Feb 26, 2013

Dance on Camera Festival 2013

Dance on Camera Festival

1-5th February 2013



The 41st edition of the Dance on Camera Festival took place in February at the Film Society Lincoln Center. For five days, people dashed to and from locations, trying to catch as much as possible. In previous years the festival was primarily situated in the Walter Reade Theater, which sat many more at a time, but prevented simultaneous events. This year three separate screening locations enabled the showcase of a larger amount of films but also caused some trouble for dedicated viewers, like myself, as we tried to be in several places at once, so as not to miss anything. The annual event was primarily located in the FSLC's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. The Francesca Beale Theater and Amphitheater hosted the majority of the feature length films paired with shorts. Almost every film program was either introduced and/or followed by a Q&A with directors and dancers. Joanna Ney (co-curator of the festival) held the microphone most of the time while one session was conducted by the former MOMA film and media curator Laurence Kardish (for the Shirley Clarke program). Most films were projected using a digital projector (and this was made apparent since it froze at least 3 or 4 times throughout the festival) and 16mm prints were used for Shirley Clarke's films.

            A small gallery space a few blocks away was used to showcase two programs of short films. Set on an hour-long loop, playing from a DVD from a projector, they were projected onto a small white wall with a not-so-cozy-floor seating approximately 10 people (see picture). This space also hosted "meet the artist" events and a Dance Film Association reception.    


            The festival typically works but selecting films from a large range of submissions and then pairing them with a retrospective of some sort, sometimes connecting old films to new ones, sometimes not. This edition contained a wide variety of films, some more dance-like than others and incorporated a tribute to Shirley Clarke (five of her films) and a documentary on Busby Berkeley by Andre Labarthe (1971). The main slate was held at the Walter Reade Theater (for opening and closing nights premieres) and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Center, (Francesca Beale Theater and Amphitheater). Most feature films were grouped with one or two shorts at times displaying a historical connection (ex: a Merce Cunningham night), at other times focusing on a geographic one (a Finnish film night). The general scope of "dance" was expanded to include ice skating, music videos and music performance. The films are a mix of narrative films about dancers, documentaries on performers or choreographers, and experimental work falling under the category of "dance for camera". Two nights compiled all short films and these were the nights where the breadth of the art was truly conveyed.


            A parallel shorts program was programmed to run twice a day on a daily basis at the 25CPW Gallery, 25 Central Park West. This exhibition was presented in part by Rooftop Films (Underground Film Outdoors). It included on the walls of the space drawings of dancer Sylvie Guillem and the film loop. It was unclear why these films were relegated to the "free of charge" venue with bad seating and semi-darkness. Films were screened in a different order than the one listed on program making it frustrating to match each film with its description.

            Free panel discussions such  "Fair Use for Film and Video Projects: Real Cases and Trustworthy Answers", "Preserving a Legacy: Eistein on the Beach", and "Capturing Motion NYC" were held though I was unable to attend most of them. "Meet the artists" were held in the gallery space and 4 artists were invited to informally discuss their work. I attended a book signing and was one of the few aware that the book in question was not in fact the "journal" described in the program. At least they got the author right.  


            The festival was organized by Dance Film Association. The curators were Liz Wolff (newly hired, works for DFA) and Joanna Ney (Film Society's curator for Dance on Camera since 1996)  both of which I was able to meet and have a quick word with. According to the program, Dance Film Association was founded by Susan Braun in 1956. Braun was an enthusiast whose goal it was to collect and preserve dance films until her death in 1995. Their small archive that holds narrative films, documentaries and experimental films. I am also told that they keep a copy of every (new) film screened at the festival. I have been in their headquarters and must say that for the most part these films are on DVD and stored in big grey file cabinets. Access to these is therefore limited to those who know that they are there. They have no screening facilities and  the borrowing procedure is not made public anywhere. They also used to publish a small journal called Dance on Camera for about ten years, but it was discontinued last year. DFA employs approximately ten people, their office seats three.


