Message & Medium, Both Matter in Local Film Fests

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For decades, Champaign-Urbana has inspired a long succession
of independently made media created by citizens,
academics, and students wishing to enrich and inform
their friends and neighbors in ways avoided by commercial
outlets. This has encompassed print, radio, theater,
music, the Internet, and the fine arts. However, the most
ill-used form of modern communication to disseminate
viewpoints and expression from a local perspective is
arguably the one falsely believed to be the province of studio
impresarios and celebrity egos the cinema and its
domestic offspring, television.
Consumer-priced technology improved and expanded
so rapidly through the Nineties and into the new century
that the videographer has found him or herself with plenty
of effective production tools and work flow options to
aid in shooting and editing quality footage without the
time and cost concerns associated with traditional film
production. Should the videographer be in the right place
at the right time with the competence to tape cleanly and
confidence to stand their ground while doing so, she or he
may come away with material that not only preserves our
community’s history warts and all but shows by example
how to improve its future as well.
A recent example, however inadvertent, is John O’Connor’s
recording of Champaign mayor Jerry Schweighart’s
“Barack Obama is not an American” comment made at the
city’s West Side Park. We should also recall the Citizens
Watch video made by Patrick Thompson and Martel
Miller, depicting suspect interaction between C-U police
officers and African-American residents. Certainly, we’ll
mention the progressive work of UI journalism professor
Jay Rosenstein, including the upcoming documentary
about the landmark Vashti McCollum court case, The Lord
is Not on Trial Here Today. It’s unfortunate that the canon
made autonomously in the area excluding work produced
expressly for commercial, institutional, or network television
use is often difficult to find save for collections at the
Independent Media Center, That’s Rentertainment, public
libraries, and so on.
By the same token, the flexibility allowed by today’s
low-cost digital tools has ushered in a worldwide deluge of
video material. How does one navigate through the noise
to find worthwhile material regardless of where it was created,
whom it was made by, or what it is about? Although
one-off screenings of topical and ethnic material is presented
on a regular basis by University of Illinois departments
and local organizations like A.W.A.R.E., the Illinois
Disciples Foundation, the University YMCA, and the IMC,
it is rare to witness aggregate presentations of alternative
cinema lasting two or more consecutive days. The most
substantial of recent vintage, the Freaky Film Festival from
1997-2000, has finally been succeeded in spirit by two
events which have taken place this year.
The IMC Film Festival, a three-day showcase held at
the Independent Media Center in Urbana during the first
weekend of February, and the New Art Film Festival,
which ran for six days in mid-April at the Art Theater in
Champaign, provided opportunities to watch hand-picked
indie films running the gamut of documentary, narrative,
and experimental story-telling, with many projects developed
and/or produced right in our own backyard. As a
volunteer to the former and a programmer of the latter, I
can describe the character of each as “eclectically distinct”
from the other although value and inspiration could be
drawn from both.
Following up its first edition from a year prior, the IMC
Film Fest provided our community with a diverse showcase
that enlightened its audience. Some blocks tied into
different aspects of the IMC such as opening pieces
Clownin’ in Kabul by Enzo Balestrieri and Stefano Moser
and Salud by Connie Field, presented by the Gesundheit!
Institute, and closing material shown in concert with a
People’s Potluck including videos by Chicago Indy Media
about Fred Hampton, Jr., and G20 protests as well as Un
Poquito de Tanta Verdad by Jill Friedberg, recounting the
people of Oaxaca, Mexico, who reclaimed local radio stations.
Other blocks demonstrated a myriad of personal
perspectives, such as the dramatic shorts Celeste Above by
Johnny Robinson and As Ever, Stan by Alex Schwarm, the
energetic political graffiti documentary A Series of
Exchanges by Justin Jach, and non-narrative landscape
works like Roswell by Bill Brown and The Bay Swimmers
by Jesse Damazo.
IMCFF also grew to include special showings and satellite
events which engaged the audience beyond the silver
screen. For instance, the first night concluded with a
broadcast of WRFU’s “The Show” in the stage area featuring
monologues by host Ray Morales, slam poetry, and
freestyle rhyme with live percussion. The second night’s
film highlights included a live multi-instrumental performance
of an original score composed by UI graduate student
Vin Calianno in synch with the silent German classic,
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, followed by a multi-media performance
comprised of found footage projected by Matt
HarsH and choice cuts played by DJ Belly.
While programming overlap could be found between
IMCFF and the New Art Film Festival, it simply expanded
the amount of exposure given to locally-made films. The
six-day schedule allowed NAFF room to reprise movies
that have already been shown publicly, including the features
Act Your Age (IMCFF ‘10) and Press Start and the
shorts Prelude and The Transient (both IMCFF ‘09), as well
as titles playing for the first time in C-U. These included
the documentary Hoopeston, a portrait of the town and its
former “Witch School,” the twisty thriller A Certain Point
of View, filmed on the University of Illinois campus, and
the low-key feature drama The Scientist, self-distributed by
Carbondale director Zach LeBeau. NAFF also brought
back a hit from last year’s IMCFF, the artist documentary
Proceed and Be Bold! directed by UI alumna Laura Zinger,
for all the positive lessons it embodies in regards to self expression,
self-determination, and DIY ethos.
Between IMCFF and NAFF, hundreds of fellow citizens
took in dozens of films not already ubiquitous thanks to
the Hollywood marketing machine. The programming
decisions were also not influenced overtly by C-U’s own
populist movie phenomenon, Roger Ebert’s Film Festival.
Passion and intelligence guided the two core teams—
Nicole Pion, Katy Vizdal, Brian Dolinar, Laura Fuhrman,
and yours truly for IMCFF, and myself and Sanford Hess
for NAFF—to formulate what would make for good cinema
viewing and great food for thought.
Of course we now ask, “What locally-produced films will
we see at these events next year?” Take up your camera in
arms and then take advantage of several potential
resources—including the IMC, Urbana Public Television,
Champaign Government Television , UI-7, Parkland College
Television, and the monthly Champaign Movie Makers
meetings at Class Act Interactive—to enhance your skills and
meet fellow citizens with whom you can collaborate. You can
also keep tabs on local activity and viewing opportunities at
C-U Blogfidential).
Until then, we can’t wait to hear you yell, “Action!”

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