It’s described as a short story of an unexpected journey in the rain, set to the soulful clarinet of Ben Redwine in a film created by South Pasadena resident Monika Petrillo for the Seven Tones Project, a collaborative initiative pairing quarantined musicians and filmmakers to create short films inspired by the music of the late Duke Ellington.
Petrillo was attracted to the project after hearing about it from creator Paul Glenshaw, a fellow filmmaker friend from Maryland who invited her to contribute as social-distancing measures were put into place across the nation due to the coronavirus outbreak.
With stay-at-home orders in cities large and small, the Seven Tones Project was designed to give those inside homes an outlet to unleash their creative forces. Musical performances and films are streamed on YouTube.
“Anybody who needs a live audience for their work to be fulfilled, doesn’t have it,” Glenshaw said on the BillyStrayhorn.com (Ellington’s composing partner) website. “Let’s use what we’ve got. Here we are now. Musicians can still record at home. Filmmakers can make films at home, even if you’re just using your phone. So that’s the idea. Let’s see what beautiful things we can make with the tools that we have at hand.”
The project’s name comes from an Ellington quote, which uniquely talks to COVID-19 crisis the world faces today: “Anytime you have a problem, you have an opportunity,” he once said. “Even if you had seven good tones, those were the tones that had to be used.”
Petrillo was more than willing to answer the call. “The goal is to give everyone something fun, meaningful, and creative to do, help raise artists’ profiles, and bring some beauty into our world,” she explained. “I loved the idea of working with limited resources as it often can trigger creativity in unexpected ways.”
She wasn’t overly familiar with Ellington’s music, but the idea of making a film and “discovering something unique in my everyday environment was compelling to me,” Petrillo said. “So, I started to look up and listen to his music.”
Upon a closer look, it wasn’t long before she actually recognized some of his songs, saying many were “catchy tunes,” noting it a difficult choice to choose just one for her film. Ellington is remembered for more than 3,000 compositions – many classics – he sang during his lifetime, including some of his best known titles: “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Mood Indigo,” “Solitude,” ‘In a Mellotone,” and “Satin Doll.”
Petrillo settled on Ellington’s “Creole Love Song” as the backdrop for her nearly 5-minute film following the path of a leaf winding its way down the gutter, pushed along by the wind during a stormy day.
“I let myself be inspired by the unexpected rainy morning, put on my raincoat and headed outside,” she explained. “Shortly after filming a few mesmerizing rain drops on my own street, a magnolia flower petal literally fell down in front of me as if to say ‘Hey, let’s play!’ I plopped it down in the gutter, and it immediately took off. I spent the next two hours chasing it around the streets of my neighborhood, having a blast watching it dance wherever the rain and gravity were taking it. There was something magical about playing with a leaf in the otherwise completely empty streets, with the exception of a single white truck that passed me right as I had successfully filmed the last shot. I smiled as I thought to myself, ‘I wonder what he’s thinking seeing a completely drenched woman crouching in the middle of an intersection filming seemingly nothing.’”
“Creole Love Song,” stressed Petrillo, no stranger to filmmaking, was the perfect match for her film. “It was as if his clarinet kept pushing the flower petal in my film,” she said. “And the flower petal in turn kept egging on his music. Perfect playmates honoring Ellington’s work.”
Petrillo grew up in Munich, Germany, and at an early age showed a passion for filmmaking. She earned her pilot’s license at age 24 and soon after set out to fulfill a dream of circumnavigating Australia in a single-engine airplane. The experience resulted in a 2006 documentary, “Flyabout,” which continues to inspire viewers today with an interesting perspective of the country. It premiered at SXSW Film Festival, and was also shown at the South Pasadena Library.
In 2017, she unveiled “Wink,” a 15-minute film about a lonely and slightly repressed housewife who discovers an unusual way to spice up her afternoon. It has earned multiple awards and acclaim at film festivals.
Her latest effort is gaining similar notoriety. Sixty hours after heading out into the rain for the Seven Tones Project, Petrillo looked at the finished project on YouTube – a collaborative effort between a jazz legend, a talented clarinet player from New Orleans and a South Pasadena filmmaker, none of whom she had ever met.
With a zero budget, and no resources outside of those provided by Mother Nature, Petrillo’s contribution to the Seven Tones Project, has already won the support from viewers,
And, perhaps, the best part of the production filmed on Adelaine Avenue, Magnolia Street, Grand Avenue and Arroyo Drive, “I got to showcase our beautiful town,” she said with a smile.
To take part in the Seven Tones Project, email Paul Glenshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.