Screendance has existed since the invention of motion pictures. But this hybrid art form, which is also called "dance film" and "cinedance," has remained a fringe genre of filmmaking—until now. During the pandemic, the screen has arguably become the most popular place for dancemakers to explore their craft.
With the multitudes of screendance works now in existence, artists newer to the scene may be wondering where to share their creations, other than on the internet.
One option? Screendance festivals. Although there were only a handful of these festivals for the first several decades of their existence, since 2004, there has been a boom of new ones. Today, there are well over 300 such festivals worldwide. As a robust network of events and initiatives dedicated to providing platforms for screendance to thrive, they present a diverse spectrum of opportunities that the internet may not.
There's a lot to consider when trying to discern which festivals are best suited for your work: the types of films a festival generally programs (each has its own vibe, many even have a specific focus, like social justice), the length of a film, the cost to enter, whether a film will have one screening or multiple, whether you are able to attend, and networking and distribution opportunities. Luckily, there are enough festivals that most all work will find a place to be screened, supported and celebrated.
So what are screendance festival curators looking for when they are considering work to be shown? As the director and curator of ADF's Movies by Movers, an annual, international screendance festival held under the auspices of the American Dance Festival, I spoke with peers from festivals across the U.S. to get their thoughts.
Dance on Camera
Celebrating its 49th year, the Dance on Camera Festival is the longest-running screendance festival in the world. The festival is an initiative of the long-standing Dance Films Association, a nonprofit organization committed to the preservation and cultivation of dance films since 1956.
Criteria: Dance on Camera includes documentaries, narrative films, animated and experimental films, and music videos. Ron Honsa, president of the Dance Films Association, says that first and foremost the curatorial team is looking for pieces "where the cinematography has been designed around the best way to integrate with the choreography, and the choreography is designed to take benefit of the visual medium of film." In other words, filmed performances and archival footage are not the focus of its programming.
Location: The historic Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City. This year's festival will include both virtual and on-site screenings.
Opportunities: In addition to the screenings, attending artists enjoy a host of networking events, workshops and labs, and opportunities for their films to be included in touring programs, extending the life of their works. Artists who are members of the DFA are eligible to apply for production grants, which are awarded to three projects-in-process each year.
Submission fee: $50–$100
ScreenDance Miami is one of the many offerings of the Miami Light Project, a nonprofit that supports South Florida artists through fellowships, commissions and platforms to share their work.
Criteria: Pioneer Winter, who has been directing the festival since 2017, says: "We're looking primarily for relevance, timeliness and awareness of sociocultural climate. We're looking for something that's thoughtful and innovative—well-executed dance films that don't have to have major production support behind it, but something that integrates the aesthetics of movement performance with cinema. The emphasis should be on the choreography, the performance, cinematography and editing technique."
Location: Miami, Florida
Opportunities: Like other fests, ScreenDance Miami offers workshops and networking events for artists, and has begun to delve into virtual reality and other dance technology offerings for upcoming festivals.
Submission fee: Unlike many festivals which charge submission fees, ScreenDance Miami accepts submissions for no charge.
Dance Camera West
Dance Camera West was founded in 2001 by Kelly Hargraves and Lynn Kessler. As one of the larger and longest-running screendance festivals on the West Coast, DCW has been working to bring together unique screening blocks that show the breadth of the screendance landscape while supporting artists in practical ways.
Criteria: Hargraves mentions that because the curatorial team for the festival is so large—up to 40 people—DCW accepts a range of works, from DIY to high-budget production. For Hargraves, the value in a film lies in whether or not it engages the viewer viscerally. "The most important question to me is, "Does this film move you physically or emotionally? Do you actually feel your body finding the rhythm when you're watching?" So I'm trying to keep that kinesthetic connection, even through film."
Location: Los Angeles, California
Opportunities: Recently, DCW began an online filmmaker mentorship cohort facilitated by Hargraves. Additionally, a one-on-one mentorship program pairs BIPOC artists who have submitted their work to the festival with veterans in the field who help them polish and finalize works in progress.
