable they are. I want people to think about how the things that define us, that we cling onto tightly, can confine us. There’s always opportunity for healing and thriving. And I want the world to see disability differently, through my experience. I feel like I can serve, uniquely, as a bridge between two oftentimes separated worlds — the able-bodied and the disabled — because I have lived in both. I want to show people who we are as complex, dynamic, beautiful disabled people. And who I am, as a human being — grieving, adapting and living as an artist, a woman, a sexual being, everything.
DK: I think that relationships, love and true connection with someone are the few tools we have for widening the scope of our empathy and human experience, so I hope viewers connect with Kelsey, they see her beyond the chair and broaden the scope of their own relationships. I also want people to apply the message of hope and acceptance to their own lives — not expecting to arrive at a solution, but being present on their journey.
And lastly, what are your plans and ambitions for the future?
KP: I’m writing a scripted series as we speak so I’m excited to see the possibilities there! The series follows two quadriplegic friends as they navigate sex, relationships and being disabled artists in an able-bodied world. The series bounces back-and-forth through time, showing them both able-bodied and disabled, highlighting themes of connection and disconnection — to ourselves, our bodies and each other — and using stories by people with disabilities to shift the collective narrative on disability.
DK: I recently took on a full time job telling stories of heirloom corn farmers in Mexico and the people who work with those products, but I also have a short film in post-production about an anarchist battle train collective in South Minneapolis.
Title image by Brennan Vance Courtesy
Festival Screening Info:
Full Frame Documentary FF (World Premiere)
Streaming April 7 -10, 2022
Reel Abilities FF New York
Streaming April 7 -13, 2022
In-Person Screening Tues. April 12, 8:00pm