Angelus Student Film Festival
TEACHING STUDENT MOVIEMAKERS THE POWER OF POSITIVE VALUES • For a film festival created by the people behind “The family that prays together stays together” billboards, the Angelus Student Film Festival is not as overtly religious as one might think. While the festival, which screened its winning films on October 27, 2007 at the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood, certainly doesn’t hide its Christian values, it also doesn’t try to proselytize its entrants or audience.
Festival winner Zeth Willie wasn’t even aware of the organization’s religious persuasion when he submitted his film, The Needful Head, which won this year’s $2,500 Outstanding Animation Award. “Interestingly, I didn’t really know that the festival was religiously-based,” admits Willie. “I think the festival was really just about positive films that have a message for the audience, and I can appreciate that.”
Festival director Monika Moreno believes it is this faith-based mission statement of presenting “works that respect the dignity of the human person” that results in such an interesting and diverse program. “The majority [of student moviemakers] have something significant to say about the dignity of the human person,” says Moreno, “whether it be in the context of the war abroad, the war at home or anything in between!”
The 2007 festival showcased this diversity in subject matter, all the while adhering to the festival’s ideals. The festival’s $10,000 Excellence in Filmmaking Award
was given to Nicholas Ozeki for Mamitas, about a young man’s advice on how to pick up “Hot Mami Chulas,” while the $5,000 Priddy Bros. Triumph Award was presented to Harry Kellerman for his tale of a young boy’s struggle to conquer a jungle gym, The Little Gorilla. Festival winners also included a film about the friendship between a landscaper and an elderly woman (Destin Daniel Cretton and Lowell Frank’s Deacon’s Mondays), a drama about a couple’s struggle to decide whether or not to keep their yet-to-be-born child (Jose E. Iglesias Vigil’s In Between) and an animated film about a man who is stalked by his own disembodied head (Willie’s The Needful Head).
“Themes of redemption, triumph of the human spirit, diversity, equality, justice and spirituality wind their way through the quirkiest of comedies or the heaviest of submitted dramas,” muses Moreno. “It is fascinating to see the various interpretations student filmmakers create each year.”—Andrew Gnerre
10 or Less Film Festival
LESS IS MORE IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST • Everyone clamors for their 15 minutes of fame—whether that’s a quick wave in the background of a local news report or accepting an award on stage at the Kodak Theatre. But “because 15 minutes of fame is too much,” independent moviemakers can find a happy medium at the 10 or Less Film Festival, which ran October 18-20, 2007 at Oregon’s Hollywood Theatre.
You can probably guess the festival’s clever premise: Showcase films that have a running time of 10 minutes or less. “I was excited to be part of a festival where the audience wasn’t sitting through a short to get to the feature film,” says Best in the Fest and Best Documentary winner Sam Kauffmann. “This audience was excited to see tight, well-made short films.” Kauffmann’s short, Massacre at Murambi, won the $1,000 grand prize and is “an absolute must-see,” raves festival producer John Denlinger.
“The most impacting short films we see are those made by filmmakers with insight enough to know they’re not creating a short feature,” explains Denlinger. “The art of the short film lies in the understanding—the reliance of a tone or style over convoluted plot points—and the filmmaker’s ability to create a lasting moment out of the bare necessities of the story.”
For Bennett Battaile, whose 3D Gnatural Wonders was a first-time experiment, participating in 10 or Less was a “good education.” But, “what made me most appreciate John Denlinger and the other 10 or Less Fest folks was the care and professionalism they showed in getting the 3D projection issues worked out. That made a huge difference in the audience experience.”—Mallory Potosky
Milwaukee International Film Festival
MIDWESTERN MOVIEMAKERS FEEL AT HOME IN WISCONSIN • Breaking all records in 2007, the Milwaukee International Film Festival—which ran September 20 – 30, 2007—rolled out the red carpet for moviemakers and festivalgoers alike, with more than 30,000 people in attendance. Though it’s truly an international fest, there’s no denying that it’s the city’s native moviemakers who draw the most interest.
Appleton, Wisconsin native Willem Dafoe offered one of the fest’s biggest highlights. The two-time Oscar nominee premiered his latest, Henry Miller’s Anamorph, and took some time to discuss his career with journalist Gino Salamone.
The Midwest Filmmaker Competition showed love to Malik Bader’s Street Thief, Frank Popper’s Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?, Carlo Besasie’s The Cherry Tree and Chris Thompson’s Kyoko Naturally, which won the $15,000 Milwaukee Filmmaker Production Prize Package.
But even non-locals find a lot to praise in MIFF. New Jersey native Lanre Olabisi was one of the first to experience the benefits of MIFF’s new partnership with Film Movement, winning the Film Movement Distribution Award, which includes a theatrical and DVD release, for August the First. “I was extremely impressed by everything that I experienced at the Milwaukee International Film Festival,” relates director-producer Daniel Karslake, whose For the Bible Tells Me So won the Audience Award for Feature Documentary Film. “To begin with, I thought it was programmed very well with a large number of the most innovative new independent films screening in the fest. As a filmmaker, they treated me extremely well during my visit to Milwaukee, and I couldn’t have been more impressed by the audiences at my screenings. They were engaged, diverse and very supportive of independent film.”—Jennifer M. Wood
Haydenfilms Online Film Festival
WORKING THE ONLINE FILM FESTIVAL CIRCUIT SINCE THE BEGINNING • From their offices in pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, Hayden Craddolph and this team at Haydenfilms seem to almost have predicted the role the Internet would come to play in independent film distribution. Back in 2001, when film festivals really only occupied brick and mortar theaters, Craddolph, the president, founder and namesake of Haydenfilms, had an idea: “Based on the research I conducted for my graduate thesis starting in 2001, due to the rapid advances in digital technology, I concluded that online film distribution would be the way of the future.”
