How to start a major new videopoetry festival: an interview with the co-directors of Cadence

Dave Bonta: Seattle’s Cadence: Video Poetry Festival is one of the most exciting new poetry film festivals in North America. I love how many different activities you have, and the tie-in to Poetry Month, but most of all I like the way you present the genre, right at the top of the festival website: “Cadence approaches video poetry as a literary genre presented as visual media that makes new meaning from the combination of text and moving image.” This is especially striking coming from a group called Northwest Film Forum—one would expect the festival to take a more conservative, film-centric approach, foregrounding directors and treating the film adaptation of pre-existing poems as normative. So I’d like to know what’s behind this: How did each of you come to videopoetry, and what led you to want to put on a videopoetry festival like Cadence?

Rana San: The collaboration came about organically, as does much of the multidisciplinary programming staged at Northwest Film Forum, a film and arts space centering community programming. We first floated the idea of starting a video poetry festival in late 2017. It was my first week on the job and over Thai food Chelsea was lamenting the lack of outlets for exhibiting video poetry in our region and beyond. So the following week we began our research, brainstormed festival titles, and started reaching 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.

Chelsea Werner-Jatzke: As a literary artist, I was sort of confused about what to do with it once I had created a video poem. The video was presented at a couple visual art events, I submitted it to online journals and I wanted to present it at festivals. It became apparent rather quickly that the large majority of these festivals were international. I was excited by this different presentation format—not a reading but a screening. My piece was accepted at Video Bardo in Buenos Aires in 2016 but I was unable to find a translator for it in time and it wasn’t shown. At that time, I thought Seattle would be a great city to host a video poetry festival and Northwest Film Forum does so much interdisciplinary programming that it seemed a natural fit. It was a passing idea that started to take real shape once Rana began working at the Forum.

Dave: This is your second year for the festival, but I believe the first to open up the contest to poets and filmmakers from anywhere in the world. How did that transition go? Were you satisfied with the quantity and quality of submissions?

Rana: We honestly didn’t expect the volume of submissions we received in the festival’s first year from the Pacific Northwest alone. In fact we didn’t even use a submission platform and just invited interested parties to submit via email. Moving the application process to FilmFreeway both enhanced the festival’s visibility globally—we received works from 17 countries—and freed us up to do concentrated outreach to community partners. We were thrilled by the quality of submissions and had to make some tough choices to whittle down our final selections.

Dave: It’s always interesting to see what categories the organizers of a videopoetry or poetry film contest will come up with. Cadence has four categories, each with a different judge: Adaptations/Ekphrasis, Collaboration, Video by Poets, and Poetry by Video Artists. Why these four, and not, for example, style- or subject-based categories (Best Animation, Best Political Videopoem, etc.)?

Chelsea: The most common question we are asked is, what is video poetry? Over the last two years we found that using these categories as examples helped people better understand what we meant. I struggled with whether the categories were too restrictive or limiting and got a lot of differing feedback on this. One of our judges really liked the categories while one of artists felt like they really didn’t know where to place themselves. Like all things with the festival, we may handle this differently next year and see what we get back. There are a lot of people out there making weird poetic video work and we are hoping the categories will help the video poetry weirdos identify us as a place to submit.

Dave: A standard film festival can be a pretty passive experience for the attendees, with a hard and fast line between creators and viewers, but the 2019 Cadence program included two videopoem workshops, one for children and one for adults, with a screening for the results. How did that turn out? Were you able to convert some of the viewers into makers, and vice versa?

Rana: The workshops are one of my favorite parts of the festival, serving as an opportunity for seasoned and emerging artists alike to generate and exhibit new work. The youth workshop, designed to support the next generation of makers, was led by our first Cadence artist-in-residence Catherine Bresner and they had so much fun working with stop motion! Scholar, poet, and book artist Amaranth Borsuk led the adult workshop in which participants created a collaborative video poem—a triptych written, voiced, shot, and edited as a collective. Completing the creative process with a group of strangers was truly transformational and distinct from last year where each participant predominantly identified as either a poet or filmmaker and developed an individual piece. Our hope is that once participants get a taste of the possibilities that video poetry presents, they continue to make work on their own.

Dave: A lot of poetry film festivals kind of do their own thing, but one of the striking things about the  Cadence program is just how many partnerships you’ve already formed, in your second year, with local publishers and arts organizations on one hand, and other international festivals on the other. Why is this important to you?

Chelsea: Building connections between organizations that might not otherwise overlap feels like a natural side effect of offering a festival in an artform that connects two seemingly disparate mediums. There are many people, publishers, and orgs in Seattle working in ways that connect to the art form of video poetry and Rana and I have worked to offer a wider interpretation of the form than just our perspectives since the festival started. This is why we had a panel discussion in 2018 to discuss the definition of video poetry. This year we asked other orgs to present mini-showcases as opportunities to share a larger diversity of work.

