Kai Harding's '?.butterfly.'? Sets A Muse in Motion

In the brooding darkness of an empty soundstage, a young man is visited by the luminous apparition of a young woman. She dances before him, striking poses in mid-twirl as her movements forge an ominous duet with his poetic stream of words. Is she the ghost of a former lover or the idealized embodiment of his artistic muse?

This is one of many questions viewers may have while watching the intriguing new short “.butterfly.” from production company Kai Harding in Chicago. It is also the latest project from filmmaker Chris Olsen, who has served as producer, director and visual effects guru for Kai Harding since August 2005. The company has specialized in everything from film design and visual effects to 3D animation and interactive development.

“Our specialty is best summarized as motion over time with design,” Olsen said. “I look at every project with completely fresh eyes to determine what is the right way to tell this story, and it might not be through filmmaking. It might be an improvisational acting group on a subway station, or a print for a giant billboard.”

Olsen’s love for the performing arts is clearly reflected in “.butterfly.” which tells its story through a mixture of dance, lighting and a theatrical monologue delivered by the male character. Yet Olsen insists that cinema was the only medium in which this story could be told, since the cinematography and editing were integral to the storytelling process. The absence of a musical score allows viewers to focus solely on the sounds made by the two performers.

“I wanted every sound that was natural to that environment to be there,” Olsen said. “The room is like a void, and [the actor’s] voice drives everything.”

His previous directorial effort for Kai Harding was the Emmy-nominated documentary, “The Artsiders,” which featured a diverse group of Midwestern sculptors, dancers, actors and performers who use art as a form of self-expression. Olsen says the film reflects his own beliefs about the transformative power of the artistic process.

“I think so many people in the performing arts enjoy what they’re doing because it allows them to be alive and maybe go outside their comfort zone,” Olsen said. “That’s also what relationships are like too, when you’re falling in love you’re sharing things about yourself that not everyone knows. It’s about that opening up and feeling alive.”

This idea is at the heart of “.butterfly.,” which parallels the passion brought about by love and art. The film will screen three times at the Chicago International Film Festival, which runs from October 16 through 29, as part of the “Illinoisemakers” shorts program.

For his future work at Kai Harding, Olsen says that he will continue to encourage free expression, finding storytelling techniques that are both innovative and strategic, and crafting a rewarding experience that stays with the viewer. He feels that it’s an especially important time for the arts, considering the current state of the world.

“Art helps us remain human,” Olsen said. “It’s about appreciating all the wonder that the world has to offer.”