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Dance at Illinois honors dance and film through festival

By Taylor Wegner, Staff writer

Four years ago, “Dance at Illinois” found a way to unite dance and film through a festival.

Now in its fourth year, the Flatlands Dance Film Festival features a full-length film along with a variety of shorts that showcase dance as their primary subject. The movies highlight performance, influential artists in the field and the broad social impacts that dance has had around the globe.

It runs Sept. 1 and 2 at the Spurlock Museum. The screenings begin at 7:00 p.m. both nights. General public tickets can be purchased at the door for $10, students and seniors receive a discounted $5 rate.

Rebecca Ferrell, dance department public relations and engagement assistant, said Mark Rhodes, assistant director of FDFF, began the festival in partnership with Dance at Illinois and its community partners.

The first day will feature “Bronx Gothic,” a story about writer and performer, Okwui Okpokwasili, as she plans a tour for her eponymous solo show. The second day showcases winning films of the shorts competition program. According to FDFF’s website, the committee received over 350 submissions from 50 countries.

Ferrell said FDFF was able to access a broad audience through social media exposure. 

“I have really focused a lot on utilizing these global platforms both for Dance at Illinois and specifically for FDFF,” Ferrell said. “It’s great that we live in a time where people on opposite sides of the world are connected with the click of a button. It has really enabled us to curate a diverse range of perspectives in the films that will be shown.”

According to Ferrell, the submissions were judged based on three primary criteria: choreography, cinematography and overall effect and impact. The adjudicators of these qualities are then selected on a number of factors.

“Some (of the adjudicators) are very active in the dance community and volunteer, some are recommended by our peers, others are selected for their point of view — we try to keep it fresh and fair every year,” Ferrell said. “Some have been involved in FDFF before as community partners, but the role of adjudicator is a one-time opportunity.”

This year’s selected adjudicators are Fran Ansel, Scott Dossett and Michael Lambert. After Ferrell and Rhodes narrowed the selection down to 80 films, they presented them to the adjudicators for final judging.

Ansel said was very particular on her judging during the selection process.

“I setup my own grid system to rate each film,” she said. “I rated them from one to five in each criteria category and totaled the scores for all of these categories.”

Ansel is one of the original dance partners, from a group that engages in community outreach for the dance department. She said she has been involved in the festival since its inception.

Lambert said he took a different approach. He described his judging as “kind of freestyle,” in which there was no specific system other than recognition of the necessary criteria.

He said he became an adjudicator as he had attended and appreciated previous FDFF screenings. Lambert also said he has been a fan of dance since the last century. The FDFF is a salient aspect of the university for him because he said it showcases a facet of the great dance department at the University.

In previous years, the festival took place at the Champaign Art Theater. This year’s decision to host it at the Spurlock Museum is aimed to make the festival more accessible to both the campus community and the surrounding area.

Ansel said the University has such a large national and international stature, but has a small department in the art. She also said the dance department doesn’t necessarily get sufficient press outside of the art community.

“The Flatlands Dance Film Festival was a way for us to reach out to the community at large,” Ansel said. “We thought that this way the perfect spot for this particular department, in this part of the country, to present itself in a wide space.”

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