Rana: Partnerships are at the core of our work as a community-based organization, we consistently seek co-presentation opportunities with organizations whose missions align with NWFF programs, and this effort extends to Cadence as well. We have much to learn from each other. The more we build alliances to support each other’s work in meaningful ways, the better equipped we are to incite public dialogue and social change through the arts.

Dave: I’ve seen some poetry film/video festivals that exist entirely online, and others with barely any web presence whatsoever. On the one hand, it seems a shame not to take advantage of the nearly worldwide reach of video streaming platforms, but on the other hand, if everything is available online, many festival directors feel audiences won’t show up. What are your thoughts on the proper balance between web and IRL where festivals are concerned, and do you plan any additional online efforts to share the videos screened or produced at Cadence?

Chelsea: I think this is similar to watching a movie at a theater versus streaming it online. Or looking at a photo of a painting as opposed to standing in front of it at a museum. A lot of the audience at the screenings are the writers, filmmakers, their friends, and other artists. I don’t think that has to do with material being available online. You see this in the audience across media at gallery openings, literary readings, etc. What’s cool about a video poetry screening in comparison to a literary reading, is seeing more cross over between artists of varying media in attendance. I think there’s also value to experiencing the selection of works presented by a specific festival.

Rana: This is a delicate balance indeed and one that NWFF faces daily. Our preference has been for participating video poets to determine whether and when to make their work available online. In contrast with digital platforms for consumption, the festival is intended to bring people together for a shared cinematic and artistic experience under one roof. Nothing can really replace the gripping silence that befalls a crowd during a film without sound or the accumulative laughter that lingers long after the credits.

Dave: What’s next for Cadence? Will the 2019 program be touring anywhere? What if anything will likely change next time? And do you plan to keep it an annual event?

Rana: Selections from Cadence 2019 are already touring poetry and arts festivals in the region and will continue to as we lead into the 2020 edition. We’ll continue to pursue collaborations and resource-sharing with local organizations and international video poetry festivals, as our combined efforts are truly a service to the artists we represent. The generative workshops may take place the month prior to the festival next year, to allot sufficient time for getting pieces festival-ready.

Chelsea: So far we screened works from the festival at the Cascadia Poetry Festival in Anacortes, WA in May and just shared a showcase of video poems from the 2019 line-up at the Arts in Nature Festival in Seattle. Next year we are talking about shifting the screening schedule and allowing more time for the production of new work as part of the festival’s output. Talking with other festival directors has been very useful in looking at what we’re doing and how we can switch it up to the benefit of the artists involved.

Submissions for Cadence 2020 are scheduled to open in January via FilmFreeway: https://filmfreeway.com/CadenceVideoPoetryFestival
To be added to the contact list, please email rana@nwfilmforum.org. For more information about the festival, visit nwfilmforum.org/cadence.


Rana San is an artist and arts administrator who, prior to stepping into her role as Artistic Director, served as the Community Programmer at NWFF, co-creating programming driven by and for the community. Rana co-directs the annual Cadence: Video Poetry Festival, the only video poetry festival in the PNW and one of three nationally.

Drawing on her background in performing arts and cultural management, she has developed and produced cultural festivals, museum programs, and intimate creative salons in Seattle, Istanbul, and Barcelona. Her 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.

Rana’s first stop motion animation short disarmed screened at Local Sightings in 2016 and she serves on the short film committee for the Seattle Turkish Film Festival.

Chelsea Werner-Jatzke is the author of Adventures in Property Management (Sibling Rivalry, 2017) and Thunder Lizard (H_NGM_N, 2016). She is co-founder and director of Till, a literary organization that offers an annual writing residency at Smoke Farm in Arlington, WA. She is outreach coordinator for Conium Review and was previously managing fiction editor at Pacifica Literary Review. She has received support from Jack Straw Cultural Center as a writing fellow, from Artist Trust as an EDGE participant, and from the Cornish College Arts Incubator. She’s received writing residencies from Vermont Studio Center and Ragdale Foundation. Werner-Jatzke has taught creative writing through Seattle Central Community College and served on the board of Lit Crawl Seattle. She received her MFA from Goddard College, during which she was editor-in-chief of Pitkin Review and founded Lit.mustest, a now-defunct reading series.

Bios copied from the NWFF website.

Dave Bonta

Dave is the founder of Moving Poems, and posts videos for his own poems (along with lots of other stuff) at Via Negativa. Here's a bio.

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