Dance Films Association – Challenge Semi-Finalist

An installation presented out of a partnership between Dance Films Association and Arts Brookfield.

Our adaptive challenge

Because Dance Films Association (DFA)’s current archive is inaccessible and there is a demand for more dance film content than we can currently provide from both our core constituency of seasoned and emerging artists and from new audiences such as the film industry, we will meet the demands of this re-energized interest in the dance film genre by re-examining what it means to enliven archival footage in today’s media climate, and will dedicate our time to find a new model that empowers individuals to customize their discovery of dance film, in turn encouraging the use of our archive not only as a library, but as an open-ended, interactive vault of content that will serve a full range of needs from inspiration to entertainment.

Why it is important that our organization address this challenge, and why now?

With record attendance at Dance on Camera (co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center) and new alliances with Arts Brookfield and Filmmaker Magazine, DFA is at a turning point. Given this success, we strive to lead the genre of dance film and surmount to a high mark of potential by seeking active preservation strategies and giving life to a project that has been shelved — literally, with VHS tapes in boxes. Questioning how archives fit into the framework of digital media, we feel it is important to reaffirm our dedication to preservation in the context of our exponential growth. Rather than follow traditional models that take years to launch, we want to move in a bold new direction in which we can quickly move from idea to implementation in order to consider the needs of the archive’s users in real time.

What are the foundational assumptions that have reliably predicted success in the past that we are now questioning?

DFA has made the assumption that our archives are accessible simply because they exist. Historically, DFA members came to our office and asked to view materials (mostly VHS and DVD) on an in-house media station. If, at one point in our history, it was feasible for members to come to the office to watch films, that time has passed. Recently, DFA has received fewer of these requests, with only two last year. Rather than stand by these antiquated assumptions, it is important for DFA to further examine what IS an archive in today’s media climate and dedicate our time to find a new model. The organization is currently exploring the definition of an accessible archival process in the context of audience and current industry trends.

What is the evidence that is causing us to question our assumptions?

Recent conversations with industry innovators looking to feature dance film have led us to believe that people want to see more dance film than we can provide, and that the genre is largely inaccessible. Festivals like South by Southwest (SXSW) now show interest in dance film and festivals similar to Dance on Camera (co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center) and our partners Cinedans and Dance Camera West are rapidly emerging. Because quality digital platforms successfully engage viewers, evidenced by Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive, we’ve partnered with Distrify, leaders of digital distribution, to release a dance film DVD. Lastly, earlier attempts by DFA to share our archive, such as gifting 651 dance film items to the New York Public Library, resulted in dispersed, duplicated, and lost content.

What are the bold new directions we are imagining for our organization?

We imagine that DFA will formulate a new definition of preservation that aligns with current, innovative industry systems already in place in order to reflect our community’s vision of an archive — as well as our own — and to create a model capable of embodying multiple ideologies. This way, DFA will encourage the use of our archive not only as a library, but as vault of content that serves a range of needs such as entertainment for wide audience, inspiration for artists, research for students, and movement language for creators of new video work, as well as history for contextual relevance. Given this range of needs, we imagine the new library to be navigable and searchable so that each visitor can customize their experience.

Our vision of success

Dance Films Association’s vision of success is to preserve and thereby reenergize interest in the dance film genre. DFA encourages choreographers to enter the world of filmmaking, for filmmakers to discover the rich history of dance, and for audiences to engage with the broad spectrum of these films. Fully realized, the DFA archive would be an invaluable resource for DFA members and dance film audiences worldwide including dance and film artists, academics and critics, as well as students and established professionals. The archive would serve as a canon available for accessible viewing. As an educational resource, it would provide a wealth of history and context around the genre and encourage audience engagement.

Panel of speakers at the Dance on Camera festival.

Dance Films Association serves as the international hub for the dance film community by connecting artists and organizations, fostering new works for new audiences, and sharing essential resources. Based on the principle of movement, dance and cinema are art forms centered on communication through action and image. DFA champions this relationship by encouraging their pervasive affinities and provides infrastructure with year-round workshops and screenings and artist services such as Fiscal Sponsorship and a Post Production Grant. We avow our role as a resource because we believe our community is an invaluable cultural contributor and are excited to implement a newly defined archive because it falls directly in line with our core activities and mission.