Film Festivals are blossoming in Dayton.
What began more than a decade ago with Wright State University’s Big Lens Film Festival and the Jewish International Film Festival has grown to include the Downtown Dayton LGBT Film Festival and the FilmDayton Festival, which will host its fourth annual event Aug. 24-26.
A film festival is a lot different from heading to a multiplex on a Saturday night to see the latest blockbuster. At next weekend’s festival, for example, you can choose from eight major screenings, five educational workshops and four special events. Last year about 1,000 attended.
A film festival also is a community affair. It’s not uncommon to see complete strangers striking up a conversation while waiting in line to buy popcorn. It’s a friendly, festive atmosphere.
Then there are the films. Instead of viewing full-length features playing throughout the country, at a film festival, patrons are likely to see a wide variety of films they probably won’t have a chance to see elsewhere.
“I’m a big fan of short films. A short film serves a purpose in film making just the way a short story does in literature,” says Andrew Estevez, a member of the FilmDayton board. “But it’s really hard to see short films outside of a festival. I’ve driven 600 miles to watch shorts, so it’s nice to go downtown and catch great shorts.”
Examples next weekend include “Flick My Clip,” an evening of comedy shorts and “Madrina Films Presents: The Best of International Shorts,” curated by Springfield native Marisha Mukerjee, who has chosen a group of films that explore the feelings of being “foreign.”
For the first time in the history of the festival, entertaining short films by students or emerging filmmakers will precede each of the major presentations. Many of the individuals being showcased are products of Wright State University’s film program.
A documentary, says Estevez, is another great example of a type of film that’s hard to find at most commercial theaters. Documentaries, he says, encounter a tough road to distribution.
Among the documentaries being shown next weekend are “These Amazing Shadow,” an exploration of the films chosen for the National Film Registry, “Trash Dance,” which follows the story of choreographer Allison Orr as she convinces and collaborates with sanitation workers to create a dance experience, and “Tchoupitoulas” an exploration of the sights and sounds of New Orleans as seen through the eyes of three young boys.
Among the fictional films being shown are “Compliance,” based on a true incident about a young fast-food employee who is accused of stealing a customer’s purse; “The Wonderland Express,” a mix of science fiction, psychological drama and comedy; and “Redlegs,” which focuses on three 20-somethings, who reunite in Cincinnati to attend a friend’s funeral.
A festival is also special in that it provides a chance to mix with folks who spend their lives making and working on films. In the case of FilmDayton, the special guests have a connection to the Miami Valley — they’ve either grown up in the Miami Valley, gained education or experience in our area or have chosen to make their films in this region. A perfect example: Film archivist George Willeman, who will talk about his role at the National Film Registry.
Megan Cooper, executive director of FilmDayton, says the opportunities for interaction have continued to grow over the years.
“With every film we’re showing, the audience will have an opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with a director or producer or stars or people connected closely with the films,” she says.
New to the festival this year is a Saturday night awards ceremony that will recognize those filmmakers who are dedicated to making this region a hub for great film making. The award presentations will be followed by a party at neighboring Sabai Asian restaurant.
Another important aspect of the FilmDayton weekend is the educational component — the organization works year-round to encourage film making in Dayton.
An opening “Pitch It!” session on Friday night allows aspiring filmmakers or folks who have a great idea for a story to pitch their ideas to a panel of experts from Dayton and Los Angeles. It’s slated to be held at the Black Box Improv theater downtown.
“The audience gets to listen and decide what they like and the panel will provide feedback after each pitch — American Idol style,” says Cooper, who says the winning pitch will win both a cash prize and professional screenwriting software to help develop the idea.
The five workshops range in subject from film history and web-based video to soundtracks.
“The workshops are great for filmmakers in the industry looking to expand their knowledge, but also a great experience for the movie lover who enjoys the DVD extras and learning what happens behind the scenes,” Cooper says.
Jonathan McNeal, who manages The Neon, Dayton’s downtown movie theater, says film festivals have become popular because films “come in all shapes and sizes and can appeal to different audiences depending on the work.”
“Film is a collaborative craft often referred to as ‘The Ultimate Art Form’ because it can combine so many mediums in one piece of work — photography, design, performance, choreography,” he says. ” People like movies!”
Cooper, who is overseeing her first Festival for the organization, says the weekend not only showcases great films from a wide variety of genres, but it also makes it clear why the Miami Valley is a hub of creative talent in film and production.
“There has definitely been things happening here long before FilmDayton came into existence,” she says. “What FilmDayton does is harness the energy of the great creative talent and put a spotlight on it for the rest of the community to see. Together we can do a lot more!”
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