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Joedance Film Festival honors a life cut short 

Some dance to remember

If there's one movie in this year's Joedance Film Festival that sums up the brief life of the young man who inspired the festival, it might be Joshua Yates' The Horse You Rode In On. The short (just 2 minutes and 40 seconds) music video explores death, life and rebirth.

Or it could be Joshua Marshman's documentary Overcoming Mountains. The hour-long film was shot during a 2,300-mile bicycle trip across China. "The three-person crew captured a story of human perseverance ... and discovered a motivational endurance to keep going," reads the description. "As they work to overcome the physical mountains confronting them, the filmmakers shared something new about the hardships, fears and difficulties we all face."

Joe Restaino faced his fears when he was diagnosed with a rare cancer while a high school sophomore at The McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His mom, Diane Restaino, says his lengthy illness gave the family time to talk about life, death and what Joe wanted to accomplish while he was here — and after he was gone.

Joe wanted his family to raise money for childhood cancer research. And he wanted the money to stay in Charlotte. The family didn't discuss how that would happen, but Diane says a film festival was logical because of Joe's love of movies. "Besides, Joe would have never run a 5K," she laughs. So a race was out.

Joe accomplished a lot in his 20 years, even if he didn't run a 5K. He graduated with high honors from McCallie, where he was captain of the swim team. He wanted to go to an Ivy League school, and he did: He attended the University of Pennsylvania for a semester before having to leave when the osteosarcoma returned. "He had a sharp wit," says his mom.

"He loved movies and reading. He read books like Don Quixote. He read Nietzsche. He backpacked through Europe, spent a lot of time with friends and learned to sail. He did everything on his bucket list except see the Northern Lights."

The Restaino family had been gathering since 2008 in their Fourth Ward courtyard for movie nights with their neighbors. Eight months after Joe's 2010 death, they began talking about expanding those movie nights — and raising money for Levine Children's Hospital at the same time.

Joedance (a play on the Sundance Film Festival title) was born out of conversations with those neighbors. "That first year, we had about 15 people and raised $950 for Levine," says Diane. "Last year, we raised $20,000." The money raised comes from ticket sales, donations and sponsorships. The goal this year: $30,000.

The 5th Annual Joedance Film Festival will be held Aug. 1 and 2 where it always has been — in the Restaino courtyard near Uptown. It's still a bring-your-own-chair affair. A tent is provided so films can be shown rain or shine. The admission price includes a Joedance glass, hot dogs and a Q&A with featured filmmakers. And for the first time, beer and wine will be offered at a cash bar at this year's event. The homegrown festival still has a friendly, neighborhood vibe. Diane hopes it stays that way. She says she can't foresee it outgrowing their courtyard and the maximum capacity of about 140.

While the entire Restaino family (including dad Mike and 21-year-old twins Tony and David) is involved in Joedance, the festival is bigger than the family. It began as a donation-only event, but the group was granted nonprofit status last December.

In its second year of showcasing only locally produced films, submissions increased threefold, according to Diane. She hasn't seen any of the movies, though; they're always a surprise for her. It's Will Davis, the festival coordinator, who's in charge of screening all submissions. Davis is a professional filmmaker and professor of film production, history and theory at UNC Charlotte. He created the annual UNC Charlotte Short Film Festival in 2008 and continues to produce it.

"All the films [at Joedance] are extremely professional in terms of their tone, focus and execution," Davis says. "And the various styles and genres — documentary, music video, comedy, drama, experimental — showcase the wide variety of talent in the area."

The festival is about as local as it gets. Eligible filmmakers must live in Charlotte, be Charlotte natives or be connected to the city in some way. And the money raised stays here. Funds support research into rare pediatric cancers, specifically sarcomas, blastomas and brain tumors. All proceeds support the Carolina Kids Research Fund at Levine Children's Hospital.

"That's where Joe had all his treatments," his mom says. "This is truly a neighbor-helping-neighbor event."

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