In the years since, Haydenfilms has endeavored to lead the Internet distribution charge, offering industry news, a crew database, production boards, an online store for moviemaking-related software and equipment and, of course, the Haydenfilms Online Film Festival.
Though most festivals can be classified as either audience- or moviemaker-targeted,
Craddolph is quick to tell you that his event is an education-focused one. “Our main focus is on our educational programs and internships,” notes Craddolph. “We have a film festival showcase and filmmaking workshops that we take to different schools and other film festivals to educate others about film.” This teaching mission took the Haydenfilms crew to Cannes in 2007, “which was an exhilarating experience,” according to Craddolph.
Even more exhilarating, Haydenfilms capped off an extremely busy 2007 by announcing the four finalists in its third ever event, better known as Haydenfilms 3.0 Online Film Festival. Battling it out for the $10,000 grand prize were four moviemakers from all walks of life—and geographical backgrounds: Helio San Miguel’s Blindness, a U.S. and Spanish co-production about a shy man who falls in love with a blind woman; Paris-based Reda Mustafa’s The Boot of War, the tale of a wounded soldier on the eve of the Battle of Normandy; Edgar Revilla Rodriguez’s introspective Encounters, from Mexico City; and Scottish moviemaker Ricky Wood Jr.’s Forgotten Souls, about a Holocaust survivor who moves from Poland to Scotland. Wood, who has worked in the Scottish entertainment industry since 1990 but is making his directorial debut with Forgotten Souls, already feels like a winner: “It feels great to receive recognition for all of the cast and crew who worked so hard without being paid. I am impressed with the quality of short films in the Haydenfilms Online Film Festival and am so glad I have taken part in it.”
So just who will reign supreme and claim the $10,000 grand prize? Though the latest winner had yet to be announced at press time (the awards ceremony was held at the Directors Guild of America Theater in New York City on January 10th), one thing is for sure: It will all go down online!—Jennifer M. Wood
Starz Denver Film Festival
RED-CARPET TREATMENT IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS • Since 1978, the Starz Denver Film Festival has gloriously celebrated and cultivated the art of cinema. The flagship of the Denver Film Society, the SDFF prides itself on giving Rocky Mountain audiences the opportunity to experience new and original films from all over the world while providing a forum for industry veterans and emerging artists to showcase and discuss their works freely, without sales pitches or agendas.
Presenting a collection of more than 200 films, SDFF is a spectacle to behold. “It’s really a festival that celebrates and embraces the films and the filmmakers,” says Ron Henderson, the fest’s co-founder and artistic director. In honor of the fest’s 30th anniversary, the 2007 event showcased the photography of Larry Lazlo in “Take 30,” a collection of photographs documenting the three decades of history, Hollywood legends, international moviemakers, lavish parties and audiences that helped make the festival what it is today.
Red-carpet treatment was given to Tamara Jenkins’ heartbreaking sibling drama, The Savages, along with Jason Reitman’s sassy teen pregnancy comedy Juno and Kirsten Sheridan’s bittersweet, musical fairytale, August Rush; both Reitman and August Rush star Keri Russell were on hand, too.
The Mayor’s Career Achievement Award went to seven-time Oscar nominee Norman Jewison, who says “I was deeply honored to receive the Mayor’s Award at the 30th anniversary of the Starz Denver Film Festival, especially alongside Ron Henderson, the festival’s creator and this year’s John Cassavetes Award winner. After 30 years, it has truly become one of the most important festivals in America.”
Celebrating diversity, SDFF played host to many worldly films such as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which won the Krzysztof Kieslowski Award for Best Feature Film, as well as Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Daniele Luchetti’s My Brother is an Only Child and Jirí Menzel’s I Served the King of England.
One of the premier cultural events around the globe, the Starz Denver Film Festival has become a Rocky Mountain institution, accentuating the positive aspects of moviemaking, from the artistry to the culture to the audiences that watch and enjoy the magic on the screen. “Our mission hasn’t really changed that much over the years,” says Henderson. “We wanted to celebrate and cultivate film as an art form and give filmmakers a platform to interact with audiences. That’s what we did in year one and that’s what we’re still doing in year 30.”—Mark Sells
FirstGlance 10 Philadelphia
BICOASTAL FEST EXPANDS ITS FOCUS TO A WORLDWIDE AUDIENCE • In its decade-old quest to exhibit independent movies, FirstGlance has expanded its focus from Pennsylvania to the world, first establishing an annual festival in the nation’s original capital, Philadelphia, and then starting one in the capital of moviedom, Hollywood. Festival director Bill Ostroff strives to use the two separate events to increase the scope of the work they show. “Unlike other ‘traveling’ festivals,” he says, “which bring the same programs to different cities, we pride ourselves on bringing new content to each event and giving more filmmakers the opportunity for added visibility.
