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By Stina Chyn | May 14, 2004

Sara Vasiliou’s documentary “Dipping In” begins with a girl in her late teens or early twenties performing a modern dance on a grassy knoll to the tune of medieval hymns. Then, there are voice-overs of different people naming their religious affiliations. Jewish, Baptist, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Zionist, Buddhist, and Agnostic are among the answers. “Dipping In” may give you the impression that it’s just another commentary about religion, but it achieves much more. Vasiliou’s documentary spends the majority of its forty-three minutes with Mara Penrose, a college student who shares her passion for dance and her search for a spiritual path that feels right.

Since a documentary’s immediate goal is to provide information about a person, a place, a thing, or an event, understandably more emphasis is put on presenting the content in the most direct and engaging manner as possible. “Dipping In” succeeds in both areas, and with the help of a mesmerizing visual style. For example, the audio of people listing religions plays over still and moving photos of buildings, city streets, and crowds. When Mara dances on another patch of grass, several images of her in different costumes are edited to create the illusion that there are roughly ten Maras standing in a row, exploring the space around them with their bodies.

Vasiliou also plays around with other visual elements by means of superimposition and manipulated frame rate—nothing too fancy. Her methods prove highly effective as they add texture to what the camera records. Furthermore, you hear Mara’s words and you see her, but you never get to watch those words come out of her mouth. There are no talking heads in this documentary and it takes at least twenty minutes for you to realize that you haven’t actually seen Mara speak.

But, you see her dance, expressing emotional states through rotating hips, elongating legs, and swinging arms. You hear her talk about living in a household that technically subscribed to Protestant religious beliefs but was still open to other avenues of enlightenment. You also listen to Mara recount the process of figuring out where she wants to place her faith. “Dipping In” immerses you into her story so completely that you don’t need to see Mara talking to find her experiences meaningful.

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