Festival Focus: Bucharest International Dance Film Festival

14 September, 2018

The autumn has debuted with its first film festival – Bucharest International Dance Film Festival or shortly, BIDFF which was held last week, between the 6th and the 9th of September. The central theme of BIDFF’s fourth edition was “retracing”, gathering films which tell stories about perseverance, resistance and courage. For four days, the public enjoyed a diverse programme, containing two competitions – one national and one international, workshops and masterclasses with local producers and foreign choreographer, directors or dancers, as well as theatre plays and pitch sessions.

As I am a dance enthusiast and have also had, as a producer, a short film, presented in world premiere at BIDFF, I had the chance to visit the festival and check its pulse in two days out of four, watching both the national and international competition. The atmosphere was pleasant in both days, lots of people from the industry attended the festival, most of them youngsters passionate about either film, or dance who came to socialize, watch movies and do some networking. As you may know – or you can tell, dance film is a genre too little exploited in Romania’s film industry. If I would characterize it, it is a niche kind of film, quite difficult to be made – the scripts are harder to write when the main method of expression is the body and actors who also dance are difficult to be found. The need of rehearsals and lots of time, a good choreographer and preferably a director with a background in dance or dance films and furthermore, a high-resolution camera that could tell the story as you wish it to be told, may discourage you. However, when you do decide you want to make a dance film, falling into the trap of making rather a music video or an experimental film is quite possible if those things mentioned above are not secured. Dance films in Romania are still “an experiment”, a fact that could be proven by the national competition presented – and developed by BIDFF for two years now; and because presenting only three-four genuine films in a competition is not enough, it’s impossible not to select some sort of “experiments” too, in the hope of better editions in the future, which someday could equalize the international competition – called by the artistic director, Simona Diaconescu “the heart of the festival”. And indeed it is, from all points of view: story-wise, choreography and message, the international competition presents a bunch of films I would watch again anytime, without getting bored, but rather discovering new moves, new feelings and details.

Before going straight into the details of this competition, I would like to go back just for a minute to the national one, where this year the big winner was Ioana Țurcan, a young female who graduated video production in USA. While studying and living there for almost .. years, Ioana has filmed and gathered an impressive archive of personal footage, which turned into the winning film – States Uprooted, an analysis of Romania’s and USA’s identities and her personal perceptions of each one. Ioana’s film is probably the only one from the national competition that respects the theme proposed by BIDFF for its fourth edition.

The winner of the international competition was a British film, co-produced with Romania, called Night Dancing. A film that tells the story of a middle-aged man, who every night, admires a woman dancing on his street, wondering if she’s real or she’s only a product of his imagination. Even though Barney Cokeliss’s film is undoubtedly one of the best, there are two others that really caught my eye – A flood remains by Emma Evelein, a film who won the “Public Award” and has probably the best choreography of this year and Jack Thomson’s film – Business is Brutal, that presents the selfishness and greed surrounding today’s business deals, in such a simple and accurate way, using only mimics and body language.

I had the pleasure to interview these three amazing choreographers/directors and you can find the interview down below:

Emma Evelein – choreographer & director of “A Flood Remains”, which won the “Public Award”

Hi Emma! And congratulations on your film. As a dancer and an enthusiast of this sort of films, I must admit I was blown away by your choreography. As far as I know, you are the choreographer as well as the director of your short film A flood remains. Did you know your dancers before shooting or you chose them through a casting call?

Thank you so much! Yes, I knew all the dancers before. The seven dancers are all from the same dance academy – Amsterdam School of Arts, but all from different graduation years. The age gap between the youngest and oldest is 10 years, and I worked with most of them before.  I chose them based on their dance qualities, and especially on the ability to be vulnerable and translate that in my story. All of them have soft sensitive souls in their own way, who search and struggle, but who are also passionate about art and life, and I needed that for this production.

The location you filmed in is beautiful, and I know how important it is for this kind of film. Was it difficult to find it?

It actually was in the beginning. I knew I wanted a classical look, and a balcony was a must, in order to present the gap between the observing and the expressing of feelings (literally two levels). I searched a lot for buildings and apartments in Amsterdam, but they were all too tiny or expensive. Then I got support from a production house ‘Afdeling Beeld’. They had good contacts and found us this place for the shoot. It was perfect.

