Northwest Screendance Exposition preview: moving shadows on the wall

Third annual Eugene-based festival celebrates the collaborative artistic efforts of filmmakers, choreographers and sound artists


A quintet of ballerinas in a kitchen fling clouds of flour into the air in choreographed harmony. A cadre of dancers create a percussive soundscape by pounding their feet against a warehouse wall. These and many other moving images and sounds appear onscreen this weekend in the University of Oregon’s Dougherty Dance Theater when the third annual Northwest Screendance Exposition takes center stage October 13 and 14 in Eugene.

Screendances aren’t mere recordings of stage performances but instead a distinctive art form in which cinemagraphic techniques that manipulate time and space are woven together with the techniques of dance choreography. The result: a unique visual and audio time-based arts experience in which dance and cinematography are equal partners.

Still from student film “Camatori.” Photo: Angela Challis.

The movement of the human body through time and space has been the subject of filmmakers dating back to the origins of cinema, including early experimental films such as painter Emlen Etting’s Oramunde (1933) or Maya Deren’s A Study in Choreography For Camera (1946). Unlike in decades past, today’s filmmakers and dancers have access to relatively inexpensive digital technologies that facilitate screendance productions at all levels of capability. A celebration of this evolving form of collaborative expression, this year’s festival, sponsored by the UO School of Music and Dance’s Dance Department, includes 24 films by filmmakers living in Canada, China,  Italy, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, UK and the USA were selected for screening, chosen from 57 films submitted from 17 countries.

Exposition Director John Watson told ArtsWatch that the principal idea behind the screendance festival is to give general audiences, scholars and creators the opportunity to see this distinctive artwork on a large screen, discuss the films, give and receive feedback, and learn things about this rapidly evolving medium.

“Let’s face it,” he says, “seeing something on a cellphone or even on a 27 inch desktop monitor may be convenient, but it is in no way comparable to seeing it with other interested audience members in a theatrical setting.”

Friday, October 13

This year’s festival includes four events beginning Friday night with a focus on the variety of films the Rose City’s dance community is producing. Portland Project features three screendance films plus Eric Nordstrom’s outstanding documentary Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present, which Watson calls a “wonderfully told story about a dance community’s evolution.” He adds that the film addresses issues that dance organizations face not just in Portland, but all over the country. “Anyone interested in the survival of the arts in their community,” he says, “needs to see this film.”

Still from “Living The Room.” Photo: SubRosa Dance Collective.

Films include Fuchsia Lin’s Crystals of Transformation, Gabriel Shalom’s Warehouse Samba. In the third screendance, Living The Room by the SubRosa Dance Collective, a company of six very talented Portland dancers interact with a house and everything in it. The film’s scenes, Watson suggests, are “funny, expressive and surreal, though not necessarily all three at the same time.” The first time he saw it in Portland, he was initially concerned about its 32-minute length. “Most all of the screendance films I’ve seen that push even the 10 minute mark have trouble with becoming excessive in some area,” he says. “When we hit the 10 minute mark in this film, I began to wonder what they could do to keep it interesting. The second 20 minutes answered that question, and the final 12 minutes convinced me that I had just seen the first screendance film that I could call epic!”

Saturday, October 14 

A free Saturday morning public discussion and workshop led by Expo Director John Watson along with UO Assistant Professor of Dance, Shannon Mockli explores the evolution of screendance as an art form through the presentation of historic and contemporary dance films. Saturday afternoon’s NWSE Juried Selections program (Part 1)  includes screendance films made by students, documentary films about dance, and a selection from the first 60-Second Cellphone Screendance Challenge that encouraged screendance artists, both new and experienced, to pick up their cellphones and experiment with creating videos exactly 60 seconds in length, all shot and edited on a cellphone.

An example of the quality of student film submissions is Three on Four by Marty Buhler. “I saw three men at a table doing gestural phrases,” the filmmaker told a University of Utah online newsletter. “From there I decided I wanted to create a sound score using both movement and editing to create new choreography.”

“Three on Four” by student filmmaker Marty Buhler.

Although not specifically screendance films, documentaries have been added to the program to facilitate audience appreciation of dance as a form of personal expression. Moving Afrika, a short non-verbal film, seeks to answer the question posed by filmmakers Valeria Lo Meo and Michele Manzini “what is reality?” We see the passion for dance emerge in children living in an improbable place – a poor South African township.

Saturday night’s Part 2 of the NWSE Juried Selection program will screen local, professional, national and international screendance short films in a variety of genres from ballet to hip-hop. Several reflect imaginative use of cinemagraphic techniques. Vacuum by Philippe Saire uses film noir lighting, time-lapse cinematography, and high angle camera angles to create an abstract world of movement and space.

Another innovative film using live action, stop motion, and cut out animation techniques is Stephen Featherstone’s Stopgap in Stop Motion. Photographs of performers in Stopgap Dance, a disabled and non-disabled dance company, seemingly come to life as individual artists move out of still photos and dance across table tops until the whole company meets and performs in unison.

Some sequences from “Stopgap in Stop Motion” from FeatherstoneFilms on Vimeo.

Evolving Expo

The Expo started in 2015 as a part curated, part juried festival of mostly local screendance films. In the second year, the festival attracted entries from 13 different countries and added a Documentary Division. The added content became a bit of a struggle to show the juried films twice and the documentaries once within a single day format. This year the Expo, abiding by community input, includes programming Friday evening and all day Saturday.  As in the past, a $100 honorarium will be given to the filmmakers whose work was accepted.

Watson would like to expand the Expo to include guest speakers and workshop presenters from around the screendance world. He notes that “several of the leading lights in the medium offered to come to Eugene this year, but with cutbacks in many of the educational and institutional programs which had supported us in the past, we were unable to find the funding for this to happen.”

Editor’s note: Read about the past two annual expositions in these ArtsWatch articles: NW Screendance Exposition: Moving Images and Northwest Screen Dance Exposition: Celebrating choreographed cinema.

The Northwest Screendance Exposition is held in the Dougherty Dance Theatre at 1481 University St. Eugene.


7:30pm: The Portland Project – films from Portland screendance film makers. Tickets: $12 general admission, and $8 for students and seniors.


10:00am: So This is Screendance! Seminar/workshop led by John Watson & Shannon Mockli (Free Admission)

4:30pm: The Juried Films, Part 1

7:30pm: The Juried Films, Part 2

Juried film tickets: $12 general admission, and $8 for students and seniors. A ticket covers both Parts 1 and 2 on Saturday. Tickets online at

Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, Instructional Systems Technology, College of Education, University of Oregon. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch.

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