When Joy French was finishing her master’s degree in 2006 and she wanted to film some of her choreography, she had to go rent a camera.
Now, the camera on her phone is higher quality than the one she used back then. And in the 10 years since she and her company, Bare Bait Dance, started their annual film festival, Kinetoscope, the genre has changed too.
“Screendance,” a hybrid form of choreography and filmmaking, is more refined now but remains “an art form all on its own,” French said. It’s not “dance serving film, or film serving dance,” but a question of “how they can come together and make something new.”
Outside of the U.S., there’s stronger support for contemporary modern dance and film projects. Meanwhile, in the states a typical film might involve a crew that would be considered a micro-budget by the standards of an independent narrative movie: Dancers, a choreographer and maybe a director.
The technology is better and more accessible now, though, and that has made a difference. Short movies that run between 2 and 20 minutes have improved as everyone has gotten more technologically savvy.
For its 10th year, they have a block of new selections from around the U.S. and the world; a Montana Made block; and an “Encore” section with pieces from years past. They were juried down from more than 100 from around the world. The development of sites such as Film Freeway, which connects filmmakers with festivals, has made such connections significantly easier to make since the days of mailed DVDs.
This block includes pieces from local teams, including Tricia Opstad, Georgia Littig, Carrie Richer and more. French included a commissioned piece she made with Tamara Hurwitz centered on water in Butte.
Dancers: Alicia Watkinson, Nika Zaytseva
Directors: Ken Grinde and Alicia Watkinson
A calm and exploratory piece that moves at low BPMs, this was filmed in a garage with high bay doors at what appears to be magic hour. The garage is empty, and the long shadow cast on the floor becomes a “set” that dancers Watkinson and Zaytseva work in and around. Sometimes one might be a silhouette while the other is fully or partially lit. The movements are minimalist at times, working more like a cinematographer. In a close-range duet section, the camera moves in closer and captures coordinated gestures. The music is by Gia Margaret, an ambient musician from Chicago.
“Seers” and “Ensō | Mountain Divide”
Local dancer-choreographer Faith Morrison is sharing two pieces made with collaborator Robert Uehlin. For “Ensō,” which screened at the festival in 2020, they brought a team of dancers to the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness to shoot on a high vista.
(Taking full advantage of the available “set,” there’s a sequence where they all take a slide down a small snowfield. No ledges were involved.)
For “Seers,” Morrison and Uehlin set out for a desert plain. Using handheld and drone cameras, Morrison enacts a tightly controlled piece solo. In post-production, they’ve “doubled” her to make it a duet.
Dancer: Tiki Preston
Director: Ishmael Brown
All entries are not necessarily meditative and serene. Take, for instance, “Dark Movement,” a short collaboration between Tiki Preston, a dancer in Bare Bait, and videographer Ishmael Brown.
In the beginning, Preston is a librarian at a certain scenic library, returning books to their proper places. A chance opening of the right antiqued title transports her to Kelly Island, with the light tinted toward purple. Over a dubstep track, Preston, now shrouded in beads with make-up, performs a kinetic solo piece, the camera coming in tight and occasionally pulling back. It looks more like a music video.
“Suck It Up”
Dancers/directors: Amadi “Baye” Washington and Sam “Asa” Pratt
Cinematography: Alan Jensen
The duo of Washington and Pratt take on the subjects of male insecurity and entitlement in this 12-minute piece. The two, who, according to their website, have been friends since first grade, have no trouble conveying the sense of friendship in expressive movement and facial expressions. They’re also adept at working in things we don’t necessarily associate with contemporary modern dance: American men sizing each other up, competing, and, when it gets too heated, fighting.
With 12 minutes of run time, they weave in audio collages of advertising and media targeting men and dedicate one vignette to panicked humiliation.