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
Crossroads Film Festival
MERGING FILM AND MUSIC INTO A SINGLE EVENT • For the 9th annual Crossroads Film Festival, held April 3–6, residents of Jackson, Mississippi and citizens of the world united in their love of film…and music.
With screenings of features like Control, about Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, and Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, the fest seems to have secured a reputation for merging the two art forms. It seems obvious to festival director Herman Snell, who claims that “most filmmakers are also musicians” anyway.
“The soul of Mississippi has long fed on a rich history of blues and rock ‘n’ roll culture,” Snell says of the reason the festival also features an award for Best Music Video. “Screw MTV! Good filmmakers are in demand to make music videos for YouTube. Savvy bands are looking for video exposure online.”
Fashionable’s Cameron McCasland was the lucky moviemaker to take home the award for Best Music Video. In searching out festivals, McCasland discovered that those featuring a category for music videos were few and far between, “which is astounding when looking at the barrage of new filmmakers who have cut their teeth in that medium. Crossroads not only had that category, but seemed to have had a history of showcasing movies that deal with music. It just seemed like a good fit.”—Mallory Potosky
Philadelphia Film Festival
HOMEGROWN SUPPORT IN AN INTERNATIONAL ATMOSPHERE • For two weeks in April, the City of Brotherly Love was abuzz with moviemakers of all kinds. The 17th annual Philadelphia Film Festival, which took place April 3 – 15, featured novice moviemakers like Jeremiah Zagar, whose documentary In a Dream won the award for Best First Film, as well as industry veterans like John Leguizamo, who was honored with the Artistic Achievement Award for “his distinguished acting career, his prominence as a star on the silver screen and his dedication to the world of cinema.”
As a Philly native and longtime festival attendee, Zagar’s festival screening was a dream come true, as he was able to “show the film in front of a hometown audience at a theater I’ve been attending since I was a kid.” Greg Kohs, whose Song Sung Blue was named Best Documentary, is another local who was able to enjoy some family support. Like Zagar, he drew pleasure from having friends and family in attendance.
In the end, though, the festival is about bringing exposure to a variety of hardworking moviemakers. As Thom Cardwell, development director of the Film Society, says, “It’s a way to bring together all types of filmmakers, actors, producers, screenwriters and others…from the famous to the almost-famous to the not-famous.”—Jessica Wall
FirstGlance Film Festival
BICOASTAL EVENT PUTS THE WORLD UNDER ONE MICROSCOPE • Each year, the FirstGlance Film Festival lands in two of moviemaking’s busiest towns, hosting events in Philadelphia and Hollywood. The most recent fest took place in California from April 11–13 and featured student shorts, animation, documentary and narrative features.
Independent cinema had the spotlight as John Humber’s Dakota Skye took the Best Ensemble Cast and Best of Fest Awards. Ron Berrett won Best Director for An American in China, while Ramaa Mosley was given the same honor in the Short Narrative category for The Brass Teapot.
Best Educational Documentary went to Chad Heeter’s Two Million Minutes, about the approximate time students around the world are given to absorb the education necessary to become the future of our planet. “As an issue-focused film, we realized that we probably did not typify what most festivals wanted to screen,” says Heeter. “But FirstGlance stands out as a festival that really scrutinizes the submissions; they seek out quality independent films.”—Mallory Potosky
New Strand Film Festival
CHARMING NEW HAVEN EMERGES FOR MOVIEMAKERS • From May 2 – 4, audiences poured into West Liberty, Iowa’s historic New Strand Theatre to attend the first annual New Strand Film Festival, an event focused as much on community as it is on cinema.
Marek Dojs, who won the Student Visionary Award for his short film Bath Time, feels honored that his film was so well received. “Events like this that encourage community interest in the arts, specifically independent film, should always be supported,” says Dojs.
Mark Thimijan, who screened The Girl Who Could Run 600 Miles Per Hour, also appreciates the quaint nature of the town. “I had been to a few festivals in big cities, but my favorite memories have come from the little regional festivals in small towns. You might miss out on an industry presence, but the hospitality and new friendships more than make up for it.”
The New Strand Film Festival concluded with a Cinco de Mayo celebration, a joyous culmination of a quickly rising and much buzzed about festival that has attracted visitors from all over with its quaint, Midwestern vibe. —Kyle Rupprecht
Omaha Film Festival
HOLLYWOOD’S NEW TESTING GROUND • Forget Peoria. “Will it play in Omaha?” is the question that more and more Hollywood players are asking—and they’re getting their answers at the Omaha Film Festival.
The third annual event, which roared into town February 16- 24, brought a handful of Hollywood’s biggest names as it kicked off with a two-day Screenwriting/Filmmaker Conference.
The conference featured discussion panels with screenwriters Shane Black (Lethal Weapon), Jon Bokenkamp (Perfect Stranger) and Josh Stolberg (Good Luck Chuck), editors Tom Elkins (Wanted) and Mike Hill (The Da Vinci Code) and a two-day workshop with writing gurus Jeff Kitchen and Lew Hunter.
“I think that our education initiative has set us apart from a lot of other festivals in the region, and having that component to what we do has strengthened our attraction,” notes Jason Levering, the fest’s executive director.
The excitement of the OFF’s organizers is contagious. “The people who run it are very passionate about filmmaking, and particularly filmmaking in Nebraska,” says Justin Lerner, who traveled to the event from Los Angeles and won over the crowd to take home the Audience Award for his short, The Replacement Child. “After I won the audience award, the festival staff asked to take their picture with me and have me sign some DVDs, which was surreal. Nobody had ever asked me for that, so I was a bit taken aback, but it speaks to their respect and admiration of filmmakers and artists.”
“We ourselves are filmmakers at heart,” admits Levering. “We all work on our own independent film projects and we provide a lot of support to the local filmmaking crowd. So when we set out to create the OFF back in 2005, we were determined to become a teaching festival so that aspiring filmmakers in the Midwest would have better opportunities to work on their craft right here in Omaha… And believe it or not, this is just the tip of the iceberg.”—Jennifer M. Wood