Ten seems the right age for a growth spurt. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Joedance Film Festival has added a third day to its annual run, created music and visual art components, expanded its roster of films to 18 and opened itself up for the first time to moviemakers with either North or South Carolina connections.
That’s just the news for the summer part of Joedance, which finally moves completely indoors Aug. 1-3. Joedance officials, who pepper the year-round calendar with fund-raisers and social events, now also plan to screen selected features every so often around uptown — including a Sept. 21 outing at Elmwood Cemetery, next to actor Randolph Scott’s grave.
The mission hasn’t changed: To raise money for rare pediatric cancer research and clinical trials at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte. Festival founder Diane Restaino hopes to write a $30,000 check this time when all the proceeds and pledges come in, putting Joedance’s 10-year contribution to the hospital at $200,000.
But as audiences for uptown’s only annual film fest grow, she wants Joedance to grow, too.
“We were planning to open the judging to North and South Carolina this year, then go to three days next year,” said Restaino, mother of the “Joe” in the title. “But the demand was already there.”
Folks who went to the first festival in 2010 will remember it as a down-home event that often had to cope with a downpour. It took place in a courtyard in Fourth Ward, where Restaino and husband Mike lived. Viewers ate hot dogs, drank wine from plastic cups and brought their own folding chairs, trying to keep those away from cables that snaked around the tent floors (especially when storms whipped water underneath the flaps).
Nobody minded conditions much. Restaino was fulfilling a promise made to Joe, who had died of cancer the previous January at the age of 20. He’d asked her to raise money for cancer research, and she was doing it by giving local filmmakers exposure: First those with connections to Mecklenburg County, then North Carolinians, now Carolinians of any stripe.
“I promised Joe I would fund the projects on his legacy list, and I told the board I would stay at least until that was done,” Restaino said. “I have done that, though there were days I thought I couldn’t.” She’s especially proud of two accomplishments: Raising money to pay a research technician at the Pediatric Cancer Research Lab opening this fall and supplying Joedance interns for Levine Children’s Center. (Clemson University sophomore Emily Madsen is the third).
Joedance made its first physical move last year, shifting a few blocks east to the Center for Dance and retaining a VIP tent outdoors for nostalgia’s sake. (“We’re done with that,” Restaino said. “Everybody’s going in where there’s air conditioning.”)
This year’s changes are conceptual, rather than geographic. Restaino and her friend Devlin McNeil, president and executive director of Arts+, agreed that Arts+ students should play music during the receptions. Sozo Gallery at 214 N. Tryon St. will hold an opening reception for “Gather,” a show featuring five local artists, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the opening night of Joedance.
The festival will show only shorts this year, offering six different ones each night in a roughly 50-50 mix of narratives and documentaries lasting two and a half hours. Though Joedance used to end each evening with a feature, Restaino said audiences grew restive watching long films after a succession of short ones. Features will now be relegated to screenings through the year, beginning with the Elmwood evening and continuing at Coco and the Director on Nov. 9.
One symbolic change caps the final night at the Center for Dance: Judges will present the first Joedance Award for best film. Because the festival keeps costs down as much as possible, the winner gets a trophy rather than cash. Joedance doesn’t pay travel expenses, either, though Restaino expects many filmmakers to come, including one from Texas and one from Pittsburgh.
“We have to put as much in the bank as possible, and filmmakers understand that,” she said. “We interviewed filmmakers last year, and many said it was the coolest thing to be involved with a festival that raises money for such a great cause. That’s what makes us unique.”
Joedance Film Festival
WHEN: Aug. 1-3. VIP reception starts at 6:30 p.m. Public reception starts at 7 p.m. Films screen at 8 p.m.
WHERE: McBride-Bonnefoux Center for Dance, 701 N. Tryon St.
TICKETS: $30, including the public reception; $65, including the VIP reception.
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.