Canner, who is now in her 80s, began her career in New York. Affiliated with the left-wing theater movement, she scored with bit parts on Broadway and a role in Mark Blitzstein's post-Cradle Will Rock show, No For an Answer. What started as an acting hiatus turned into a whole new career -- conducting dance therapy with disabled people. Her style was an outgrowth of creative dance, which she says was aggressively antichoreography. "It was all about improvisation. With children with cerebral palsy, who were usually incredibly intelligent, we worked with breathing and in minute movements -- 'Feel that breath in your body.' With adolescents, though, structure was helpful in getting them to create a movement, remember it, and then reproduce it."
The film is a mix of talking heads and valuable footage from the 1960s that shows Canner working with the blind, the mentally retarded, and "neurotic adults." One segment is from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and was filmed the day of Bobby Kennedy's assassination -- a little boy seems to have absorbed the violence of the day, wishing to turn his musical prop into an ax "to chop up people." It's an eerie twist to Canner's motto: "There is no failure. Just being involved is a success." But didn't she find some of the work frustrating? "I'm sure I did," she says. "But most of the time, I had to learn what to accept and what not to expect. For good or bad, it was always real."
Canner and Brownell will be in Kansas City to introduce A Time to Dance on the day of the Filmfest's opening at Cinemark Palace. Films with the most buzz prior to the weeklong festival? Two Family House, which won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival; Water Drops on Burning Rock, a May-December romance between two men that comes from a play by Rainer Werner Fassbinder; and Bookwars, Jason Rosette's highly praised documentary about those ubiquitous used-book peddlers along New York's sidewalks, whose wares lately are heavily skewed with vintage pornography. Other names to look for include Tobe Hooper, James Earl Jones, and this band you may have heard of called The Beatles, whose A Hard Day's Night gets the prime Saturday-night spot.