Opera and theatrical performances executed on the stage and in the sand make up the avant-garde film “Still Life After Death,” an 11-minute short featuring soprano Stacey Fraser, Cal State San Bernardino professor of music, director of Opera Theatre and chair of the Department of Music. The film, which Fraser performed and produced, is now streaming on Amazon.
“Still Life After Death” was inspired by and features the musical composition of the same name by Chinary Ung, Grawemeyer Award-winning Cambodian-American composer.
“I heard Chinary’s piece ‘Still Life After Death’ for the first time in 2008 on an album featuring mezzo-soprano Kathleen Roland with the Southwest Chamber Ensemble,” Fraser said. “I loved the piece and was intrigued by the religious custom of a monk helping a woman through both the physical and spiritual journey from life on earth to the next realm.”
According to the film’s theatrical director Timur Bekbosunov, the lead character – the living – embarks on a ritualistic, spiritual journey towards the end of life. The search to obtain an insight into the great beyond eventually points to the dissolution of self.
“A fully realized and awakened state sheds physical attachments and maps a way out through the process of acceptance,” said Bekbosunov, who is an accomplished singer, producer and vice president of Creative Affairs of ACE Pictures Entertainment. “Matter, mind, perception and consciousness are encouraged by the Monk, the ever-present, undetectable companion. Both roles, essentially representing Life and Death, move in and out of the shadows to change places, but always keeping the balance.”
Fraser was traveling with Ung – one of her mentors and a professor at University of California, San Diego – in Thailand for an international music festival when she discussed the idea of singing ‘Still Like After Death’ herself.
“He was open to the idea but wanted me to be sure that I was ready to take on a piece so demanding from not only a musical point of view, but also from an emotional standpoint,” Fraser said. “I waited until 2016 to learn the piece and then had the idea to stage the work and make it into an actual film.”
Fraser wrote a mini-grant proposal for the theatrical staging of the piece and wrote a separate summer research grant to help fund production of the film.
“I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to apply for support for research and creative activities from our university,” Fraser said. “This kind of funding has helped me to be able to do artistically challenging and fulfilling projects and provided the opportunity to collaborate with world class artists here in the Southern California music scene and across the globe.”
With funding in place, the film was shot throughout the winter and spring of 2017, with the theatrical portion of the film recorded on the Performing Arts stage recital hall at CSUSB and on location at a beach near Malibu.
The soundtrack was recorded and mastered in the fall of that same year and synced with the film in 2018. The film then received its premiere at the prestigious Sharjah Film Platform in United Arab Emirates in 2019. “Still Life After Death” found its way to Amazon in August 2020.
The film was directed by Sandra Powers, who has worked on award-winning shows at Nickelodeon Animation Studio and is currently lead editor of “Elena of Avalor” at Walt Disney Animation Studios. The costumes were created by L.A.-based designer Lee Frank Perez, who works in music, TV and film in Southern California. The theatrical lighting design was done by Jason Mann, CSUSB assistant professor of theater arts.
The soundtrack features Brightwork new music, a critically acclaimed Southern California contemporary music ensemble that specializes in music of the 20th and 21st centuries whose members are either Grammy-winning or Grammy-nominated players. The audio version of the piece conducted by David Rentz was recorded and mastered by Scott Vance, CSUSB lecturer of music.
“This film was definitely a labor of love,” said Fraser, “and features some of the top musicians and artists here in Southern California and, in fact, the United States.”
“Still Life After Death” is now available for streaming on Amazon.