At the first Joedance Film Festival in 2009, Diane Restaino and her family screened two Sundance films in the backyard of a townhome in Uptown. At the end of the night, they raised $950.
In the decade since, the fundraising film fest has grown into a three-day event, with this year’s event starting on Thursday, August 1 and running until Saturday, August 3 at Charlotte Ballet.
“This started as a grassroots film festival and it just keeps growing that way; it’s word of mouth,” said Restaino, founder and director of Joedance.
The festival was inspired by Restaino’s son, Joe Restaino, passed away after battling cancer. Before his death, he asked his mother to raise money for pediatric cancer treatment and research.
“Joe never knew that it ended up being a film festival,” Restaino explained. “But I did know this, I knew we were not going to run, we were not going to gala, we were not going to lunch.”
Born from a family tradition of going to dinner and a movie on New Year’s Eve, Restaino decided on a film fest and picked out the two Sundance films for the first year of fundraising. Now, the festival features only filmmakers with a connection to North or South Carolina.
Announced Saturday, the 2019 lineup of movies includes a variety of documentaries, music videos, narratives and films.
In the past nine years, Joedance Film Festival has raised $170,000 to rare pediatric cancer treatment and research efforts in the city. Those efforts include funding a paid internship for college students, Atrium Health Foundation’s Joedance cancer fund and financing three years of salary for a new pediatric cancer lab’s research technicians.
This year, Joedance is compiling data on the benefits of integrative health in cancer treatment. Restaino said integrative health could have been useful when her son was undergoing protocols in the hospital to treat more than just cancer.
“We were all struggling, but Joe was really struggling. They didn’t have integrative medicine when Joe was diagnosed,” Restaino recalled. “It took me a while to find a psychologist for him to talk to. There was nobody on staff.”
With this year’s festival comes the addition of a third day, as Joedance partners with local music and arts education organization Arts+ for a Thursday night musical performance from students.
Joedance’s growth over the past 10 years is surprising to Restaino, who remembered the early days of the festival in the backyards and townhomes near West 10th and North Poplar streets in Uptown.
“Everyone that lived in that townhome association in the beginning, they opened their homes, they gave up their backyards, they gave up their driveways, so those are the ones that I really remember a lot, especially because it’s how it all started,” Restaino said.
Now, she looks to the future and envisions a week-long film, arts and music festival that could occupy North Tryon Street, where attendees will walk from vendor to vendor, all in the name of fundraising for pediatric cancer research and treatment. She believes that her son, were he alive to see the growth of the festival in his namesake, would appreciate the efforts of Joedance.
“I think he would be very proud. I really think he would’ve been very proud and I think he would’ve liked the film festival,” Restaino said, “especially with all the things that we’ve accomplished at the hospital.”