The 10th annual FirstGlance Philadelphia, which took place September 28 – October 7, 2007, provided moviemakers with the trademark originality that moviemaker Alex Orr describes as “one of the many great things about FirstGlance.” Orr, whose Blood Car won the 2007 Feature Narrative category, claims “FirstGlance really excels at programming great indie films looking for an audience, [as opposed to] just recycling the Sundance program.” FirstGlance’s methodology also provides moviemakers with much-appreciated individual attention. Steven Scaffidi, who won this year’s Feature Documentary Award with his film, Forgotten on the Bayou, was especially enthusiastic about the “friendly and accommodating” atmosphere at the festival.
Other winners at FirstGlance 10 included Jack Swanstrom’s Short Narrative A.W.O.L., Mini-Doc Alex Scott: A Stand for Hope by Larry Mendte, Adam Walker’s Sam & Piccolo in the Animation category and Andrew Watson’s music video Gone.
At FirstGlance, all short-film selections are collected and distributed on DVD sets each year and the festival hopes to expand distribution options for all of its films in the future. By working to gain recognition from industry guilds and support from commercial partners, Ostroff plans to “grow our festivals into a community that can offer funding, distribution (including download, video-on-demand, pay-per-view, DVD), exhibition on digital screens and alternative venues and production to indie filmmakers.” With a grasp on the future of moviemaking and a continuing focus on the needs of the individual moviemaker, FirstGlance is a festival that is ready to grow with the industry.—Daniel Fritz
Coney Island Film Festival
CARNIVAL OF CINEMA IN THE BIRTHPLACE OF POP CULTURE • For nearly 100 years, the off-the-beaten-path shoreline of Brooklyn, NY has been home to the roller coasters, sideshows and general carnival atmosphere that is Coney Island. For the past seven it has also played host to the Coney Island Film Festival, formed as a means to resuscitate one of America’s original cultural havens. “Coney Island is often considered the birthplace of American popular culture. It’s where motion picture innovator Thomas Edison shot some of the earliest films on record,” says festival director Rob Leddy. “Coney Island is an inspiration to filmmakers from around the world.”
For Ramen Cromwell, whose appropriately titled Coney Island won the Best “Made in Coney Island” Award, this could not be more true. “I love Coney Island,” he says. “You can turn on the camera and point it anywhere; you just can’t take a bad shot out there.” Same goes for Gary Beeber, director of the Best Documentary Short, Bally Master. “For me it’s a treasure trove of material, and so unlike anywhere else in the world I’ve ever been.”
Held at Sideshows By The Seashore and The Coney Island Museum, last year’s festival ran September 28 – 30, 2007 and hosted features such as Two Tickets to Paradise, actor D.B. Sweeney’s directorial debut starring Ed Harris, and shorts that starred HBO royalty James Gandolfini (Club Soda) and Adrian Grenier (Off Hour). But the beauty of CIFF is that, just like the town it exists to serve, the festival hosts the small-name, big-talent artists who are rarely seen elsewhere—and no matter who you are, you’re treated like a creative genius. “I’d like to make a $100 million film someday and premiere it at Coney Island, because they really give you your moment,” says Cromwell.
“I’ve been to a few festivals and when you get scheduled at 4:20 p.m. on a Tuesday in a cineplex, it’s tough to get a full house,” Cromwell notes. “So the highlight for me was watching my film in a packed house and feeling that audience respond to the work. I’m sitting there and people are experiencing my film blocks away from where it was made, and suddenly I don’t feel like an idiot for maxing out those credit cards. Suddenly I’m the black Steven Soderbergh.”—Mallory Potosky
Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival
FINDING INDEPENDENCE IN BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA • In the past several years, MM has often touted the merits of Birmingham, Alabama’s Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, but we’re not the only ones. Included as one of Chris Gore’s “Best Vacation Film Fests” and named a “Film Festival for the Rest of Us” by Time, the fest has no shortage of enthusiastic supporters. “It’s the electric energy that Sidewalk creates that keeps filmmakers and filmgoers coming back for more,” says Catherine Pfitzer, Sidewalk’s executive director. What’s the recipe for that electric energy? “It certainly begins with a large audience very thirsty for good independent cinema,” continues Pfitzer, “so first and foremost, the films programmed at Sidewalk are all top-notch. But we also try to connect the filmmakers with the audience as much as possible, which both sides seem to enjoy. A very high priority is filmmaker hospitality. Attending filmmakers are taken care of from the moment they step off the plane, and are provided with many opportunities to really connect with each other.”
Moviemaker Jeremy Saulnier agrees. After traveling the festival circuit for most of 2007 with his film, Murder Party, the fest’s “Filmmaker to Watch” was “lucky enough to make my last stop at the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. It’s rare that a director of a sleaze-ball horror comedy is treated with such respect—I felt like hot shit and got into all the parties.” While making a few connections is great, circuit-workers aren’t solely interested in making a deal. Saulnier applauds the fact that “acquisitions reps, lawyers and talent reps didn’t occupy half the real estate, so it was an opportunity to connect with fellow filmmakers and honest-to-goodness film fans.”
