The Almost Famous Film Festival

PROUD TO GIVE MOVIEMAKERS MORE FEATHERS FOR THEIR CAPS • Offering its participants the opportunity to compete in 24- and 48-hour challenges, the Almost Famous Film Festival’s International Short Film Festival, which took place February 13 – 14, saw a boon in interest this year, attracting a record number of guests and participants. That’s no surprise to festival director Jae Staats, who notes that, “We separate ourselves from other events by putting our filmmakers and their needs first. Our number one goal is to make sure the filmmakers gain as much exposure and publicity as possible and hopefully become ‘almost famous.’

“We do the little things that add up to make for an enjoyable experience,” continues Staats. For Wade Stai, whose short Pumpkin won Drama, Cinematography and Special Effects awards, it was these small details that made a big difference. “They give regional filmmakers a forum to show their skills, communicate with each other and share what they’ve created,” says Stai.

For Nathan Blackwell, who screened his short, The Hand You’re Dealt, the difference lies in the many opportunities not available at other marathon events. “By having third, fourth and fifth place awards in several categories—by having more feathers to give out to place in filmmakers’ respective caps—it gives more participants confidence in their work and a wider ranking of where their skills might be.” The Hand You’re Dealt won in the Comedy, Story and Individual Performances categories. —Mallory Potosky

A Night of Horror International Film Festival

SCARING UP FRIGHTS IN THE LAND DOWN UNDER • A Night of Horror turned into nine fright-filled days when the second annual festival took place April 3 – 11 in Sydney, Australia. “I submitted to A Night Of Horror because it looked like a well-organized, good-sized festival that actually sought out independent horror instead of the milquetoast, homogenized studio films that pass for ‘horror’ these days,” says writer-director Kevin Tenney (Witchboard, Night of the Demons), who screened his latest film, Brain Dead.

Tenney also wanted to exploit the special connection that his film’s lead actress had to the event: “Tess McVicker is Australian,” he notes. “I hoped she’d get the pleasure of seeing Brain Dead on the big screen in her own country with her friends and family.” The local support paid off when McVicker walked away with the fest’s Best Scream Queen Award.

As the name implies, the fest prides itself on its multinationalism. The eight features and 40 shorts screened in 2008 hailed from 12 countries—Brazil, Korea, Sweden and the U.S. among them. Tenney’s Brain Dead picked up some of the most coveted accolades; in addition to McVicker’s award, the film was named Best Film and Best Special Make-Up Effects. Argentine Estaban Sapir’s La Antena won the award for Best Foreign Film, while hometown pride was bestowed upon Victoria Waghorn, whose When Sally Met Frank won Best Australian Film.

After hitting it big at last year’s fest with Night of the Hell Hamsters, writer-director Paul Campion says “there was no question of not entering our second film…the feedback and exposure from A Night of Horror was so good.” The second time proved equally lucky for Campion, a visual effects painter on films like The Lord of the Rings, when his Eel Girl won for Best Visual Effects. “Dean Bertram and the other organizers are really passionate about horror films and filmmaking in general, and as a filmmaker attending the festival they’re incredibly supportive and welcoming.”—Jennifer M. Wood

Phoenix Film Festival

MOVIEMAKERS AT HOME IN ARIZONA • Amidst the prairie dogs and cacti of Arizona, moviemakers and eager moviegoers alike flocked to the 8th annual Phoenix Film Festival, which ran from April 3 – 10. Featuring a diverse lineup of 120 films, big winners of the event included Charles Oliver’s Take, which lived up to its title by taking home the awards for Best Picture and Best Acting Ensemble. Richard Kraft and Adam Shell’s Finding Kraftland won Best Documentary while Ed Gass-Donnelly’s This Beautiful City was named the World Cinema Best Picture. The festival also included some unique categories, such as the Sundance Channel Audience Award Winner, which was given to Dave McLaughlin’s On Broadway.

The festival also offered special events such as an educational outreach program for middle and high school students. The program featured hands-on activities for future moviemakers, including a journey through the screenwriting process. “We want to give young filmmakers the opportunities that we didn’t have when we were younger,” says festival director Jason Carney. “Digital technology has made it easier than ever for students to make films. Now they just need the skills to make great films.”

For Carney, the highlight of this year’s fest was the massive crowds that attended and embraced the moviemakers, who hailed from places near and far. Says Carney: “There’s a huge feeling of pride that our hometown makes these filmmakers from all over the world feel at home.”—Kyle Rupprecht