Five Questions for Greta Schoenberg of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival

On Tuesday, August 8th, Hivery members and friends/family will have the pleasure of hearing from Greta Schoenberg, founder of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, as part of the Hivery Circle: An Evening of Dance and Film. She, along with filmmakers Kate Duhamel, Lindsay Gauthier and our very own Grace Kraaijvanger, will screen several short dance films and share their stories of dance, creativity and how doing both perfectly fits into August’s theme of making an impact. 

To prepare you for this incredible event, we sat down with Schoenberg to learn more about her journey to becoming a pioneer in San Francisco’s dance film scene.

How did you get into the medium of dance and film, and why is the intersection of these two artistic expressions so important to you?
I’ve been a dancer for a long time, and through my work, especially in Europe, I’ve met and collaborated with several professional filmmakers. I realized there was a dance film circuit in New York, Los Angeles and Europe, but that here in San Francisco, people had not only not heard about it, but it became clear to me that Bay Area artists weren’t being represented in these films elsewhere.

I thought it was awful that we were so isolated, so in 2003 I started taking my little camcorder and recording small portraits of dancers I liked. Instead of having them on stage, they would be on the street or we would incorporate other types of imagery. I would gather together friends for screenings of my films and the films of other filmmakers. Those were the early days.

Is there a difference between dance film as a genre and simply filming an on-stage dance performance?
Most of the time there is a difference. The only times when there isn’t a difference is if a major network is using multiple cameras to film a performance. Otherwise, dance on film falls flat. With dance film, often called “screendance,” you can incorporate other imagery. If you wanted flying birds, you could put them in the film digitally instead of have them on set.

The beauty is in the editing. Instead of filming a dance performance start to finish, you can chop up dances and put them together without exhausting the dancers. The editing itself is a form of choreography.

What was the process of starting the San Francisco Dance Film Festival?
It started back in 2009 when I created a program of dance films in a gallery space alongside some dance photography from artists that I knew and respected very much. It was surprisingly popular; a lot of people in San Francisco didn’t know that that kind of work even existed. We started the festival the following year and it has grown from there.

Now we have it in multiple locations with the Brava Theater in the Mission as the main space. Most of our films are professionally made, but it is a really exciting time for independent filmmakers because, thanks to the technology out there, the barrier to entry is lower than ever before.

In what ways are you seeing the festival make an impact?
I see the impact in that I feel happy and proud to have created a platform for artists vs. focusing on becoming an artist myself. In a way, it has felt more rewarding to create a platform for them to showcase their work.

And in the Bay Area, it’s been particularly influential to make films and show films that showcase local talent. Now, going into our eighth season, it has become a really respected place to show work. I love that these artists are getting recognized.

I definitely didn’t feel like the
best-qualified person at the time,
but I could see a need that no one
else could and decided to go for it.

What tips would you give to others who want to expand their passions and/or art?
I think it helps to have a little naiveté. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I first started the festival, and honestly, I’m kind of glad of that because I’m not sure I would have had the guts to start in the first place. I definitely didn’t feel like the best-qualified person at the time, but I could see a need that no one else could and decided to go for it. 

My advice would be, regardless of your reservations and self doubt, jump in. Do it anyway. You will earn the right to be there along the way. And know that sometimes you don’t have to be the person to have every skill to run what you want to do successfully, but that you can attract the right people along the way to help you out.

I think it’s also important to know when to let go and let people do their thing without micromanaging. That’s been a process for me, but along the way I had two babies, which helped me let go because holding tight wasn’t possible.

Click here for more info on the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, scheduled for October 19-22. 

Meet Greta and learn more about The SFDFF at the August 8th Hivery Circle: An Evening of Dance on Film.

Grace Kraaijvanger, Founder of The Hivery will also be screening a short dance film she created in tribute to her mother. Get tickets here!