Have you directed anything else before? If not, what can you tell us about the experience?

I did not direct anything professionally before, but I am very visual and I create my choreographies visually. A flood remains was a project I thought about on a daily basis for two months straight. And before shooting, I already edited the film in my head, which helped me explained clearly, to the dancers and the whole crew, what I am looking for. I loved directing – as a choreographer you can tell you what to do, but aa director you can take them through the storyline, getting to know the intentions behind the movement. Is it an aggressive or a soft movement, and after you do it, what happens in the mind of the character? To be so precise on a set, to translate a story so detailed, it was an amazing feeling.

Is this “Public Award” the first one you have won as a film director or are there any others? And how important is this kind of recognition to you?

As a film director, this is my first prize, and it is a very important recognition for me, especially because it is from the audience, which has the most important voice. It means that somehow what I wanted to say as a creator, came across and it means a lot.

What do you think it’s the most challenging thing about being a dancer?

I think nowadays there are a lot of new environments and different dance styles. To search, and mainly, to keep your own voice and stay true to yourself can be challenging. It is important to always try new things and new surroundings, to always expand your dance language you’re your understanding of creating and dare to be yourself as an artist and to keep training your mind, as well as your body. This takes courage and is a journey you have to take. Artwork is not measured by how much money you make or how famous you will become. It is measured by how it can speak to people, however this is a vague measurement. I always choose quality and truth, even when broke, homesick, lonely or in physical pain. To be a dancer or an artist in general, can be a vulnerable thing, and you have to be brave enough to say “again” every time.

Jack Tomson – Choreographer & Director of “Business is Brutal

Have you ever been part of a business deal?

Every day we are part of business deals. If you think about it, buying coffee is a microtransaction but still a business deal. With this is mind, I feel it is important to support and make ‘business deals’ with companies, organizations and people whose values and ethics align with the future you want to see for humanity. It sounds a little dramatic, but even spending small amounts of money in businesses that do more harm than good will only perpetuate more harm than good in the world.

For me, business is just a series of transactions – that involves money, and I think that for me, the film is a comment on how us as humans conduct these transactions and exchanges for better or for worse.

If you are asking if I ever sat in the boardroom and witnessed a really big business deal, the answers are sadly no. (laughs)

How did your idea come up?

I was a 17 year old British boy, in a New York City hospital, receiving treatment from a business person with a stethoscope; that’s how the film’s concept was born. After a fifteen minutes treatment, I was left with a $900 medical bill and the obligation to pay one third before leaving the hospital. At the beginning, I was unable to comprehend why my insurance did not cover the costs and I could not understand how, in a place of well being and at a time of vulnerability, I suddenly became a hostage in a clinical prison. Was my own flesh and blood about to become a minor transaction in this city built on capitalism? This is where the negotiation began.

I couldn’t afford to pay for this so I hope we can come to an agreement. The aggressive undercurrents and uncompromising brutality in the tone of this response, quickly shattered what was left of this ‘hospitals’ facade. I was clearly in a conflict of business and the strained tension between our gaze quickly informed me, that I was her prey, in her territory.  I left the hospital giving $180 out of my pocket and feeling about 180% worse than when I entered but surprisingly, I did gain from this surreal experience a visceral feeling of the undercurrents and hidden dynamics at play within some business.

As far as I know, you are a photographer. How did you end up making a short dance film? Tell us a little more how it started?

I am a photographer as well as a dancer. I began dancing when I was eight and started to explore photography when I was twelve. At first I was just taking pictures of my sister in the garden and later on of some friends at school. This passion developed alongside my dance training at the Rambert School (London) and is now something which I do alongside my dancing career. When photographing, I mainly focus my efforts in dance and fashion photography, often trying to combine them in different ways. Business Is Brutal, came about after my time in the NYC Hospital. I came back to London and decided I wanted to make something about this shocking experience. My first thought was to use it as inspiration for a fashion photography editorial. I tried a test shoot with a model from a top London modeling agency, and the shoot was an epic fail; something just wasn’t right and I had to rethink how I was doing to do this. After some time, I realized the body’s physicality was the key to the way I was going to translate my ideas, as I really wanted to express this aggressive and harsh exchange that people can have when conducting business. This led to asking a few dancers from the London Contemporary Dance Community to feature in some fashion/dance editorials, and they all agreed. That’s how I spent 4 days photographing the dancers and the final series – also titled Business is Brutal, featured on Mode & Motion in 2016. The photos were used in my pitch for Random Acts, which is a British television’s programme on Channel 4. In my proposal, I explained I wanted to take Business is Brutal as a series of images and to translate the ideas and aesthetic into a short dance film. Six months later they got in touch and offered me funding and support to make the film.

