Shaping that programming is festival director Pioneer Winter, the boundary-busting dance and performance artist now in his 6th year leading ScreenDance. He works in collaboration with a small, changing panel and with Miami Light Project artistic and executive director Beth Boone to choose the films, from 3-minute shorts to feature-length documentaries and elaborate creative experiments.
The number of festivals showcasing this fluid, rapidly changing field has exploded since pioneering Miami avant-garde presenter Mary Luft and her Tigertail Productions launched ScreenDance in 2014, turning it over to Miami Light Project when Luft closed Tigertail in 2017. Prescient as usual, Luft was inspired partly by Miami dance artists who were early to experiment with this expanding form, taking advantage of increasingly cheap and available film and editing technology, often on the iPhone, as it was becoming a sophisticated media tool.
“Miami is a very young city,” Luft told me in 2014, when I wrote about the inaugural ScreenDance for the Miami Herald. “It doesn’t have a huge body of choreographers built up over the years. So you have young people striking out on their own projects. One person sees something and they want to do it, there’s easy technology, so it moves along pretty quickly.”
The boundaries between dancemaking and filmmaking have become even blurrier, says Winter. “The biggest thing that’s changed is people are less afraid of picking up a camera and doing it themselves,” he said recently. “There’s no more thinking you have to pair a choreographer with a filmmaker. Why can’t that choreographer be a filmmaker or the filmmaker have a sense of movement? People are more comfortable going between those two disciplines.”
Submissions to the festival offer a glimpse of artistic trends. The pandemic saw a burst of introspective films, as people were forced into their private, solitary spaces. Now Winter says he’s seeing “a lot more awareness of current events, a lot of social justice films.”
Some use narration and spoken personal history, blending documentary techniques with artistic experimentation. They include Sean Dorsey Dance: Dreaming Trans and Queer Futures, which traces Dorsey’s own struggle to find a place as a queer artist in modern dance and celebrates diverse gender identities in the field; and Alethea Pace’s Here Goes the Neighborhood, a quietly poignant invocation of community history in the Bronx.
Others are exuberant visual and kinetic celebrations of community, like the dancers bursting into the sky from a churning rooftop party in Heidi Duckler and Katherine Helen Fisher’s Play Where We’re Going, or Marta Renzi’s irresistibly charming Bronx Magic, with dancers captivating people on the street. Ghostly Labor, by Vanessa Sanchez and John Jota Leanos, mixes tap and percussive Mexican folkloric dance and musicians with testimonials by Mexican farmworkers to celebrate their culture and the role of those who work the land; set in a field under glowing sunrise light, the interlocking rhythms of the drummers and the dancers’ driving heelwork is integral to the film’s power.
There are just a few Miami films this year, but they include the kinetically electrifying NYX, from the Miami Movement Collective (which includes Here & Now choreographer Enrique Villacreses and MLP commissioned artist Maya Billig), and Kerine Jean-Pierre’s Calling Me, an gorgeously pastel-colored, insouciant tribute to the power and beauty of Black women.
ScreenDance has a history of showing important dance documentaries, like In Balanchine’s Classroom, Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance or this year’s AILEY, about the storied Black modern dance troupe which has become a pillar of American dance (and whose artistic director, Robert Battle, and resident choreographer, Jamar Roberts, both come from Miami.) Screening at the New World Symphony’s Soundscape Park on Jan. 20, it promises to be spectacular.
Winter is particularly excited about NOT MY ENEMY, the first feature-length documentary to come through the open call submissions. Created by Florida State University School of Dance assistant professors Kehinde Ishangi and Tiffany Rhynard, it grew out of a dance concert that looked at the traumatic effect of the Vietnam War on a generation of Black veterans, inspired in part by Ishangi’s own father.
The festival’s final night, at Soundscape Park, showcases two powerful films that are artistic opposites. Black Lodge is a visually and theatrically dazzling, emotionally grandiloquent dance/opera on film, featuring alt-glam-rock opera artist/musician Timur Bekbosunov of Timur and the Dime Museum (who’s also working on a MLP commissioned project.)
Veronique Doisneau, on the other hand, is utterly simple and personal. A 42-year old Paris Opera Ballet corps dancer, alone on the troupe’s grand, historic stage, narrates an intimate look at her dancing life, putting us inside the mind and experience of a woman who’s part of the overlooked foundation of the ballet world. It is one of Winter’s favorites. “It speaks to me as a choreographer who really appreciates diving deep with a performer,” he says. “Just her and her voice. I find that very beautiful and powerful.”
Eventz Paul is currently the Technical Director and Productions Manager at Miami Light Project. He has been a part of this organization since 2011. He participated in Miami Light Project’s first class of the Technical Fellowship Program held at The Light Box. He joined this program hoping to improve his existing theater skills. He received training from experts in the industry that mentored and further his theater technical skills. Now, he has successfully used his professional knowledge and has had the opportunity to work with various arts organizations and venues throughout Miami including Miami Theater Center, National Young Arts Foundation, the Colony Theatre and many more. He has become an instructor and conducts audiovisual classes to incoming technical fellows.
Beth Boone has been the Artistic & Executive Director of Miami Light Project since 1998, developing critically acclaimed artistic programs that have asserted the organization as one of the leading cultural institutions in South Florida. These programs include: the establishment of Here & Now, South Florida’s most respected commission and presenting program for community-based artists; premiere presentations of internationally acclaimed; pioneering historic international cultural exchange with Cuba; and the creation of The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, a multi-use performance and visual art space in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. She previously served as Associate Director of Development for Florida Grand Opera, Deputy Director for the Department of Cultural Affairs at Miami Dade Community College, Wolfson Campus, co-founded an Off Broadway theater company (New York Rep), and served for six years as a Program Associate in the Arts & Culture Program of the AT&T Foundation. She received a B.A. in Fine Arts from the College of Charleston in South Carolina, and a MFA in Theater Arts from Brandeis University in Boston, MA.