As it has done in years past, the ninth annual celebration of independent films, which took place September 28 – 30, 2007 in downtown Birmingham, managed to land screenings for some hotly anticipated indies, like David Wain’s The Ten, starring Winona Ryder. “Sidewalk has built a reputation over the years for consistent quality programming and a highly organized festival, and those attending filmmakers who have enjoyed themselves have been kind enough to spread the word,” says Pfitzer. Award-winner Zack Godshall, for one, will be singing the fest’s praises: “The Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival is a special event. The staff, the programmers and the audiences are among the most welcoming and hospitable out there. Winning the Best Feature and Best Director awards really helped give Low and Behold the momentum it needed for the rest of the year.”—Jennifer M. Wood
Dominican International Film Festival
PUTTING THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC OFFICIALLY ON THE MAP • The third time was the charm for the Dominican International Film Festival, which came into its own this past November at the Sun Village Resort and Spa in Cofresi Beach. The fact that the festival took a giant leap forward in credibility and relevance its third time around was the best reason for festival director Ed Vincent and his team to feel good about this event; the fact that it even happened was a close second. That’s because the festival’s opening night was only a week after the island of Hispaniola (shared with Haiti) got slammed by Hurricane Noel, which killed 85 people in the Dominican Republic alone. But unless you were keeping up with the news, you’d never know any of this went down from the placid poolside screening rooms at the aptly named Sun Village. From panels to parties to well-attended premieres, the fest came off as effortlessly as one’s winter clothing in the tropical paradise that is the Dominican Republic.
This was the second year in a row that a rep from MM attended the DIFF, and the 2007 event saw a few technical kinks worked out and the film lineup vastly improved. A few of the highlights of the international program included Jean Becker’s Conversations with My Gardener from Germany, Charles Binamé’s The Rocket from Canada and actor-turned-director D.B. Sweeney’s Two Tickets to Paradise. Documentaries were also prominently featured again this year, and highlights included Israeli Limor Pinhasov’s A Working Mom, Bob Ray’s Hell on Wheels and Finding Kraftland, by Richard Kraft and Adam Shell.
Special programs and panels made the third annual DIFF exactly what a festival should be—an educational, celebratory, social occasion. The educational included panel discussions on topics such as “Big-Name Stars for Small-Budget Films,” hosted by the New York-based producing team of Mark and Adam Kassan, “Breaking into the Industry,” hosted by longtime Hollywood exec Steve Shor, and “The Art and Business of Making Movies,” hosted by yours truly.
Another interesting program was the Director’s Cut Children’s Workshop on acting, instructed by actor Manny Perez and another on claymation. The Cine Roma section devoted screens to a Spanish-language series, and was presented free of charge. A highlight of this section was Chilean director Claudio Dabed’s hilarious crowd-pleaser Pretendiendo, starring Mexican superstar Bárbara Mori, about a gorgeous woman who decides to make herself over as an homely matron in order to be taken seriously and avoid more romantic disappointments.
Organizers presented several awards: Perez, star of the closing night film Bella, who hails from a Dominican family with 11 siblings, received the 2007 Humanitarian Award for his ongoing efforts within the Dominican community. Dominican actress Dania Ramirez, best known for her turns as AJ’s girlfriend on “The Sopranos” and the newest superhuman on “Heroes,” received the 2007 Rising Star Award. The DIFF attracted several other familiar faces, including indie stalwart Joe Pantoliano, star of Joseph Greco’s Canvas.
While clearly just past its infancy as a destination festival, DIFF is beginning to walk proudly all on its own. Its mission—to promote the education and training of young filmmakers and support independent film—is one that we heartily endorse.—Tim Rhys
Indie Memphis Soul of Southern Film Festival
SMALL-TOWN ATMOSPHERE, BIG-TIME MOVIES • Okay, so Memphis isn’t actually a small town. As home to such U.S. landmarks as the National Civil Rights Museum, Sun Studio and, of course, Graceland, it’s really more a sprawling metropolis. But it sure feels like a much more intimate place when you’re there, especially at the Indie Memphis Soul of Southern Film Festival, which spread its wings throughout the city October 19-25, 2007.
Ten years after it started as a one room, sheet-projected festival, Indie Memphis has expanded to feature such big names in independent cinema as Oscar nominee John Sayles, who opened the fest with Honeydripper. Like most other movies at the festival, Honeydripper, which played to a sold-out crowd, captured the essence of the city, touching upon the topics which remain deeply engrained in this city’s history and culture, like race and music.
“The theaters where the films screened were right down the street from Ardent Records and I had a blast exploring the other famous recording studios in the city,” writer-director Craig Zobel says of his Memphis excursion. “Memphis is a town so rooted in music history,” which is why the fest was a great fit for his movie, Great World of Sound.
Best Narrative Short winner Angel Ortez chilled the audience with his innovative short, First Amendment: Cancelled, and its brutal depiction of the illusion that is freedom of speech, using his own young son and the family dog in the role of torturer and monster, respectively.
