LA-based ‘Dances with Films’ festival hits the East Coast

The 26th annual “Dances with Films” festival debuted for the first time on the East Coast from Dec. 1 to 4 at Regal Union Square.


Aaliya Luthra

The film festival “Dances with Films” was held in New York City for the first time on its 25th anniversary. (Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Safia Ahmad, Contributing Writer

The “Dances with Films” festival, a beloved Los Angeles indie film festival, celebrated its 26th anniversary by screening never-before-seen projects on the East Coast. While the LA festival concluded in June, the New York festival took place from Dec. 1-4 at Regal Union Square.

Festival founders Leslee Scallon and Michael Trent recognized that New York City is the artistic, cultural, and creative epicenter of the country and the perfect city for DWF.

The festival opened with the world premiere of Josh Rhodes’ Broadway-inspired movie musical “Beau,” a coming-of-age film about a boy reconnecting with his long-lost grandfather and gaining a passion for music. The festival also featured a diverse array of narrative and documentary shorts, as well as feature films including “This is Their Land,” “Cupcake” and “Flying Turtle.”

DWF began in 1998 in order to champion storytellers who were being excluded from big festivals at that time. 

“We began with a clear purpose and reason,” Scallon and Trent said in a statement. “Our motto, ‘no politics, no stars, no shit,’ continues to carry us into 2022 and beyond. ‘Resilience, strength, fortitude, compassion, and vision’ — these are words to describe the filmmakers and their films which we champion each year.”

Along with championing the voices of the unknown, the projects featured in New York have some big names attached to them. Nick Cassavetes produced “The Difficulties of Being Drunk Alone,” Richard Linklater executively produced “Help Her Live,” and Academy Award-winning writer Tom Schulman spearheaded “Double Down South.”

However, the festival relies on the creativity and innovation their selected filmmakers offer rather than any big names attached to their projects. Its mission statement declares it is “dedicated to giving opportunities to creative talents who may not be considered ‘names.’ DWF stands out from the crowd with not only the community we’ve built but by the success of our alumni and the shared loyalty of DWF relationships.” 

The festival’s commitment to helping indie and unknown artists is highlighted in the panels they offered. “Making the Sale: The Producers/Sales Agent Dynamic” and “Distribution: Navigating the Indie Marketplace and Forecasting the Future” were panels held at The Stand Restaurant & Comedy Club, which featured industry experts who answered questions and offered advice to those with a filmmaker or festival pass. 

“We are so excited to be expanding our unique brand of curated films to the city that never sleeps,” Trent and Scallon said. “Giving exposure to new films and filmmakers is what Dances With Films has always been about — a true discovery film festival, DWF is what Sundance was supposed to be.”

Contact Safia Ahmad at [email protected].