The film has marvelous choreography but I have also noticed your attention to costumes. Each character in your film seems really fashionable in a minimalistic way.

The costume and minimalist styling of the film was firstly informed in the initial fashion editorial from 2016. For that series chose Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake whose designs are so incredibly clean, sharp and architectural and this very much inspired the look and feel of the photographs. When we translated the visuals of those photos into the aesthetic for the film, that minimalism came through in the choices of clothes, location and props. I personally love the contradiction between minimal and the savage actions and energy that occupies the space, that conversation contributes to the tension in the film.

What are your next plans with this film? Has it been part of any other festivals?

Business is Brutal was officially released in November 2017. Since then it has been screened in over 30 festivals all over the world and won ‘Best Art/Artist Led Film’ at The New Renaissance Film Festival in London (NRFF 2018). I am really overwhelmed by the response to Business is Brutal at the festivals is has been screened at, as this is my first film, and its gone much further than I was expecting, which encouraged me to think about creating more films. I am so grateful for everyone involved for really backing my ideas and supporting the vision I had for the film from start to finish. I am particularly excited for the film to be in the screen dance competition at the Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF 2018) in November this year, as the film was shot in the city of Leeds and a lot of the dancers in the film are based in there. It kind of feels like the film is coming home.


Ioana Țurcan – film director of “States Uprooted”, grand winner of the BIDFF competition

Your film talks, among other things, about uprooting and identity from a personal standpoint. As far as I know, the film was made during several years, both in the US, where you lived and studied, and in Romania. Where are you now, personally and professionally?

For the moment, I am in Romania; I moved to Bucharest for one year and I travel very often, which is why I am not thinking about another relocation. But I have to admit that I am thinking very often about the US and about certain opportunities which seem pretty far away for now. I don’t regret the decision to move back; I am aware of both what is missing and what things I can have only by being home. The personal and professional sides are merging at a necessary level, so I can be honest with my decisions.

What does it mean to you, as a director, to win the BIDFF Best Film Award in the national competition?

Ah… I don’t know if I consider myself the film director of this film. Somehow, this was a project in which I invested some things that I doubt and whose dexterity I wanted to test. So to speak, I have exposed some old passions and very intimate thoughts.

The BIDFF award means a lot to me, I was surprised how well the film was received in Romania; I was a bit nervous about the screening but not at BIDFF. Maybe because I got used to seeing it screened and because I felt it fits best at BIDFF, where movement and transition are seen not only through dance, but also in the audio-visual area.

What are your future plans, both as a director and a choreographer? What’s next for your film?

I don’t see myself as a choreographer with a diploma. I would like to see the film screened in many other countries, because we are struggling more and more with identity and uprooting problems and it becomes more difficult to express, discuss and accept this. I don’t have a plan for States Uprooted, normally every project has its own path. At this moment, I am working for some projects dedicated to art galleries, preparing a traveling exhibition with 14 artists, educators, and curators in Belgrade, for May 2019, some other films and video projects in festivals, and a lot of project pitches, on which I work with Studioset.

We are both kids of the ’90. We were born after the fall of the communism, in a “free” world, though almost 30 years later, we are still lost in a dysfunctional society. Why did you choose to move back to Romania, even though you could have stayed in the US?

The US experience was very intense, especially because I was very connected to the political situations in both countries and it was too much to handle. In the States, I was a master’s degree student, university assistant and teacher, so I was too much involved in the academic system. The new laws made the living situation more difficult, with a restricted access to visas, which had to be for education. And I did not wish to pursue a 5-year-PhD.

Moreover, I have a very close relationship with my parents and I think I saw too many separation cases in the US (some as choices, some only because of the circumstances) and, at that point, I had the privilege to decide in what situation I don’t want to be.

Film producer and founder of ADFR, she dreamed since she was little of having a magazine one day. Alongside her job as editor-in-chief, she writes the interview of the month. She loves animals, jazz music and films festivals.