Other highlights of the festival included the addition of the Global Lens series, which included nine features and seven shorts produced by The Global Film Initiative. The films represented an opportunity for the festival, which has traditionally focused on the Southern experience, to embrace the world at large. Hosting academics from local universities for a further explanation of each film, the festival was able to simultaneously honor the city of its birth and reflect on its own evolution. —Mallory Potosky
New Hampshire Film Festival
TIME HAS MANY MEANINGS IN THE GRANITE STATE • It would seem that winning a “Granny Award” is something to be achieved only after acting as family matriarch and living three-quarters of a century. But then why are so many people embracing it in their prime, with many years and accomplishments still ahead of them? Because it’s the award given each year to the top films and moviemakers at the New Hampshire Film Festival. As the Granite State, New Hampshire continues to mine for the valuable rock in much the same way independent moviemakers search and develop their ideas.
“This is my third year attending and it just keeps getting better,” says Buzz McLaughlin, executive producer of the Best Feature Film Granny Award winner, The Sensation of Sight. “Our production company is based in New Hampshire, and after being on the festival circuit around the world for the past year we thought this would be a fitting place to land.”
Robert Scott Wildes, another New Hampshire native, says he “couldn’t have asked for a better place to premiere Neptunus Rex: The sea, the brick roads—it was all quite fitting for the movie we made.” The movie, about two young scientists who pursue cloud-collecting, won the Best Student Film Granny Award at this year’s fest. For the small, unpretentious festival, it’s the local moviemakers who have made all the difference these past seven years. They are “our original support base and without them we wouldn’t be where we are as a festival,” says festival director Nicole Gregg.
But with submissions from places as near as Boston and as far as Malaysia, the fest has a wide range of influence and participants—all converging on Portsmouth, New Hampshire each fall, looking for Granny Awards and genuine feedback. “We love the fact that audiences in places like Portsmouth—places that aren’t typical PR pit stops—are so honest and so authentic,” says Dave McLaughlin, who won the Grand Jury Granny Award for On Broadway. “They’re who we made this movie for, frankly—real folks.” The highlight of any festival, he explains, is “being reminded how much the movie inspires and entertains all different people in all different parts of the world. That never gets old and it just helps you keep punching.”—Mallory Potosky
INDIE MOVIEMAKERS WEATHER A STORM IN OREGON • Set against the backdrop of Oregon’s breathtaking Cascade Mountains, one would think that the beautiful scenery—or the more than 70 films on display—would be the topic of conversation at the fourth annual BendFilm Festival, which took place October 11 – 14, 2007. But it was a freak batch of unseasonably cold weather that had Bend’s most recent group of moviemakers talking.
“The temperature plummeted just before the awards ceremony, but everyone came anyway and had a great time” recalls producer Curt Ellis, whose King Corn won for Best Documentary. “The judges kept laughing every time they got to the microphone and the filmmakers huddled by the heaters to stay warm. It’s times like that that make you remember filmmakers are a remarkably close community.”
Of course, awards are great, but sometimes all a moviemaker wants is a little understanding. BendFilm is savvy enough to offer both. “We were quite overwhelmed to win both Best Short and Best Actress,” says Redemption Maddie writer-director Aaron King. “BendFilm is one of the few film festivals where the independent filmmakers are not lost amongst the various panels or celebrity sightings. They understand it’s a difficult journey to make uncompromising cinema and their generous jury prizes enable you to keep working.”
Chris Bowman’s American Fork took home the fest’s biggest prize, a $10,000 Best of Show; and $2,500 was awarded to Zack Godshall’s Low and Behold for Best Feature, Aaron Woolf’s King Corn for Best Documentary, King’s Redemption Maddie for Best Short and Colin Stryker’s River Ways for the Conversation Award.
Concludes Erik Jambor, executive director of the 2007 BendFilm Festival: “Bend is simply an amazing place for a film festival—the sort of location that film festival fairytales are made in. The town itself is a haven for outdoor recreation, and its unique location makes for an unforgettable experience any time of the year.”—Jennifer M. Wood
H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival
HONORING ONE OF LITERATURE’S HORROR GREATS IN PORTLAND • The work of Stephen King may rule Hollywood, but on the film festival scene, the first name in horror writing is H.P. Lovecraft. In fact, in Portland, Oregon, there’s an entire fest dedicated to the work—and spirit—of one of the 20th century’s most influential writers.
“The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival promotes the works of H.P. Lovecraft, literary horror and weird tales through cinematic adaptations by professional and amateur filmmakers,” says festival founder Andrew Migliore. Founded in 1995, the most recent edition happened October 5 – 7, 2007 at Portland’s Hollywood Theatre. Composed of equal parts big-name moviemakers and newer indies, the fest honored newcomers and veterans alike in 2007.
