One Year Later: Dance Films Association

Note: We did not produce an audio postcard about the starting conditions for the DFA project.

Since their founding in 1956, Dance Films Association has worked to preserve, promote and present dance on camera. With support from the Rockefeller NYC Cultural Innovation Fund, DFA has added production on a groundbreaking work of dance cinema to their repertoire of activities. With this project, DFA is bringing a new perspective and possibilities to an established organization and expanding notions of what dance on camera can be in an increasingly digital world.

When I talked with Executive Director, Christy Park she explained that after six months of brainstorming, budgeting and planning, DFA is ready to start developing a 90-minute, feature length film that explores a new way of presenting dance on camera.

The Innovation

The production that Dance Films Association is creating will showcase multiple works from a major American contemporary choreographer using 3D technology. It aims to go far beyond documentation of a performance to serve as a dialogue between the film and choreography communities and attract audiences beyond those interested in contemporary dance. Taking on these new activities has increased the size of DFA’s budget and the scope of the organization.

Park explained, “The project is an innovative undertaking that will ensure a continued impact of one of America’s preeminent artists and create a platform for further inspiration. The dancers [who perform the work] will have the opportunity to extend their legacies as the ultimate embodiment of the choreographer’s work. No American contemporary dance choreographer has been the subject of a film with this scope.”

Progress to Date

DFA spent over six months laying the groundwork for the project’s success. They have assembled a creative and research team of key industry professionals who bring both dance and cinema experience, which will be announced publicly in a press release in the coming weeks, alongside the selected NYC based dance company and Director of Choreography. They also have assembled an external advisory committee, worked out a detailed budget to film industry standards and were able hone their focus on the scope and range of the project.

The team decided to create a feature length film, focusing on multiple works by one choreographer.  Park explained, “We want to create a large-scale, feature length 3D film, because we feel a work of art at that level can expand and increase the audience and impact of American dance across both dance and film audiences worldwide. We wanted to focus on an artist whose body of work could sustain a project of that scope and transcend the medium of dance into dance cinema.”

Key Lessons

In the planning and pre-production work for the film the DFA has learned several key lessons:

  • Moving between industries takes time and finesse: Park noted that both film and dance artists are in the process of finding a shared language. “It’s essential that the Director of Choreography understands the potential of the film medium and embraces it and considers it another platform for expression,” she said. She acknowledged that it can be a long process to find logistical and creative common ground between dance and film experts, but this negotiation between mediums is the only way to succeed.
  • Funding for an interdisciplinary work can come from many worlds: Given the interdisciplinary nature of the project – film, dance, and art – the project can galvanize interest from various communities and, therefore, reach out for support and funding across disciplines.

Biggest Challenges

As they focus on producing a feature length film, selecting choreographic material is a major challenge. Park pointed out that they must consider the dance work from a different angle. “It’s all about selecting excerpts that will translate best into cinema. These considerations are very different from the ones the filmmaker and choreographer make when the goal is to accurately document a performance,” she explained.

Next Steps

DFA is currently forming an LLC to support the production of the film and finalizing their contracts with the dance company. The creative team is completing the movement script, which will be followed by rehearsals and testing using 3D technology. DFA has allotted 30 days for production of the film and aims to have a rough cut finished by July of 2014.  Beyond the film itself, Park expressed hope that the project will have a lasting impact on the relationship between dancers, choreographers, and filmmakers and will modernize the field of dance on camera. She wants this project to encourage collaboration and open dialogue between the two art disciplines, noting, “An organization should help its members cut through the red tape and that what DFA aims to do in order to allow members to make connections and become a part of both film and dance worlds at large.”

Interview conducted by Karina Mangu-Ward.  Post written by Eleanor Whitney with Karina Mangu-Ward.  

Eleanor Whitney is a writer, educator, arts administrator and musician raised in Maine and living in Brooklyn, New York. Currently, she is the Program Officer for External Affairs and Fiscal Sponsorship at the New York Foundation for the Arts. Karina Mangu-Ward is the Director of Innovation at EmcArts.