Interview with Festival Director Katie Bruce (UTAH DANCE FILM FESTIVAL)

The Utah Dance Film Festival is an international dance film festival, an arts education organization and a catalyst for movers and filmmakers to connect, collaborate and create.


Matthew Toffolo: How is the film scene in your city?

Katie Bruce: Utah has several amazing film scenes occurring simultaneously. We are fortunate to have professional productions filming here, like Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone,” Disney’s “Andi Mack,” and HBO’s “Westworld.” BYU also has a network, and their productions include “Dwight in Shining Armor,” “Random Acts of Kindness” and “Studio C.” Plus, we also have quite a few Hallmark features that film here annually. There are a lot of opportunities for film students to make the jump from classes to sets in all departments. Sundance Film Festival is a big part of the film scene, but that also includes their Director’s Lab and Feature Film Program which develop and foster the production of new works. Damien Chazelle is a director who participated in those programs, and they are a big part of the reason that “Whiplash” was made.

Film producers love Utah because the labor force is skilled, dedicated, reliable and hardworking, and the costs of production are low. Utah has 5 National Parks, 4 universities, and the Utah Film Commission which offers tax rebates on projects filmed in the state. There are always rad locations accessible year round, and plenty of places to rent professional gear.

The Utah Dance Film Festival is based in Utah County, where Adobe and The Void have homes, and the CW series “Outpost” built a rad set for their first season of filming. We receive a lot of films from the dance department at BYU, as well as from the film department at Utah Valley University. Dance is HUGE in Utah – Utahns have made quite the impact on dance television, and the coolest crossovers between those cultures are happening at local colleges. UDFF is right in the center of that mix!

What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Dance on camera is SO consumable on social media, but for filmmakers who are putting in the time in pre and post production, recognition can get lost. We see the widest variety of production value in our submissions – some pieces are filmed from a fixed, frontal point, almost the way you would watch a dance performed in a theater, and with one lighting setup. Other pieces are built in such a way that they are ONLY possible as a film, using perspectives and setups that would never be possible in a live performance. Our film festival highlights filmmakers from many cultures, with different skills from across the globe so that audiences can start to see a more complete view of all the ways in which human movement is unique, that the expression of that movement is an important visual communication, and that the makers of these films are worth celebrating. We are getting filmmaker’s names out there so that they can be appreciated.

What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

Global connectivity of artists, for sure. Dance is this ancient art form which disappears the moment after it is created. A dance has almost no artifacts or proof of existence on its own. That is why it is so exciting to observe the ways in which film and digital technologies are changing dance, as well as perfectly preserving an archive. Past generations of choreographers had to create detailed visual languages to write their dances down, and there really wasn’t an ideal way within those writings to capture or communicate the visceral experiences of dancers as they performed. Dance films are the only way in which a dancer can sit with his or her audience and feel what they are feeling at the moment the dance occurs. My mind never ceases to be blown at that power. It’s especially cool to see how kids and teenagers respond to that opportunity.

What will attendees experience when they attend your upcoming festival?

Our fest is so rad. We offer dance classes where anyone can participate, meaning that sometimes we have filmmakers trying dance for the first time, or a dancer holding a camera for the first time. We offer film workshops on topics like location scouting, pre and post production, and editing taught by professionals. Last year we screened 32 films from 12 countries, and then the festival culminates with a live awards show that features the winning films as well as live dance performances from notable Utah dance companies. It’s a totally unique event for the dance film scene in Utah, and our venue, the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem, is an amazing location for the weekend.

What are the qualifications for the selected films?

Films need to feature movement. The movement doesn’t have to be refined or technical to be considered. It’s that simple. We receive narratives, documentaries, experimental animation films, the whole spectrum of works. Films can be from any time frame, of any length. We accept works by students and professionals.

We have a 24 hour film competition called MOVE which is our specialized lab for all kinds of human motion – for that, we have accepted films featuring speed walking, rock climbing, sports, alien abductions – a wide variety! This year MOVE is February 15th and 16th, 2019. Teams pre-register and can arrange, costume and plan a short film ahead of time. Then on the 15th we release a theme, and teams have 24 hours to film, edit and submit their works in conjunction with that theme. Winners will be screened at the film festival the following week. It’s a really cool way for people to get involved with our festival right when our hype is at a peak!

Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

I do think that is true, yes. In our case, we sometimes have films that just seem a little lost. A filmmaker might have spent tons of valuable time fundraising, planning, shooting and editing only to have submitted to a festival that isn’t quite the right fit. FilmFreeway is the coolest platform because it enables filmmakers to easily shop around and find festivals with a scope that is relevant to their work. I also feel that it’s really important that festivals have fair systems, criteria and categories for judging. In our instance, we have a panel of two filmmakers and two dancers who judge our works. The judges decide on finalists, and scores determine winners. We also don’t allow for ties, which keeps our process competitive and specific at the same time.

How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

UDFF adores FilmFreeway, and for our 2019 festival we have added a photography category for the first time! There is no way we would have considered adding photography, nor would we have known how to go about doing that, without FilmFreeway. Our directors are also on the platform as filmmakers, and it has been so stunning to see the number of dance film festivals on the rise. We handle all of our tracking, notifying, judging and ticket sales on FilmFreeway, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Where do you see the festival by 2023?

Definitely giving out grants and scholarships to support more artists at multiple stages of production or studies.

What film have you seen the most times in your life?

Either The Royal Tenenbaums or The Darjeeling Limited, possibly The Princess Bride, (specifically on VHS, recorded from a television broadcast), and perhaps Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

In one sentence, what makes a great film?

Thoughtful lighting, composed shots, good audio, clean edit and a bravery to explore.


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