Student dancers, filmmakers shine in local film festival


CW / Grace Schepis

Grace Schepis | @GraceSchepisCW, Staff Writer

At this year’s Dance Alabama! Film Festival, nine student-produced films filled the theater with applause, curiosity and pride for those involved in each. 

Elegantly dressed men and women ran across the street, heels and dress shoes splashing through puddles as they tried to take shelter from the rain inside the Bama Theater. The flocks scurried across the asphalt with a mixture of long strides and balletic footwork. They were dancers.

In the lobby, people greeted each other and took pictures to remember the night they had been working and waiting for for the last few months. 

On Wednesday night, in its collaboration of dance, music and acting, Dance Alabama! put on its annual film festival after seven months of preparation put in by the executive board.

Reagan Morey, a co-director of the event, handled the opening announcements that preceded the showing of the films. Each was different in the way that it balanced dance, editing, costuming, casting and storytelling, with plots ranging from relationship struggles to personal triumph. Any UA student was eligible to enter a film, and the event was open to the public. 

After the nine films were shown, those in attendance were able to vote online for their favorite piece. This award was called the Audience Choice Award and was given to Emily Stuart for her film “Here.”

Stuart, who served as the director, choreographer and editor for “Here,” is a junior majoring in dance and exercise science. This festival marked Stuart’s second year participating in Dance Alabama! Film Festival (DAFF). Last year, in addition to performing in a piece, she directed her own.

“Receiving the Audience Choice Award meant a lot to me, because my friends saw all the work that I put in to get the film on screen,” Stuart said. “My favorite moment would definitely have to be the first time we used paint in the shooting process. We had only one chance to get it right, so the pressure was on. Getting that first shot while everyone held their breath was amazing.”

A consistent color palette and clean, sharp movements made Stuart’s film flow. The film blended aerial shots with quick cuts of the group of women who danced, posed and moved as one. Messy, abstract red paint was used as a stark contrast to the otherwise mellow-colored visuals, and the music and sounds matched the intensity of the movement seamlessly. 

Stuart’s piece was one of the only ones to host an entirely female cast. Other films featured duos of a man and woman, and there was even an all-male movie toward the end of the program. 

“I really was after this idea of uniformity, which is why I chose to feature all female dancers,” Stuart said. “When casting, I took everyone’s height into consideration and cast each group according to their height. I wanted a really clean, identical slick-hair, white-leo look, which is why I personally shied away from men.”

While the choice was purely stylistic, Stuart acknowledged the changing role of men in contemporary dance.

“I think that dance is continuously shifting toward a more androgynous place, where men dance en pointe, women are lifting men and things like that, which gives more freedom of creation,” Stuart said.

Drew Martin, a senior majoring in chemical engineering and dance, has been involved in DAFF since his freshman year at the University. At this year’s festival, Martin was a part of three films: “Time Marches,” “A.I.” and “Up All Night.”

Though his dance style exudes confidence, Martin has not always felt supported while perfecting his craft. 

“Growing up as a male dancer was hard in that I often hid it from other people,” Martin said. “I was made fun of occasionally in elementary and middle school, and it led to me not telling people about my passion.”

As Martin persisted, perceptions eased up but were still not ideal.

“In high school and college, I found people to be more accepting, but it is still a challenging career path for people to take seriously,” Martin said. “I think many people still view it as a hobby rather than a valid way to express yourself and create art.”

While Martin realizes the struggles of male dancers, he does not discount the advantages over women that still exist. 

“I find that male dancers are given a lot of privileges and opportunities that female dancers are not,” Martin said. “I am lucky to have as many opportunities as I have.”

As he furthers his career, Martin hopes to see the change go even further. 

“I think there has been a positive change in the view of male dancers in the recent past, but there is still a long way to go,” Martin said. “There is still a stereotypical way to dance as a male dancer that is strong, sharp and confident. You are more likely to be hired if you follow these stereotypical movement patterns. Dancing with traditionally female characteristics, [which] are soft, flowy and graceful, is typically looked down upon and you are less hire-able.”

Morey, who is a senior majoring in dance and general business, was relieved to see the night finally come together.  Each film, award-winner and speaker earned their fair share of applause.

“The most memorable moment from this year’s show was walking up on the stage to introduce the films and seeing everyone in the audience,” Morey said. “Everyone included in DAFF this year has worked so hard, and it was amazing getting to see everyone together enjoying all the art the event showcased.”