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Q&A with director David Petersen, Artistic Director of New York Theatre Ballet Steven Melendez, and Sharia Blockwood

Over a decade in the making, LIFT shines a spotlight on the transformative power of dance and the invisible story of homelessness in America through the extraordinary journey of young home-insecure ballet dancers and their mentor who inspires them. Guided by Steven Melendez, who began his dance career in a shelter, these children make this aristocratic art form their own when they step from the shelter to the stage.

After LIFT‘s world premiere at the Tribeca Festival where it won an Audience Award for Best Documentary, the film went to The Hamptons Film Festival, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival winning Best Documentary, was selected among Best of Fest at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and screened at the Cartagena, Miami, and Seattle International Film Festivals. LIFT is also the recipient of the Shine Global Children’s Resilience in Film Award.

"Petersen’s bare-bones, on-the-ground production works well for a story like this, highlighting how vital these small workshops in homeless shelters and community centers can be."
Claire Shaffer, The New York Times


Q&A with director David Petersen, Artistic Director of New York Theatre Ballet Steven Melendez, and Sharia Blockwood
Monday, Dec. 4 2023, 7:27
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  • David Petersen’s films have been exhibited at numerous museums and festivals and are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His documentary Fine Food, Fine Pastries, Open 6 to 9 was nominated for an Academy Award and his PBS documentary If You Lived Here You Would Be Home Now was an Independent Spirit Award nominee. His feature documentary Let the Church Say Amen premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and on the PBS series “Independent Lens.” Other films include Journey of the Bonesetter’s Daughter on PBS and 2 Months to Be Quiet, which premiered at MoMA. David also directed the acclaimed eight-part documentary series Strictly Ballet and the feature-length film The Witmans, a documentary about juvenile justice. His artist fellowships include MacDowell, Yaddo, VCCA, Blue Mountain Center, and the Ragdale Foundation.
  • Steven Melendez, named as the Artistic Director of New York Theatre Ballet in April of 2022, was born in New York City in 1986 and started his ballet training with the LIFT Program at Ballet School New York at the age of 7. He has danced as a Soloist dancer with Ballet Concierto in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a Principal dancer with The Vanemuine Theater Ballet Company in Tartu, Estonia, and for over 15 years with New York Theatre Ballet. He is a national and international guest artist and teacher and has worked across Europe, Asia, and Central and South America. Steven co-choreographed his first large-scale work, Song Before Spring, for New York Theatre Ballet which was named a Dance Europe critic's choice “Best Premiere” of 2016. Steven is currently a member of the alumni advisory committee on diversity and inclusion for School of American Ballet and serves as the Hiland Artistic Director for National Dance Institute New Mexico.
  • Sharia Blockwood, now age 14 in the 7th grade, and living in Harlem, hopes to join a summer dance program through the after-school program and then apply to a performing arts high school.
  • Jackie Glover spent 27 years at HBO, rising to SVP of HBO Documentary Films, overseeing all aspects of the department’s programming, including development, acquisitions and production. A nine-time Emmy winner, her producing credits include True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality, King in the Wilderness—a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final years—and Jim: The James Foley Story. She was Head of Documentary Programming at Onyx Collective, Disney’s slate of premium entertainment programming by creators of color and underrepresented voices, winning an Oscar last year for the extraordinary music documentary Summer of Soul.

This film is part of the Community Matters: Now More Than Ever series.

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