With its plethora of premieres and international miscellany of dance films, this year’s 51st Dance on Camera Festival (DOC) promises to be admirably eclectic as always. What’s even more intriguing though, is the sizable number of women-directed films featured in this edition’s lineup.
Presented by Dance Films Association (DFA) and Film at Lincoln Center (FLC), the four-day festival—which happens to be the longest-running dance film festival in the world—runs from February 10 to 13, and features 13 programs with a total of 30 new films (selected from over 290 submissions) representing 35 countries.
The selection of short and feature-length narrative and documentary films in the series spotlight visionary artists and stories that center around global diversity, the human experience and power of community—all through the ever-evolving and expanding parameters of dance on film.
Of the six feature films being screened, four are by female directors: Call Me Dancer, Bella, Moving Together and Searching for Tarab. And of the 24 mid-length and short films, 15 are either directed by or co-directed by women filmmakers, including four who are by first-time directors. The titles include Mother Melancholia, Transparent, Reminiscences, Empty Vessel, The Dance After The Last Dance, Ghostly Labor, Rooms, Saint LeRoi, Twine, To Be Near You, Milez—plus iuSui, You Left Me Alone, The Fell of Dark and Sharqui.
“It’s quite gratifying to see that among the selected submissions, women’s voices greatly outnumber male ones, especially with the feature length films.”
“It’s quite gratifying to see that among the selected submissions, women’s voices greatly outnumber male ones, especially with the feature length films. In all, viewers will see 19 films from female-identifying directors,” says Nolini Barretto, co-curator of the festival. “Their directorial voices at DOC are authoritative, sumptuously imagistic and unafraid of portraying emotion or dealing with big issues like loss, grief, marginalization and planet destruction. Their narratives are powerful, their experimental forays brilliant!”
The festival opens with the New York premiere of Leslie Shampaine and Pip Gilmour’s Call Me Dancer—a real-life story that follows a young, talented dancer from the streets of Mumbai to the stages of New York.
Leslie Shampaine and Pip Gilmour, who faced several gender-related barriers when making the film, took it upon themselves to launch an independent documentary project of their own, together with an international team (from US, India and the UK) comprised mostly of women directors, producers, crew members and a lead editor and composer.
“We have both worked in this industry for several decades, and there’s no doubt that there is an underrepresentation of women and non-binary individuals as directors and screenwriters, especially in narrative/fiction film and television,” the filmmaker duo explain. “It’s been a 5-year labor of love as grants were difficult to obtain especially for a film about the power of dance and the arts. It’s somewhat less so in the documentary field, but parity for fees and ability to get financing and grants remains more challenging than ever for women. One wonders if Time’s Up and the #MeToo movements have really changed anything.”
“One wonders if Time’s Up and the #MeToo movements have really changed anything.”
Leslie Shampaine, a former professional dancer, also feels strongly that “dance films are typically created by people looking into our world from the outside.” According to her, films about dance convey the extreme athletic difficulty of the profession, but lose sight of the passion and inner joy that push dancers past the pain.
And so, Call Me Dancer, like many of the films in the festival, puts dance into a filmic narrative or framework versus focusing cameras on the dancers themselves. “While we ourselves are not Indian, our central protagonist is, and so we approached the story of Call Me Dancer from an insider’s point of view to the dance world,” adds Leslie. “Yehuda [one of the film’s subjects] knew that as a dancer and filmmaker, I could offer this insider’s sensitivity and perspective.”
Another noteworthy and introspective film in this year’s festival is Samantha Shay’s Mother Melancholia, which was created in collaboration with several performers including longtime Pina Bausch collaborator and dancer Barbara Kaufmann.
A self-proclaimed soundtrack for the end of the world as we know it, set to, and inspired by, Icelandic instrumentalist Sóley (who’s album has the same title), the film offers a multi-layered portrait of four women and a eulogy for the planet.
“This film erupts from Sóley’s music and what she grappled with in its creation,” says Samantha Shay. “When she first came to me with the subjects of the marginalization of women and femmes and the destruction of the planet, it felt massive and not my place to make an opinionated statement about tragedies the world has yet to resolve. I had to use my most intimate approach through the lens of my own experiences and the experiences of the performers I collaborated with.”
Co-commissioned by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Mother Melancholia approaches ecofeminism and patriarchal politics through an unsettlingly beautiful and unguarded meditation on the difficulty and immediacy of being fully present in the world.
Samantha explains that “the film became a multilayered portrait of ancestry with our role as descendants and future ancestors. It became a constellation of how the personal resounds beyond human experience, yet can somehow point back to something as simple as a childhood memory. What is the relationship between a melting glacier and a personal trauma? How do we soothe ourselves or discover protest in our bodies? And how is the earth doing that now? It wasn’t a decision I made consciously, but a collective journey through meditating on the largest questions we face in an apocalyptic world.”
“In today’s world, I don’t think we have the privilege of cynicism. I believe the path forward is towards love, towards the primal and celestial…”
Filmed in a surreal and eroding Icelandic landscape, Mother Melancholia quietly, yet urgently, opens a conduit between the internal world of human experience and the planet we inhabit. And its message is profound: “I’m so glad this film centers on love and hope in the end, yet never resolves itself easily,” says Samantha. “We end underwater, in the darkness, that somehow also looks like the outer reaches of space. In today’s world, I don’t think we have the privilege of cynicism. I believe the path forward is towards love, towards the primal and celestial, and that is what Mother Melancholia is made of: a woven tapestry through each of us.”
So if you’re looking to enjoy an annual sampling of dance films that parallel the extraordinary breadth of artistry seen on stages across NYC, and add to the sum of your dance knowledge, the DOC festival is where you need to be. What better way to support and celebrate women artists working tirelessly behind the scenes to bring forth change?
© Reanne Rodrigues (2/7/2023) – Special for FF2 Media®
Follow along for the latest updates on social media @filmlinc and @dancefilms.
Participate in the interactive competition #MyDanceFilm which returns to the 2023 Dance on Camera Festival and showcases submissions from filmmakers worldwide. It will be available to the public in the Amphitheater at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on Sunday, February 12 at 5:30pm as part of the festival’s free public programming. Additional details can be found at dancefilms.org.
The DOC festival helps fund DFA Labs, whose mission is to advise dance filmmakers from around the world and support them in their creative pursuits. To learn more about the program, click here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured photo: Chalia La Tour in Mother Melancholia. Photo by Victoria Sendra.
Bottom photo: Call me Dancer Manish Chauhan Performance at Kennedy Center. Photo by Jeff Malet and courtesy of Shampaine Pictures.