International dance festival goes to the drive-in

By Bridgette M. Redman

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When there was an influx of virtual dance recordings, Dance Camera West’s executive and artistic director Kelly Hargraves initially thought they would sit out the annual festival because the market was overly saturated.

“Everyone was doing an online festival,” Hargraves said. “Festivals are usually a local event and you’re bringing films around the world to your community. Once the community is global, the same films are showing a lot. I thought it was saturated. If this is what it is going to be in January 2021, I’m going to take a year off, because no one needs it at this point.”

Two things changed her mind. First, she saw submitted films and realized they were different. They were created as film projects, instead of sudden adaptations to dancing on camera. Second, The Broad Stage at Santa Monica College offered to create a drive-in movie experience on Jan. 30 and 31 where people could gather safely to watch the final two days of the festival.

“I always wanted to do a drive-in screening,” Hargraves said. “I’ve been trying to work that out for years and then not doing it because it is hard. The Broad Stage came through with it.”

The Dance Camera West Drive-In, Best of the Festival will feature a wide range of dance films from group to solo dances, from those in remote landscapes to urban spaces. Some are short, some are long. All, Hargraves feels, have something to contribute in 2021. As the films came in, she grew more excited about everything they had to offer. Thirty-five films will be screened throughout the month.

“The films we present do have a place amongst all this eruption of instant media,” Hargraves said. “Everyone is making stuff, but the films we present were conceived to be film from the beginning.”

The final two programs feature dance films from around the world featuring a wide variety of subjects and tones. Some of the award winners include:

• “Forest Floor” by Robbie Synge. One of three “Best of Festival” winners, it was filmed in the Abernethy Forest of Scotland. It is a two-person dance with one dancer who uses a wheelchair and has mixed abilities.

• “The Circadian Cycle” by Garry Stewart and the Australian Dance Theater was one of the “Best of Festival” winners. This film showcases the beauty of Australian landscapes as much as it does their immensely talented dancers who tell a story accentuated by incredible production values as sweeping as the geography represented.

• “Beast” by Henrique Pina won an “Outstanding Achievement” award for a story featuring acrobatic dancers and intense images that take place in a huge outdoor football stadium. Pina is a Portuguese dancer who submitted eight films, all of which Hargraves said were amazing.

“I think that the goal and the hope is to give audiences the feeling, flavor and passion of dance in a time when you can’t go see it in person,” Hargraves said. “The way these filmmakers have made their films, it is still there. You can still see it, feel it. You can still get that experience of watching a live dance and that intimate experience when you’re watching a film alone.”

She applauds The Broad Stage for the risky move of doing something different and new because of the experience it brings to dance and theater patrons. She said they must be starved for something that is bigger than their laptop.

“It’s going to be bigger than life, bigger than on a stage,” Hargraves said. “It sounds really fun to me and I hope that it is. It just feels like we need it. We need a coming together to remember we are still here. We can still love dance even if we can’t go see it. A huge part of theater and dance is community. It’s not just what is on stage, but the people in the room with you and wanting to be among those people and have a shared experience. This is the safest way we can do it at this point.”

Hargraves felt the films should be considered no matter what their production value. She, the 40 screeners and three judges considered all types of films, whether they had resources from entire broadcast networks or were shot with a phone or video camera.

“To me, both are equally important,” Hargraves said. “I want those people who don’t have the means to be able to get to that level. If we can help any little bit, that’s what we want
to do.”

To assist, they created a scholarship called Finishing Funds for Underrepresented Filmmakers. The grant is part of Dance Camera West’s commitment to supporting BIPOC artists who are often underrepresented, especially in filmmaker and choreographer roles.

“A lot of the films submitted this year were made kind of quickly and in response to Black Lives Matter and COVID-19,” Hargraves said. “They were a work of passion rather than one that was produced for two or three years, like some may have been. So, we kind of discovered while we were screening that they had real potential for greatness, and we could introduce people to artists that they may not know.”

The drive-in takes place in the Bundy Campus East Parking Lot at Santa Monica College and has limited capacity. A ticket is required for each car, but there are no passenger limits. Gates open one hour before showtime and parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis. After the show, cars must immediately leave; if they are attending for the second program, they must exit then return. Late arrivals will be parked in the back.

The shows run approximately 65 minutes per program and there are two programs. It is recommended for ages 10 and older and there is some nudity. Sound will be broadcast on low-power FM radio.

“It’s a very, very safe event,” Hargraves said. “It’s pretty contactless. You show up, show your ticket, find your parking spot. There is a video introduction and an announcement of the winners.”

All tickets must be purchased in advance and are available at

What: Dance Camera West Drive-In, Best of the Festival

Where: The Broad Stage, Santa Monica College, Bundy Campus East Parking Lot, 3171 S. Bundy Drive, Los Angeles

When: 5:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30 and Sunday, Jan. 31

Tickets: Single screening, $45 per car; premium pass (all shows) $80 per car