Joedance Film Festival

Benefiting Rare Pediatric Cancer Research
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Joedance Film Festival Featured On Spectrum News 1

Watch our Founder Diane Restaino on Spectrum News 1.

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Building A Foundation

A lone man hunched over, peering through a telescope. A group in a sequestered lap, barebones and starving. A hum of electrics, a zap of inspiration, a bolt of energy that helps mankind take the next step. If I was writing a movie, these are ways we like to imagine scientific advancement. But on average, the truth of it is hardly ever this exciting or sudden. It is a slow, plodding advancement. Especially when viewed from outside the ongoings of a lab.

When we started Joedance, I only understood how research worked on the patient end – when Joe was part of a clinical trial. But the time, effort, and resources necessary to push a line of research to that point is no small feat. I learned this, intimately, when we started the Joedance Summer Internship Program.

The start of the program was, frankly, not one of the first things we would help run through Joedance. But when I asked the researchers what they needed most, in the moment, “Hands” was the immediate response. They needed help doing the minutiae that involves the day-to-day running of a lab. Data collation. Running the same experiment over and over, recording the results, and doing it all again the next day. It sounds small, and boring, to those of us not involved, but as I watched these interns work summer after summer and the work of the lab year after year, I realised that what they do is invaluable to the advancement of science – both on a practical level and a personal level.

Whether we fully appreciate it or not, most medical advancements take time. The reason, naturally, is safety. We run experiments under control environments to understand how one thing reacts to another. We alter the variables, run the experiment again, to learn how it reacts in slightly different environments. They look at every individual tree to understand the forest. Through our summer internship, we helped educate patients on the uses and benefits of Healios, a mouthwash that lessens the severity of mouth sores, the Backpack Protocol, which allows patients receive treatment remotely from home, and investigated the impact of integrated medicine on cancer treatment. With our interns, Joedance has walked along side these programs from inception to implementation. And with every step, they have helped improve not only the labs they work in but the lives of the patients that have benefited from their endless work.

But perhaps equally as important, the program allows the medical researchers of the future take their first steps. Roman Rivera, one of past interns, said, “I started this internship with little knowledge about the paediatric haematology/oncology field and in just six weeks I gained a copious amount of knowledge that I can use in medical school.”

As vital as Joedance’s role is in improving the lives of families impacted by cancer, we always keep in mind that this is not a battle we are winning overnight. We must look to the future, and by training the medical researchers of tomorrow by helping them gain a foundation in the field, the Joedance Internship program does just that.

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If A Tree Branches In A Forest

Years ago, in another life, my twin boys had to do a family history project. More than anything, they were surprised how many people came before them and shared the same last name. That they were small leaves sprouting from a branch from a tree. To be fair, they were quite young at this point; their understanding of death was nebulous at best.

It is strange to think about family in that sense. A teether stretching back through time. Lives known only through stories and items passed over from parent to child again and again. Back further still, until the beginning. Until that first group of mankind turned away from each other to spread across the earth.

I think of what Joedance has built over the years. Our sponsors and donors and attendees. I think of how we started, a group of neighbors and classmates. Friends near and far. I think of how through the years the support never wavered. Each and every one of you gave us your time and whatever else you could, especially recently when the world so often seems to be falling apart.

I think, is that not family? Is it not someone to stand with during the difficult times and to celebrate the victories? I think of the past years when we were not able to meet in person and know without a doubt that we are family because we survived it together. I think of this summer, the first summer in years where we can meet and celebrate together in person, and I am filled with light.

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When We Look Closely at the World


As I got older, I realized that some of the greatest pleasures in life are derived from odd pairings. Like oil and vinegar to dip crusty bread into. Or sweet and salt, like chocolate covered pretzels. Or a rock and roll cover of a country song.

Joedance didn’t start out with an odd pairing in mind. The idea was to take something our family loved to do together and use it in our son’s memory to help fund pediatric cancer research.

Movies and cancer were two things that had occupied the better part of Joe’s short life. Two things that have gone on to define the past years of my family’s life. Two things that, before Joedance, I thought the only common ground between them and Joe were movies about cancer.

But when one gets involved in groups as insular as a local film industry and medical research, one quickly realizes they are more together than they are apart. One must really look closely.

Through the years, Joedance stood as a bridge between these seemingly disparate communities of pediatric oncology research and independent film. And as time has moved ever forward, I realized what Joe found so enthralling about both art and science was a universal truth these things both shared. Those who work in these fields tear atoms apart, peer back at life and predict the end of days. With a handful of equations or color and sound, these pioneers seek to understand the world as it truly is and seek a world that can be.