Submission fee: $25–$50
kNOwBOX dance Film Festival
When the kNOwBOX dance Film Festival was conceived in 2018 by Martheya Nygaard and YeaJean Choi as one of the activities of the far-reaching kNOwBOX Dance initiative, the goal was to "challenge the possibilities of what dance can look like in video form." Today that goal remains front and center. Films representing a variety of cultures, genres, aesthetic styles and technological approaches are sought after and screened in events around the world.
Criteria: The festival boasts a variety of categories for submission, from kNOwBOX Dance Summer Short Series (one minute or less, meant for social media) to dance films and documentaries up to 35 minutes. The curators are looking for pieces that "explore an innovative approach to collaboration, mixed media, and interdisciplinary filmmaking."
Location: Multiple cities in the U.S. and internationally
Opportunities: The festival offers participating artists social media and website features, opportunities to be featured on the Dance Behind the Screen podcast, awards with monetary stipends, and opportunities for festival alumni to serve as compensated jury panelists. #MEETTHEMAKERS, "a free, behind-the-screen conversation with the filmmakers post-screening," puts artists and audiences face-to-face for meaningful interactions.
Submission fee: $1–$30
ADF’s Movies by Movers
The American Dance Festival, one of the leading dance festivals in the world, bringing world-class choreographers, performers and teachers to Durham, North Carolina, each summer, has been celebrating screendance for 25 years.
ADF's Movies by Movers was created in 2016 when Movies by Movers, an independent, North Carolina screendance festival that I directed, merged with the existing screendance festival at ADF, formerly directed by Douglas Rosenberg.
Criteria: ADF's Movies by Movers is a celebration of the conversation between the moving body and the camera. The festival accepts shorts (up to 20 minutes), featurettes (20 to 40 minutes), and feature films (over 45 minutes) in the genres of narrative, experimental, animation and documentary by professionals and students alike. The festival is most interested in films that push the boundaries of what "dance" includes and looks for films that feature a variety of bodies, identities, aesthetic approaches and movement traditions.
This year, due to COVID-19, artist features, a retrospective, a panel discussion and a three-week online screendance workshop replace the more traditional screenings the festival is known for. Regular submissions will return in the fall.
Location: Durham, North Carolina
Opportunities: Outside of the screendance festival activities that include screenings and workshops, participating artists are invited to enjoy the varied offerings of the American Dance Festival at large. Artists are eligible to take classes while on site and receive complimentary tickets to a performance of their choice. Artists also have opportunities to have their work included as part of the Institutional Partnership initiative, which sends screenings to university campuses and community-based institutions nationwide.
Submission fee: $15–$45
5 Tips for Success
1. Remember that a true screendance is one, some or all of the following: site-specific, camera-specific, edit-specific. A screendance isn't simply a dance that is filmed. It is an intentional blending of dance and filmmaking.
2. Open a FilmFreeway account to browse festivals and submit your work. Read the festival descriptions and rules carefully. Often, artists apply without understanding whether their work is a good fit, or even if it is eligible. Other good platforms to find festival calls include Dancing Opportunities and Dance/NYC.
3. If funds are an issue, many festivals have a number of waivers they can give to artists who need financial assistance. Just ask. Additionally, some festivals have funds they can provide for travel. Other festivals have screening fees paid to artists when their works are screened. Again, read the fine print.
4. When you attend a festival, do as many of the activities offered as you can. Go to screenings that don't include your film. Be engaged and ask questions during Q&A sessions. Go to the opening and closing galas. Attend the workshops and special presentations. Apply to give workshops and presentations of your own, if space is offered. You never know who you will meet, who will see your work and what doors may open.
5. Most of all, have fun! We've waited a long time to be together again. The 2021 season will consist of hybrid events, some online and some in-person where possible. Fully live events are most likely to resume starting in 2022.