Cadence: Video Poetry Festival, presented by Northwest Film Forum in Seattle, Washington, programmed in collaboration with Seattle author Chelsea Werner-Jatzke and artist Rana San, is a series of screenings, workshops, and discussions on the genre of video poetry, during National Poetry Month.
The festival approaches video poetry as a literary genre presented as visual media that makes new meaning from the combination of text and moving image. Featuring screenings, an artist residency, generative workshops for youth and adults, and juried awards, Cadence fosters critical and creative growth around the medium of video poetry.
In April 2020, Cadence celebrated its third trip around the sun by presenting work by 80 artists from 20 countries over 5 days, all online.
Partners in crime
Chelsea and Rana were colleagues and friends long before Cadence was born, our friendship anchored by a shared pursuit of adventure, affinity for open bodies of water, and reliable Virgo nature. Chelsea is a writer exploring the liminal spaces of the literary arts and her interest in how words are experienced has led to solo work and collaborations with artists across media to create gallery installations, classical music performances, broadsides, karaoke, and video poetry. Rana’s creative practice melds dreamwork, written word, body in motion, video poetry, and analog photography. She’s interested in the ways we relate to ourselves, each other, our surroundings, the unknown, and the new meanings that are made in spaces where artistic mediums meet. Together, our interests and passions manifested in the creation of a new collaboration we called Cadence.
Three years young
We first floated the idea of starting a video poetry festival at NWFF in late 2017. The Forum is an independent film and arts space centering multidisciplinary programming rooted in community, so it seemed like a natural fit. At that time, Rana had just begun her tenure at NWFF and Chelsea, in attempting to find an outlet for her first video poem, was finding that the large majority of video poetry festivals were international. Excited by the prospect of creating a platform for exhibiting video poetry in our region and beyond, we teamed up to begin our research, brainstorm festival titles, and reach out to potential collaborators. Seattle is a UNESCO City of Literature with a tight-knit filmmaking community, it felt important to offer a space for this hybrid genre to shine on its own.
More than a film fest
As we dipped our toes in the first year, the festival featured two screenings, a generative workshop, and a panel discussion on the history and definition of video poetry with local poets, scholars, and Tom Konyves, Canadian video poetry pioneer and author of the 2011 Videopoetry: A Manifesto. Year two was an exponential expansion, hosting an artist-in-residence, youth and adult workshops, regional touring packages, and screenings co-curated with local arts organizations and international festivals.
NWFF closed the theatre in March to curb the pandemic and it quickly became clear our physical space would remain dark for a while. Committed to engaging audiences and championing media arts through this difficult time when so many artists were losing platforms for exhibition, within days of the closure, the Forum had created a system for online screenings.
Our final film selections for Cadence 2020 and decision to expand to 5 themed screenings along with a street-facing installation in downtown Seattle took place in the moments preceding the Stay-at-Home order—Chelsea was the last person Rana visited in person before quarantine became a reality. During that meeting we were making final film selections for the festival, originally designed to have three screenings. We were struggling because of the volume of quality work that we loved and wanted to feature but the theater was booked with other films and programs. We discussed the likelihood that the festival would move online and decided to make the decision to go virtual so that we could expand the number of screenings without the constraints of the physical screening space and in this way, represent many more artists who we know are struggling during quarantine. Ultimately Seattle governor Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” directive meant the festival had to be virtual or canceled. The youth and adult video poetry workshops, as well as the artist-in-residence components of the festival did have to be postponed.
In order to secure permission to present a virtual Cadence, we wrote personal messages asking filmmakers to consider showcasing their work in this new online festival format, leading with the steps we were taking to ensure the integrity of their work. Much to our delight, artists were equally eager to keep the festival alive and present their video poems in this way.
For exhibition, we created private Vimeo showcases for each screening, embedded on the corresponding website listings for viewing. Full priced festival passes were available, while pricing for each individual showcase was $0-25 sliding scale pay-what-you-can to keep it accessible and support NWFF through the closure. Registrants received the link and password 30 min prior to the screening, and the showcases were each active for 24 hours to ensure access across time zones. Passwords were deactivated at the end of the screening, so in some ways, the experience was similar to that of showing up to a theatrical screening, albeit in our home theatres.
Stay home, staying connected
We’re delighted by the depth of human connection our festival achieved this year despite being confined to a virtual space, which often feels like the antithesis of intimacy. One goal of Cadence: Video Poetry Festival is to further artistic dialogue around the medium, something we were concerned would not take place as deeply this year with our youth and adult workshops and artist residency being postponed. In the end, shifting online actually allowed us to include more of the amazing video poem submissions and, in an extension of Northwest Film Forum’s public series of virtual talks, the festival facilitated a Zoom conversation with 27 of the artists from all over the world.
During Cadence [Online], we connected deeply with people we never would have otherwise met, received festival feedback written in poetic verse, and sold more festival passes, with more viewers purchasing tickets at the $25 level than the $20 level and audiences tuning in from around the world and across all US time zones. More people were able to watch the screenings than ever before. Five video poetry screenings in Seattle may have oversaturated the local audience for this unique medium. But five screenings for the artists, their friends and family, and video poetry enthusiasts from all over the globe to tune in proved to be sought after and truly appreciated.
We are devastated by the worldwide pandemic threatening the wellbeing of so many, and in our search for silver linings, encouraged by our artistic community’s resilience—coming together to further dialogue and deepen alliances through media. The interaction and engagement unique to the constraints of quarantine has been inspiring, but it is the video poems themselves, available to more viewers than ever before, that truly thrill us. Whatever the medium for viewing, Cadence will continue to grow and adapt to support the generation and exhibition of new video poetry in the region and beyond.
Rana San is an artist and arts administrator whose creative practice melds dreamwork, written word, body in motion, video
poetry, and analog photography. She’s interested in the ways we relate to
ourselves, each other, our surroundings, the unknown, and the new meanings that are made in spaces where artistic mediums meet. In community, Rana crafts collective experiences that elevate the work of artists and activists using film, media, and contemporary performing arts to incite connection. She has curated and produced cultural festivals, museum programs, and intimate creative salons in Seattle, Istanbul, and Barcelona and serves as the Artistic Director at Northwest Film Forum.
Chelsea Werner-Jatzke is a writer exploring the liminal spaces of the literary arts. She is the author of the chapbooks Adventures in Property Management (Sibling Rivalry, 2017) and Thunder Lizard (H_NGM_N, 2016). Her interest in how words are experienced has led to solo work and collaborations with artists across media to create gallery installations, classical music performances, broadsides, karaoke, and video poetry. She is co-founder and director of Till, a literary organization that offers an annual writing residency at Smoke Farm in Arlington, WA and a museum communications professional.