When Lumiere and Edison independently invented the motion picture camera in the 1890s, did they have specific subjects (or purposes) in mind? Louis filmed people and trains in real-life action, while Tom brought jugglers, wrestlers and other physical performers into his black-box studio. However, both were inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of galloping horses for California magnate Leland Stanford, suggesting that they primarily valued the camera as a medium for recording movement.
In short order, narrative filmmakers discovered the power of the human face, and then the human voice. A century on, we crave close-ups and demand dialogue. The San Francisco Dance Film Festival (Oct. 4–14 at the Brava Theater and other venues) is a kind of oasis that returns us to the happy realization that the movies were made for movement. At the same time, the lineup defies the imperative of Hollywood musicals (think Astaire and Rogers, Fosse and Verdon, Stone and Gosling), that every picture and every dance has to tell a story.
Free your mind and your feet will follow. (Or is it the other way around?) Taking that bit of wisdom as our guide, the most liberating program in this year’s S.F. Dance Film Festival may well be “Shorts 1: Concentric Circles” (Thursday, Oct. 11 at 5pm), a compilation of short works from here and yon that were each conceived as a collaboration between choreography and cinematography.
Sure, the lineup includes more accessible options, including histories (American Tap), explorations of the creative process (Play Serious) and filmed performance (BaseBallet: Into the Game). But filmmaking, and dance for that matter, is about taking a leap.