Joedance has stood as a bridge between these two communities, bringing them together and showing everyone what can one day be possible

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Objects in the Rear-view May Be Closer Than They Appear

August was seven months ago, but some days I feel like it was only last week.

This year has slipped by me. The past two years have slipped by me. A constant response to events that never seemed to slow down. A constant action and reaction and re-reaction to information and news and opinions and what-to-do-when-and-how. Even remembering is giving me whiplash.

Yet I look up from my computer realizing that somehow, after two years of virtual events, we are still here. And that is because of the dedication of Joedance: the board, our sponsors and donors, our filmmakers and all our supporters.

I think of everyone and realize how close you all really are. Right here, next to me the whole time. And I think how lucky Joedance is that all of you are a part of it.

Entering Joedance’s thirteenth year, the third year on from the start of the pandemic, we continue to look back to move forward. We continue to reach for all of you in order to become better. In a resurrection of our own, we are thrilled to be hosting the festival in person again. I look forward to seeing all of you in August, when we can meet and celebrate another year together.

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A Word From The Clinical Intern, Roman Rivera

Hello everyone, my name is Roman Rivera. I am currently a sophomore at UNC Charlotte studying mechanical engineering, as a pre-med student. This past year I was Joedance’s clinical intern for the summer and winter break. I am so blessed to have received this opportunity to learn, grow, and make adjustments as I progress towards my goal of medical school.

The experience I had at Levine Children’s was priceless and it gave me a new perspective on the medical world. There is no amount of gratitude that will show how consequential this opportunity has been to me. I wanted to take a second and just say thank you for helping me start my path to make a difference in the world.

I started this internship with little knowledge about the pediatric hematology/oncology field and in just six weeks I gained a copious amount of knowledge that I can use for medical school. I worked in the clinic under Dr. Gass who is a pediatric hematologist/oncologist that specializes in neuro-oncology. I had the opportunity to work in the medical records, data mining information that can be used for research, and a new local database at Atrium Health. I searched for specific details in patient’s profiles like what type of tumor they had, what treatment they received, did they have any molecular findings, and if cancer had relapsed. This information can be used for further research and to see if there are any connections that can be made between the patients.

I also had the pleasure to shadow Dr. Gass and Dr. Jacobsen during their clinical visits and during their rounds. These visits and rounds really showed me what it means to be a medical professional, to help someone in need, and to be making a difference in the world. The experiences I had with the patients gave new meaning to the importance of clinical research and the mission of Joedance. As of right now, I am working with Atrium and Dr. Gass. We are beginning a research paper with Dr. Gass that will also be entered into Atrium Health’s database.

Now that my journey has started towards making a difference in the world, everything I do will be in Joe’s legacy, and I want to thank Joedance again for this wonderful opportunity. Before I end this short blog, I wanted to give food for thought. What can we as regular people do to make a difference in this world?

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Starting 2022 With Gratitude

All of us at Joedance find so many ways to thank our supporters. Our special community of filmmakers, scientists, corporate and individual contributors work together Every Month. Every Week. Every Day.™ to find better treatments with better outcomes for kids with cancer.

You have helped Joedance grow over the past 13 years and fund important projects such as a clinical trial, a level three Research Technician and the Joedance Research Internship.

A new year always brings new resolutions. Here are four simple ideas to start the year with gratitude and impact kids with cancer at Levine Children’s.

A new year always brings new resolutions. Here are four simple ideas to start the year with gratitude and impact kids with cancer at Levine Children’s.
Our family knows all too well how time slips away. Spend time with your loved ones and friends. Share a meal, video chat or make that phone call you have been putting off. Connecting regularly kept our family grounded during Joe’s illness and now through the pandemic.

Embrace your story. Every family’s journey with cancer is different. I know my family’s story, how we were impacted by Joe’s illness and coped with his death. It was hard to share our experience with others but it also created a connection and in the end a foundation.

Keep in mind that 100% of your donations directly impacts the projects we fund at Levine Children’s.

Think about adding Joedance to your Estate Planning. It will ensure future funding for pediatric cancer research at Levine Children’s.

We always remain grateful for every one of you and your belief in Joedance.


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The Beginning of the End is the Beginning

This was the beginning: a conversation a few months after Joe’s funeral. How do I keep my promises with him? How do I make everything mean something? He left me a list that I have no idea how to even begin. I think of what he would do, how he would do it. That was my first step.

Joe died 13 years ago this past Saturday.

This year, Joedance gifted its largest single donation to Levine Children’s Hospital in our history. Over these 13 years we have funded clinical trials, summer internship positions, a research technician, and much more. Slowly but surely, we have ticked off the list of goals Joe made all those years ago.