            DFA's mission is to promote the art of dance film and to establish a network of dancers, filmmakers, and enthusiasts. Their organization is dedicated to "bringing dance film to the widest possible audience by promoting and facilitating its production, distribution, and presentation". Their three areas of activity include preservation, presentation and production. They are sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Jerome Robbins Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the New York State Council for the Arts, the New York Department of Culture and the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. The first Dance on Camera festival was held in 1971 at Anthology Film Archives and later moved to the Lincoln Center in 1996. It was originally intended to foster collaborations between choreographers and filmmakers but now focuses more on reaching a wider audience. Sponsors of the 2013 festival include Spain arts & culture, General Consulate of Finland, Spain Culture New York, FilmoTeca de Catalunya, John Wim Macy's CheeseSticks (HA! I did not see any cheesesticks anywhere) 


            As one of the oldest festivals of its kind Dance for Camera has a good reputation.  Filmmakers are attracted to its status as a New York City event, giving them visibility in the local dance world. Apparently this year the festival received three times as many submissions as they usually do which could mean that either more artists are producing films or the festival is becoming better recognized on a global scale. However it does cater to a broad audience and therefore is known to lack a specific curatorial argument. 


            The primary audience would be the kind that goes to the ballet, shows at BAM or the Joyce. Select events were attended by dance "royalty", including former dancers with prestigious companies and noticeable by their rigid posture and loud dramatic embraces and hellos. In large part the weekday and daytime events were attended by people within the industry while the weekend evenings and matinees were attended by old people and a few children. While the audience did seem to be the intended one, I was surprise to see that there were few people under 20. The price of tickets ranged from $13 general public, $9 students, and $8 for members of the FSLC or DFA. The festival also had discounts for buyers of multiple tickets which was great for me since I went to a total of 13 events.  


            Other elements that shaped the exhibition were the side registration room, intended to welcome filmmakers and artists and sign patrons up for DFA memberships. This was only visible to patrons if they ventured into a room by accident while looking for the bathroom. It had one television monitor playing two films from previous year, on a loop and available for purchase. The merchandise table, which was my job for a while, was a sad site. I sold one DVD in 4 hours and was almost going to tell the customer that the documentary in question was available to stream online on Netflix but decided he did not look tech-savy enough to understand.


            Generally speaking the screens were large and made the viewing of the films pleasant. The scheduling of events unfortunately coincided with  a "big dance weekend". For example Trisha Brown had a show up at BAM which was sold out and which had me dashing across town to get to all the events on my list. The seats in the auditoriums were comfortable and the local snack-bar was getting good business.


            Both DFA and the FSLC websites had the full program of events. Numerous trailers were available which helped decision making when it came time to ordering tickets online. Here is the link: http://www.dancefilms.org/festival-items/2013/


            The program was filled with typos and hard to navigate. It gave the impression that it had been put together in a rush and sent to print without a copy editor. It could use some serious help. All the information was there but the calendar should be foregrounded and the organization of programs should be chronological not thematic (such as all the short films on one page, all the feature on another). This caused too much flipping between the pages, a sound that was most irritating during the beginning of screenings. 


            If the festival's goal is to gain a broad audience then the current format of the festival works well. It promotes big names and slides in short films that are inspired or related to these names. It packages all the recent short films by emerging artists together so that in one evening one is bound to find at least one good film. It also promotes getting closer to the artists with popular Q&As and meetings. Typical questions at these included: "So...tell us...what inspired you to make this film?", "What was it like to work with so-and-so?" The curator's task here seems primarily to assemble a selection of films that gives a broad definition of dance film, draws from some historical footage in order to reflect on the current practices. It does not offer a critical stance or forum for debate. The films presented are no longer being judged, there are no prizes given out, simply "festival highlights" or "not-to-be-missed" ones. 


            Overall I would say that the festival was a success on the basis of attendance. Many screenings were sold out (to my knowledge the Shorts program were especially popular, a feature film "Five Dances" and a music video night featuring the work of Sigur Ros). I found myself unable to attend certain events because there were no tickets available and I was booking 10 days in advance. The festival's strengths would be bringing together an international selection of films and filmmakers. Their new initiative to start discussing the process of distribution for short films would benefit the industry and myself for my research. Aiming to produce a DVD to collect and distribute the shorts (as other festivals have done this as well) would guarantee greater visibility and documentation of these films which often go "missing" after festivals. Just in case this never happens I hunted down as many filmmakers as possible to recruit films, telling them that I "plan to write about them". Some events were free which allowed greater access. I do not think it generated a larger number of patrons. The main weakness of the festival was the scheduling which made it impossible to see everything at least once. In addition the connections between films were primarily based on country of production, (for example a Finnish night) whereas I would encourage more thematic grouping to be able to compare and contrast the working methods and styles of the choreographers.



-Sylvie Vitaglione   




No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.