The festival’s Brown Jenkin Awards, named for one of Lovecraft’s most famous characters, went to Dan Gildark’s Cthulhu, an update of the Lovecraft book of the same name; 9 Lives of Mara, from Indian director Balaji K. Kumar; Shawn Linden’s Nobody; and Gary Irwin’s Of Darkness, which got the Audience Pick. From the Hollywood crowd, H.P. Lovecraft Awards—or “Howies”—were given to horror artist Bernie Wrightson, who drew the poster for Stephen King’s Creepshow as well as the comic book adaptation used throughout the movie; “Masters of Horror” composer Richard Band; and ultimate master of horror, John Carpenter. —Jennifer M. Wood
Evil City Film Fest
SCARY GOOD TIMES IN NEW YORK CITY’S EAST VILLAGE • The Evil City Film Fest took place in downtown New York City, October 4 – 7, 2007. Yes, it’s held in the same month as Halloween and yes, its name does elicit thoughts of vampires roaming the streets and Frankenstein’s monster governing it all. But it’s really much more interesting—and not at all terrifying. Named for its East Village location, the Evil City Film Fest has made a name for itself as a fun alternative to the everynight entertainment of the already art-infused community.
“The spirit of the independent film movement goes hand in hand with the character and creativity so characteristic of New York City’s East Village,” festival director Jim Muscarella explains. “ECFF gives filmmakers from across the world a chance to share in this local spirit as part of a community consumed with film.”
The 2007 festival screened 13 New York City premieres, a 25-year retrospective on Susan Seidelman’s 1982 East Village tribute Smithereens and panels on everything from scoring your film to the influences of blog culture on the art of moviemaking. As evidence of the community support, all screenings were held at the Anthology Film Archives and the Millennium Film Workshop, two East Village film institutions.
“I obviously targeted New York City film festivals,” says Sam Griffin, director of the Best of NYC award-winning documentary The Pool, about a local city pool during an unusually brutal heat wave. “But the Evil City Film Fest had great personal appeal because The Pool was made in the East Village, by East Villagers, about East Villagers.”
The same went for Audience Award-winning film Rolling, whose cast and crew hailed from the Empire State. The highlight of the festival, for director Billy Samoa Saleebey, was “the overall energy of the city and the amazing response we had from the people who attended the screenings”
Moviemaker Ramcess Jean-Louis, winner of the Best Feature Film Award for Sarbane’s Oxley, was also grateful for the crowds, because screening at the Evil City Film Fest meant taking advantage of “their reputation for having very enthusiastic audiences who appreciate provocative independent cinema.” —Mallory Potosky
Screamfest Horror Film Festival
FESTIVAL TAKES THE SCARE OUT OF NAVIGATING THE MOVIE INDUSTRY • Screamfest, Hollywood’s annual horror movie festival, is more than just a chance to get a healthy dose of blood, gore and, well, screaming. It’s also an opportunity for moviemakers to network with others in the industry.
“Screamfest is an excellent door into the American industry of nightmares,” says writer-director Martin Barnewitz, who attended Screamfest, held at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre October 12 – 21, 2007, with his movie, Room 205. “Here you will get attention and be assessed,” he says. (Barnewitz’s movie has just been sold for North American distribution.) “I made some really valuable contacts, future gigs and sales at this year’s festival,” he continues, “but if you—the director—do not do a lot of preparation and legwork, nothing will happen. It’s really all up to you.”
Rachel Belofsky, Screamfest’s founder and director, says that through the festival, promising works like Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity have been discovered. “The majority of films received offers for distribution and quite a few of the directors garnered representation,” says Belofsky. “These directors are now reviewing material for their next projects. I think this is very exciting for them and I can’t wait to see their next films.”
As a result of its Screamfest screening, Peli and his team are now being represented by Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and are currently in negotiations with distributors. “If it weren’t for Screamfest, Paranormal Activity would probably still be a well-kept secret,” says Peli. “All the good things that happened to Paranormal Activity in the last month were a direct result of Screamfest and Rachel Belofsky’s support.”
Paranormal Activity was also honored with the Best Actress award, thanks to its talented leading lady, Katie Featherstone. Another big winner this year was Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom’s Alone, which took home awards for Best Picture, Directing, Editing and Cinematography. Fellow winners included Nikolas List’s Angel for Best Student Short; Mike Williamson’s In the Wall for Best Short Film; and Jamie Blanks’ Storm Warning for Best Score (which writer-director-editor-composer Blanks scored himself) and Special Effects.—Mariel DiSibio
Austin Film Festival
WRITERS’ STRIKE CAN’T BREAK MOVIEMAKERS’ SPIRITS • The impending Writers Guild of America strike couldn’t put a damper on the 14th annual Austin Film Festival, known for its emphasis on the craft of screenwriting and the artists behind it. Held October 11 -18, 2007, just a few weeks before the WGA strike began, the festival managed to overcome a foreboding feeling despite the impending strike.
“Honestly, the strike was looming large during the festival, but there was an optimistic atmosphere,” says Kelly Williams, the fest’s film program director. “Even in the face of the eventual strike, the mood was to talk about why everyone was here, to discuss the craft of screenwriting and filmmaking.”
This year’s festival was a diverse mix of new attendees and seasoned alums. “Festival alums such as Terry George, Oliver Stone, Terry Rossio and Scott Alexander welcomed first-time attendees Diablo Cody (Juno), Harris Goldberg (Numb), Mike O’Connell and Peter Kline (The Living Wake), making this year’s festival an amazing experience,” notes Williams.
John Arlotto, who wrote and directed Deface, says the highlight of his festival experience was winning the Best Short Narrative Film Award.
