Obituary: Simon Fildes, dance filmmaker, artist, curator, teacher and producer

Simon Fildes, filmmaker. Born 20 January, 1962. Died: 17 April 2021, aged 59

Simon Fildes spent over three decades as an active member of the dance community

This article was updated on 3 June 2021 to correct errors in the original version

There was a time when ‘dance film’ simply meant pointing a camera at a stage and shooting a performance. In recent years, the genre has increasingly been recognised as an artform in its own right – thanks in no small part to the effort, skill and imagination of Simon Fildes.

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Fildes died on 17 April 2021 aged 59 after a brief illness, having spent over three decades as an active member of the dance community both in Scotland and internationally. His work as a filmmaker, artist, curator, teacher and producer took him from Brazil to Ethiopia, China to Australia garnering respect across the globe for his abilities as an editor, documentary director and installation artist.

Born in Stockport on 20 January 1962, Fildes’ father Don was a computer technologist, his mother Lesley a nurse – together they nurtured his artistic and scientific sides, both of which came into play during his career. Along with older sister Carolyn and younger sister Jenny, the family moved to Stirling in the 1970s where Fildes learnt guitar at school.

After studying Biology with Environmental Science at the University of Stirling, he worked briefly in the music industry before embarking on a post-graduate diploma in Electronic Imaging at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in Dundee. From there, his creative passion took flight. Fildes’ films have been screened and won awards at festivals around the world and he was also much sought after as a lecturer, public speaker and contributor to panels and publications

How our bodies move, and finding new and innovative ways to capture that, sat at the heart of his work. He worked as an editor on a number of films before joining forces with director Katrina McPherson to establish GOAT media as a vehicle to collaborate on the creation of films to connect audiences with dance. Moment, an early collaboration with McPherson commissioned by the BBC’s Dance for Camera series, won the prestigious Best Screen Choreography prize at the IMZ Dance Screen Festival in Monaco in 2000.

Particularly drawn to improvisation, Fildes loved exploring new ideas that were born out of incidental movement and the energy of spontaneity. His aim, he said was to “transform the seemingly ordinary into a moment of beauty”.

As well as making work himself, Fildes was always keen to bring others along for the ride, facilitating networks and conversations that connected and inspired artists. In 2006 and 2007, in collaboration with Bodysurf Scotland in Findhorn, GOAT hosted the Opensource {videodance} International Symposia. These international gatherings brought together screendance artists and academics from across the world to help move forward this developing form.

In 2014, Fildes collaborated with Raymond Wong, Artistic Director of Hong Kong’s City Contemporary Dance Company to create ‘Hyperchoreography’, a six-screen, interactive dance installation that was presented at festivals and venues in China, and as part of Dance International Glasgow.

One of the GOAT projects Fildes was most proud of was the ‘Move Me’ dance booth. Much like a traditional photo booth, people stepped inside and had their image captured – only in this instance, it was of them dancing along to choreography by esteemed dance-makers such as Shobana Jeyasingh, Deborah Hay and Jonzi D.

Fildes’ love of dance and film was compounded five years ago, when together with Iliyana Nedkova and Peter Royston he established Screen.dance Scotland. An ambitious organisation that quickly grew in scope and reputation, since 2016 it has showcased the work of other artists and filmmakers to a global audience.

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The annual Screen.dance Scotland festival puts out a call for short films of no longer than 15 minutes made during the past five years, puts them before a judging panel and then gives them the opportunity for worldwide exposure. In 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Fildes curated the first fully online edition of the Screen.dance festival, drawing upon his many international connections. And in March this year, despite Fildes’ developing illness, Screen.dance 2021 was presented in collaboration with Citymoves dance agency in Aberdeen.

Fildes’ work was never autobiographical – he preferred instead to focus on the wider experience, inviting anyone and everyone to connect with it. However, his most recent creative project, “Do you mind can I ask what happened (to your legs)?”’ was inspired by a question Fildes was asked by a taxi driver. While the piece is influenced by Fildes’ experience of living with multiple sclerosis, as he pointed out, we all ultimately live with a degenerative condition – life. Colleagues plan to complete the work in his honour, and we await the results with poignant expectation.

A short film on his website created by American screendance director Mitchell Rose goes some way to capturing just how loved and respected Fildes was amongst other industry professionals. Created earlier this year, after numerous international colleagues learnt of his illness, it’s a truly touching testimony. Their words are filled with praise and gratitude for everything Fildes has done, not only to promote the artistry of screendance but to build a community to propel and support it.

When asked about the legacy of his own work during a recent interview with Creative Scotland, Fildes replied “I hope that it would maybe be seen as pioneering, inspirational, hopeful and that it has some beauty to it.” No doubt his colleagues, friends and collaborators would answer “Yes, to all the above.”

As well as his deep roots in the artistic community, Fildes had a passion for the environment. In recent years he graduated with a Masters in Managing Sustainable Development from the University of Highlands and Islands, and was an active elected committee member of his local branch of the Scottish Green Party.

Fildes is survived by his wife Wyn; Eilidh, Izzy and Sylvia, his daughters with Katrina McPherson; sisters Carolyn and Jenny and his mother Lesley.

To honour his love for the environment, the family welcomes donations to Trees for Life at treesforlife.org.uk. An event celebrating Simon Fildes’ life is due to be held on Sunday 6 June at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, and will be live-streamed.

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