Dana Plays

Dana Plays is an award winning experimental filmmaker, digital artist and professor of Film and Media Arts at The University of Tampa. Her work has exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in the exhibition The Color of Ritual, The Color of Women Avant-Garde Filmmakers in America 1930-2000, programmed by Whitney curator by Chrissie Isles, as well as other notable venues including the Pacific Film Archive, SF Cinematheque and more than 50 international film festivals where her films have garnered 25 film festival awards. Plays' work consists of a variety of approaches to experimental documentary and the visual film, utilizing optically printed found footage and/or footage that she has shot.

"Plays' work falls within the rich terrain mapped out by the feminist avant-garde as it has emerged in the last 15 years; it represents a rich and astute reworking of feminist film theory as it collides with personal lives. This feminist project attempts to reclaim memory, snapshots, recreated images, sounds, voices, and discarded footage as historical traces. The exceptionally evocative cinematography and optical reprinting laced throughout all her films suggests that Plays' project is to use manipulated images - whether through optical printing, composition, or light - to uncover their psychic imaginaries. Very, very few feminist filmmakers have the courage to unleash the ambiguities in voice and image; most want to anchor both. As a result, all of Plays' work asks spectators to let go as they watch, and work within the interstices between sound and image."

-Patricia Zimmermann, Professor, of Screen Studies, Ithaca College, Codirector of
Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival

Dana Plays' film Demise of Sugar will be presented at the Madrid International Film Festival in July, 2015. The 27-minute experimental documentary film explores the history of Caribbean personal testimony by one of Antigua's most prestigious historians, Sir Keithlyn Smith, a native of the island, who tells how sugar plantations converted to hotels when tourism advanced in the 1960s. Plays' own grandmother took part in that transition when she purchased Galley Bay beach and built a resort there in the 60s. The filmmaker visited her there during the off-season, over several decades, and those experiences, and home movie footage from that period, set against the landscapes of the present day inform the narrative setting.

The film follows works that bring combine an interweaving of personal testimony with historical narratives following Love Stories My Grandmother Tells, and Plays' current work in progress, The Story of Ottilie Moore. Plays employs interview style approach to empower the voice of atraditional experts, marginalized subjects, and interweaves a rich cultural array of historical motion picture footage, from public sources from mainstream and art house film, to video games, and Youtube travelogues to private sources, home movie footage, or travelogues, some of which the filmmaker was shot herself.

"As a critic who writes about experimental films, I am familiar with Dana's extensive body of film work. I have been impressed by the eclectic range of themes and techniques she has explored and developed throughout her career. In subject matter, her films range from ethnographic studies to formal explorations of the cinematic image. She is an adept documentarian, as well as master of the art of optical printing. Although her films are varied, there is a personal vision and a sense of integrity and purposefulness that unites them into a coherent whole. Dana approaches political issues such as the people of El Salvador and the United States government with sensitivity. Never heavy-handed or didactic, her films manifest her political convictions in a lyrical, personal way. Her films also have a consistent sensual richness; their lush imagery is organized into dynamic compositions that unfold with graceful rhythmic patterns of repetitions and variations." - Christine Tamblyn, Film Critic and Scholar (1951-1998)

Plays' ongoing Salvage Paradigm Series consists of works involving the manipulation of found footage she pulled out of dumpsters, and involves the reworking of historic archival footage re-photographed by Plays with her 16mm JK Optical Printer, now switchable to capture on digital or 16mm camera. The series consists of five award winning short films, Exquisit Corpses (2011 Pacific Atlantic Prize at the Festival of the Moving Image); Rhizome (2007, 14:00, Honorable Mention, Black Maria Film and Video Festival); Nuclear Family (2001, 21:00, First Prize Juror's Choice Award Black Maria Film Festival); Zero Hour, (1992, 30:00, Tom Berman Award, Ann Arbor Film Festival); as well as digital installation pieces Salvage Paradigm (2005, 30:00); Archival Extracts Series (2008, 7:00, for two screens), Exquisit Corpses (2010, 23:47, for two screens). 

Plays' films involving her exploration of the domestic sphere, also involve a series of short film she made while raising two young sons in the 1980s and 90s, in which they, and/or other children, appear. These include films that tackle subjects such as young girls pre-pubescent flirtation (Don't Means Do, 1983), childhood involvement in complicity in parents' infidelity (Via Rio, 16mm, 1986) to illusory visual poetic interweaves of memory, with metaphorical reference to birth and death (Recollection, 16mm, 1991) as well as optically printed footage with optically printed traveling mattes (Silverfish, 16mm, 1981, Sinking Creek Film Festival Award winner).

Plays is also completing a feature experimental historical biography of her great aunt Ottilie Moore, The Sausage King's Daughter, expected 2016, that follows in the trajectory of her postmodernist films involving historical events, of women in her family, and an exploration of past and present, including Love Stories My Grandmother Tells, (1994) (Best documentary at the New Orleans Film Festival, Women in the Director's Chair, Viper International Festival, televised on VPRO Dutch National Television, WNET Chicago, with screenings in experimental venues including, Pacific Film Archive, SF Cinematheque).

While much of Plays' work was inspired by re-photography through the optical printer, her examination, and re-presentation of found footage, sheds light on the relationship between nostalgia, identity, cultural and personal histories and memories. Plays' films in the Canyon Cinema collection include early 16mm films - some made with the optical printer and some live action - as well as more recent experimental short digital films, on a variety of subjects and approaches, including digital installations.

"By optically printing elements of public and private archival material, and intercutting with footage I have shot with my own camera, I create displacement of, and correspondence, between past and present, public and private, in my films that explore modalities of voice, aural and visual combinations. I explore a variety of visual and structural approaches from, and create abstract formal pieces and two screen installations for gallery and museum exhibition." - Dana Plays

Plays lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for twenty years, where she was involved in the experimental film, music, theater and art scene, while attending California College of the Arts, where she received two degrees, BFA (1978) in General Fine Arts exploring photography printmaking and film, and MFA in Film and Video (1986), and while also working at the San Francisco Art Institute (1984-1990). In the 1990s she taught in Syracuse University, and later at Occidental College, in Los Angeles (1996-2004), prior to her appointment at The University of Tampa (2005 to the present).