“To see how much the audience enjoyed the film and to be honored from a writer’s standpoint was great,” says Arlotto. “This award means the film now qualifies for Oscar consideration, so I’m grateful to the Austin Film Festival for giving the film such an opportunity.”
Arlotto’s fellow winners included Shotgun Stories, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, for the Narrative Feature Award; Salt Kiss, written and directed by Fellipe Barbosa, for the Narrative Student Short Award; Over the Hill, written and directed by Peter Baynton, for the Animated Short Award; Hijos de la Guerra (Children of War), directed by Alexandre Fuchs, for the Documentary Feature Award; and Absolute Zero, directed by Alan Woodruff, for the Documentary Short Award.
Arlotto emphasizes that the overall attitude at the festival seemed not to be concerned with the strike. “I feel the attendees were there to celebrate the art of writing and used the festival as a respite from the Hollywood politics,” he says.—Mariel DiSibio
Mill Valley Film Festival
CELEBRATING 30 YEARS OF CINEMA WITH TODAY’S BIGGEST STARS • In human years, a 30th birthday is a true milestone—the year that marks an individual’s official embarkation to adulthood, where the term “youthful indiscretion” no longer applies. In film festival years, 30 years simply means some serious staying power.
With the Cannes-Sundance-Toronto triumvirate ruling the festival circuit, it can be difficult for a smaller fest to survive—and thrive—for even a few years. But that’s exactly what the Mill Valley Film Festival has been doing for three decades now, with the enthusiastic support of some of today’s most powerful auteurs.
“MVFF has always had a solid vision and a commitment to quality,” says the fest’s director of programming, Zoë Elton. “We continue to be inspired by the incredible courage and tenacity it takes to make a film, and it’s important to us to celebrate the work we show in the best possible way.”
The 2007 event, which took place October 4 – 14, 2007, paid special attention to some of its most famous alumni. Longtime supporter Ang Lee opened the fest with Lust, Caution and was paid tribute to one night later. Just a few days before kickoff, fest friend Sean Penn helped MVFF put a “Spotlight on Emile Hirsch,” with a screening of Penn’s Into the Wild and the presentation of a MVFF Award to Hirsch for his breakthrough performance. “Ang Lee and Sean Penn, along with many others with whom we have long-term relationships, are visionary filmmakers whose work continues to amaze us,” says Elton. “They are always developing, breaking new ground and changing the way that we see the world. The potential for dialogue, too, is the core of what a festival is all about—and that can be all the more profound for audiences and guests alike when there is a kind of shared history.”—Jennifer M. Wood
Heart of Gold International Film Festival
MOVIES WITH A MESSAGE TAKE CENTER STAGE DOWN UNDER • Over-the-top violence in cinema still holds great appeal and can even be considered a high art form by directors like Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth. It’s the rare festival that seeks to distance itself from mayhem, profanity and blood-dripping severed limbs by celebrating films that nourish the human spirit. The forces behind the Heart of Gold International Film Festival, held in Gympie, Queensland, Australia, have set out to do good—and there’s no stopping them.
Fostering change through positive movies is an ambitious goal, especially for a festival in its second year, but festival director Toni Powell is looking for something more than the typical “feel-good movie,” be it a comedy or drama. “We have had the fast food of films but now we want the organic gourmet,” jokes Powell. “The filmmakers are there making them but the public is not getting a taste.”
The 2007 event was held October 25 – 28 and included a spectacular awards dinner featuring a fundraiser by the “Art with Heart” project. Artists were presented with a blank heart and left to work their magic, with the proceeds benefiting the festival. For the winners, supporting a festival that encourages these heartwarming messages came as second nature. Many of the winning movies were not made specifically for the festival, but the directors quickly discovered that Heart of Gold was the perfect showcase for their projects. Jennifer Ussi, who took home the Power of Dreams Award (Best Australian Film) for The Unique Oneness of Christian Savage, originally wrote the film as an homage to her late brother. She set out to make an uplifting movie, feeling that films and festivals which “make the audience feel just a little bit better about the good of the world are important—essential, really—because mostly the media is a harbinger of bad news.” Writer David Kosh, winner of the Festival Director’s Choice “Toni” award for Cold Tea, passionately agrees: “Art that dares to find the goodness, the beauty, the hope and spirituality in humanity is sorely needed—even the tiniest light helps dispel the darkness, and the Heart of Gold Festival shines like a beacon.”—Andre Ward
Ottawa International Animation Festival
IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT XS AND YS IN CANADA • With the Mercury Filmworks Prize for Best Animated Feature going to Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and retrospectives honoring the work of Joanna Quinn and Janet Perlman, the 2007 Ottawa International Animation Festival had a decidedly feminine twist this year. But that wasn’t the original intention. “I had toyed with the idea of doing an all-female series this year… But I had second thoughts about getting into some gender thing,” says artistic director Chris Robinson. So, instead of acting as a theme, OIAF teamed with Ottawa-based Ladyfest to host a “Women in Animation” program at Ottawa’s famous Barrymore’s nightclub.
