I often get asked for advice on disseminating screendance work; especially in the covid-19 landscape, which has turbocharged everyone’s engagement with choreography for the screen. Dedicated dance film festivals are a common space for screendance works’ encounter an audience.
Here are some of my top tips if you are new to the field and looking to get your film seen, based on questions I get asked frequently.
I am not a filmmaker or distributor myself – these thoughts are from the perspective of a festival or event programmer or curator.
Getting your film out there
Make sure you budget for distribution as part of your overall project. Many festivals charge for submission.
Research festivals’ previous events to get a sense of their artistic direction.
I use FilmFreeway a lot and recommend setting up an account.
Read the small print
I’m not above stating the obvious… Festivals may have restrictions on things like year of production, duration, or a specific theme they’re pursuing. Don’t submit if you don’t match the criteria.
It takes time
As well as setting aside some funds, plan time to spend on researching and submitting to festivals, preparing supplementary materials and liaising with festivals. It’s a lot of work, and requires both forward planning and being responsive. Give yourself time for both.
Not just the film file
If selected, you’ll need stills (landscape and portrait, colour/b&w), copy (logline, synopsis), credits, biographies… Make sure you have these materials together.
Get a collaborator to read (or help write) your copy and logline – it can be hard to get distance from your film.
Your film is many things
When planning your submissions, think beyond dance.
There are thousands of film and video art festivals with different themes and missions. Which festivals might be interested in your film’s topic, perspective, formal approach, location…?
I work mainly with festivals, but there are many ways of presenting and sharing your work. The pandemic has forced many venues and organisations focused on live performances to present screen-based works. Use your networks to find opportunities that suit your film.
Artists have their own audiences and posting work online is one way of reaching them.
Many festivals will ask you to make the film unavailable for the period between it being selected and the screening. If that’s not possible for you (e.g. it’s part of a larger website or programme) then talk to the organiser; chances are you can work something out.
Personally, I don’t worry too much about whether a film is available online – the festival provides an experience for the audience that is different from searching out a film on Vimeo.
If your film isn’t selected, it may be because of a number of factors that have nothing to do with the quality of your film. There are a lot of things to balance when putting together a programme, and it’s possible for a film to be brilliant, but not the right fit for the context. And it might yet produce an opportunity in the long run: if there is a film that strikes me but that I can’t include, I’ll certainly remember it when another opportunity presents itself, or a colleague asks for a recommendation.
Still working on your film?
If you are still planning your film, or are in the production stages, I recommend considering the following to help your film stand out.
Consider the sound
Strong sound design that is an integral part of the overall concept will make a huge difference to how well it communicates to its audience.
Diegetic sound (i.e. sound that comes from within the film’s world – the acoustics of the space, the rustle of clothing, the breath of a performer) transmits the physicality of the film, underlining the kinaesthetic resonance of movement for the viewer. Sound helps us experience the space of the film, whether that is a naturalistic room tone or an altered aural space.
Oh, and clear any music rights.
Know what’s out there
There are some recurring tropes in screendance – and if there are ten films with a particular feature, they’re not all going to get a look in.
Of course that doesn’t mean that a film can’t feature those particular themes, ideas or images – but it helps to be aware.
More work is available online these days, and obviously attending events and festivals is a great opportunity for a number of reasons – know what else is going on in this wide and varied landscape.
Short film, long credits: not a deal-breaker for me, but if the film is three minutes long, and the credits run for two and a half, you are asking a lot of your audience.
Go beyond convention
If you are new to dance film, embrace the possibilities.
If you come from a dance practice, you might find that the frontal view of the proscenium arch is dominating how you frame and direct a shot.
If you’re coming from film, liberate the camera from over the shoulder shots – the camera is a moving body now! (Though easy on the shaky-cam please…)