Maybe this was the start: that first weekend in August, the nights were still hot and sticky. We started later than planned because we were
struggling to get the audio equipment to connect. We collected donations in a shoebox I hastily covered in printer paper earlier that day. There was maybe two dozen of us, all neighbors. After the film screening, late that night, I counted what would become our very first donation.

The easiest part is remembering why we do this. For the families struggling now, for the families who are still surviving what we went through. We work hoping that each new family faced with this reality of childhood cancer would be the very last one to be receiving the news. The hardest is knowing how slow it is. The reality of knowing that no matter how hard we work, the goal is mostly likely out of our immediate grasp. So, we focus on the smaller things we can change now as well.

Always, always, keeping our eyes to the horizon.

Perhaps the beginning was here: I was sitting on the edge of my bed. Joe was on his back in the center of the mattress. His hand held mine loosely. His eyes were glazed as they had been for weeks, a slightly faraway look to them.

“I don’t want it to be a walk.”
“I got it, no walks.” I squeezed his hand tighter. “I promise.”

We look backwards to continue moving forward. Joe’s list is finished, but it is still our lodestone as we continue to build Joedance towards a future.

In the end, this was how it started: a shrill cry piercing the longest night of the year. Eyes squished tight, wrinkling his pudgy face. A small arm slipped free of his swaddle, reaching for something that isn’t there. Mike is nearby, we are both looking down at him. I never knew what it meant, but feel it anchor me immediately – there is nothing I wouldn’t do for him.

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Funding Research

A Message From Tony Restaino

For the past few years I have been the go-to person for my mom to ask science related questions relating to Joedance. That’s what I get for deciding to pursue a career in the sciences, I suppose. Being able to watch Joedance grow and support multiple projects has been an honor. This year, following vaccinations and testing, I was able to make it back home for the holidays, and was able to visit the lab and meet the staff supported by Joedance for the first time. It was incredible to see everything that has been accomplished.

Over the years Joedance has been able to fund several different projects, and during my visit I was able to experience three of these most recent projects. First, I was able to see the newly purchased CyTOF machine (discussed by me in a previous blog post) and was able to view the current projects the machine was being used for. Additionally, I was able to meet the intern we are currently funding, Roman Rivera, and the discuss the project he has been working on with Dr. David Gass. Finally, I was able to meet Dr. David Mulama, a phenomenal immunologist who is spearheading the work using the CyTOF machine.

Recently, Joedance expanded our slogan to include “Every Month. Every Week. Every Day™”. Having the opportunity to meet the individuals who are supported with funds from Joedance, and the passion and dedication they exhibit in their work was rewarding. Being able to see the reflection of Joedance’s purpose and focus of the research conducted in the lab is the most rewarding work we have done.

Restaino Family
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About Time

I have come to realize, with the infinite wisdom that hindsight grants, that time is subjective. At least, the measurement of time is subjective.

As a child, with the structures of school and holidays, we demarcate the year with our free time: summer break, Christmas, Spring Break that is neither warm nor long enough.

It shifted, for me, with my job out of college. No more designated breaks, but instead looming deadlines and scrapped together holiday plans and Thursday night drinks, Friday night drinks, Saturday night drinks.

With the birth of my sons, time shrunk and stretched thin. It came suddenly fast: their first steps and first words and first day of school and firsts and firsts and firsts. I started a calendar of swim meets and violin practice and diving competitions.

Then, a phone call, and time shifted again. Weeks in a hospital, longer weeks at home recovering. I measured time in boxsets of DVDs. We watched The Last of the Mohicans for two weeks straight.

Then, even that fell away. For a while, a long and indeterminate while, there was nothing that I could measure time by but a fixed point. With Joe and then, all too soon, Without Joe. I measured time by absence.

Of all the things Joedance has accomplished, the one I honestly never expected was how it broke down time for me again. It divided the year in half: the festival in the summer, the donation of our fundraising to the hospital in the dead of winter. Then again, in monthly board meetings and small promotional events scattered during the year. Over ten years I have measured time this way, and I am still surprised how fast it goes. How energetic and nostalgic the breaking of time makes me feel. Small steps, a few events, the mad rush to the festival, and then suddenly Christmas is upon us.

You never notice time passing unless it is being wasted: running late for an appointment or stuck in traffic. Giving time freely, to break it up and offer it to another, is an incredible act. This year, I want to take my time to thank all of you for giving Joedance a bit of yours, whether it is by participating in our yearly events or by becoming a G.E.M (Give Every Month) or attending our annual film festival. Your time is precious to us, and we are appreciative of every moment you offer us.

I now mark this time of the year by being grateful for each and every one of our supporters.