“I would like to think that we are not so exotic and could all have been included in other years as just ‘animators,’” says retrospective honoree Janet Perlman. The animator has been a OIAF regular attendee (and frequent entrant) since the fest’s first event in 1976, and won three previous awards at the festival, including the Bad Taste Award in 1994 for My Favorite Things That I Love. “I come because it is a large festival with an international focus where I can see films that are hard to see elsewhere. I enter my films because I would like them to be seen and discussed by an audience of peers.”
While this year’s fest may have honored many X chromosomes, its target, as always, is the international brood of animators who come to network, exchange ideas and be inspired. “I was very close to canning the Feature Animation category,” explains Robinson. But after having two sold-out screenings of Persepolis, he knew that keeping it around was the right choice. The screenings were not for “some run of the mill, gag-oriented kids crap—this was for a mature animation film dealing with some pretty hefty themes… Hopefully it sets the bar for other feature animation producers. You can make smart films without animals and gags.”
“We don’t like formal, plastic horseshit,” Robinson continues. This explains a lot, since OIAF and its events, including workshops, an annual Trade Fair and the Television Animation Conference, have provided the large family of international animators an intimate festival for more than 30 years.—Mallory Potosky
Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival
ENVIRONMENTALLY-FOCUSED FOR MORE THAN 15 YEARS AND COUNTING • Long before it was fashionable to “go green,” the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival was seeking “new and more effective ways to promote awareness and sensitivity to the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats around the world.” Founded in 1991 and held every other year, the most recent incarnation of this animal-friendly event ran October 1 – 6, 2007 in Wyoming.
Culled from more than 700 submissions, the 2007 event judged works that “celebrate the finest examples of filmmaking which advance an appreciation of the natural world” in 19 categories. The Grand Award, representing the best of the festival, went to the BBC/National Geographic series Galapagos: Born of Fire, about the history—and wildlife—of the Pacific Ocean’s Galapagos Islands. The Best Theatrical Program went to Howard Hall’s Deep Sea 3D, a doc given some superstar support from narrators Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp. New Zealand-based Cloud South Films’ simply titled How to Save the World took home accolades as the Best Non-Broadcast Program, courtesy of the Save Our Seas Foundation.
Though there are plenty of industry veterans on hand, as a large part of the fest’s focus is on educating new moviemakers, they offer the Marion Zunz Newcomer Award, too, which went to Oliver Goetzl’s Wolverines—Hyenas of the North. Focusing on wildlife in a way that few other festivals can, JHWFF offers a wide range of “bests,” including Best Animal Behavior, Best Earth Sciences Program, Best Environmental Program, Best People and Animals Program and even Best CGI/Animation.
“We live in a critical time, and have a small window of opportunity to make an irrevocable difference,” says Lisa Samford, the fest’s executive director. “Because of this, JHWFF works hard to support emerging environmental festivals, providing programming support and advice. Right now, we are working in partnership with festivals in Singapore, South Korea and Australia, and beginning a relationship with two festivals in China.” It’s a fest truly dedicated to global moviemaking.—Jennifer M. Wood
Heartland Film Festival
POSITIVE ABOUT MOVIES IN INDIANAPOLIS, IN • Those who still think of Hollywood in the stereotypical way (read: As a city of bottom-line-obsessed megalomaniacs who are only watching out for themselves) have clearly never been to the Heartland Film Festival. Though based in Indianapolis, the festival, which took place October 18 – 26, 2007, has one finger on the pulse of Hollywood—but showcases only those films that promote positive values. With the proliferation of violent action and torturous horror films currently being churned out, one might think that there’s a dearth of that sort of positive thinking, at least as far as the bigger studios are concerned. But the 2007 event certainly proved otherwise.
“We have carved out a unique corner of this world,” says Jeffrey L. Sparks, president and CEO of Heartland Truly Moving Pictures, the nonprofit group that backs the annual event. “Our national outreach through our Truly Moving Picture Award has gotten the studios to pay attention. They want to help us with the festival because we are helping promote films year-round through our grassroots outreach to 50-plus national organizations (including YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, etc.). Thus, they see us as a key stop on the promotion of the right film.”
In this case, the “right” films came in the form of Craig Gillespie’s warm Lars and the Real Girl, Kirsten Sheridan’s music-filled August Rush and Marc Forster’s long-delayed The Kite Runner. On-hand to help spread the “tuly moving” message were Gillespie, August Rush producer Richard Lewis and music supervisor Anastasia Brown, as well as The Kite Runner scribe David Benioff.
But known moviemakers aren’t the only ones to get the royal treatment. To help ensure that indies keep making these positive-minded movies, too, the festival hands out a number of cash prizes. The $100,000 Grand Prize Award for Best Dramatic Feature, one of the largest single cash prizes awarded by a festival, went to Alejandro Monteverde for Bella; the $25,000 Award for Best Documentary Feature was given to Irene Taylor Brodsky for Hear and Now; and Kurt Kuenne took home the $10,000 Vision Award for Best Short Film for his Validation.
Even with its long history, it’s the future of the fest that its organizers are most excited about. “Heartland is coming into its own after 16 years, with independent and studio filmmakers alike paying close attention to our creative outreach to promote Truly Moving Pictures,” says Sparks.—Jennifer M. Wood