Dance films shot on a mobile phone

NEW YORK • In the age of the smartphone camera, the everyday gadget can increasingly be used to record professional-quality images.

This aspect of how people live now was presumably on the minds of the organisers of the Mobile Dance Film Festival in New York.

Presented last Saturday, close on the heels of the annual Dance On Camera festival at Lincoln Center, this festival was advertised as not just new, but also novel - the first to require that all its selections be shot on a mobile device.

As with the rise of video a few decades ago, the relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use technology has lowered the bar of entry, so one implicit expectation for a Mobile Dance Film Festival is of voices that previously might have been excluded.

The 24 movies selected - viewable until Aug 31 - are diverse, at least in the sense that the film-makers come from 11 countries.

The rule also raises other questions. Does the mobile dance film advance the art of choreography or dance on film? Should it count as a new artistic category? By the evidence of this crop - not yet.

It is a testament to the sophistication of mobile devices that the strengths and weaknesses of the films have little to do with technical issues. Several of the movies look amateurish or are just plain bad, but none because of image quality or outdated effects.

The flaws are artistic - the pretentiousness, sentimentality, inscrutability and unintentional or lazy comedy that can be found in dance and film of any kind.

If there are not any aesthetic breakthroughs, there are some common tendencies.

These movies get around a lot, but do not last long. Mobile devices seem to encourage mobile film-makers. And, with few exceptions, their works are short - less than 10 minutes, with most less than five.

In some cases, the movies end before they have begun to say anything. In others, the brevity is just right.

The one minute that Nicola Hepp's Breathe lasts is enough to tell the story of the title's imperative - what a hyperventilating woman in a horror-movie forest must do more slowly.

If Rami Shafi's Nicole Walcott In Washington Square Park were much longer than three minutes, the buoyant joy of watching Walcott, a sunny-spirited dancer, splash with girls in a fountain would likely deflate.

Most often, what mobile devices seem to inspire is a desire to position dancers against the backdrops of many places.

The film that uses the impulse towards multiple locations most effectively is Raven Jackson's A Guide To Breathing Underwater.

Donald C. Shorter - also credited with concept and choreography - is seen on a New York rooftop, his worried hand motions matching the agitation of the music, part of French composer Maurice Ravel's Gaspard De La Nuit.

He is then seen making the same motions, and larger ones, as if drowning, in many closed-in parts of downtown. The freedom of his dancing has gained significance through the ways the dancer and camera have moved.

If mobile devices free up more film-makers in this way, the next mobile dance film festival could be something to see.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2018, with the headline 'Dance films shot on a mobile phone'. Print Edition | Subscribe