Last Tuesday night marked the closing evening of the Art Theater’s first annual New Art Film Festival. Over its six-day run, the festival showcased nearly a dozen feature length films and almost as many shorter features, including trailers for upcoming local films. All of the films were either filmed in Champaign-Urbana (or the greater central Illinois area) or were produced by C-U natives. Many of the films were previewed by Smile Politely last week.
Tuesday night was “Best of the Fest” night and featured a handful of incredibly strong local works. The evening began with two trailers -— Revolting, a film by Mike Boedicker, and Leading Ladies, by Erika Randall Beahm. During an interview panel session later in the evening, both films were discussed as candidates for potential runs at the Art.
Two stop-motion animation shorts were shown: It’s a Penguinful Life and Dr. Zond Controls the Weather by Thomas Nicol and Johnny Robinson, respectively. Both were present for the discussion panel. The first of these, It’s a Penguinful Life, was a short affair that was over almost as quickly as it began. It presented the jovial life of penguins with an abrupt twist, demonstrating the director’s knack for comic timing.
Johnny Robinson’s Dr. Zond Controls the Weather, though darker, was just as enjoyable to watch. The short follows the efforts of Dr. Zond in his attempt to build a machine to control the unpredictable weather patterns that are the result of climate change. Robinson’s creativity really comes through in the design and function of Zond’s machine as well as the background designs and landscapes. But it also presents a stark message about the optimism of creative, hard-working minds set against the nihilism of bureaucracies and the rich.
Proceed and Be Bold! (which was also shown Sunday evening) was the evening’s feature presentation. Although not a locally focused film, it was directed and produced by Laura Zinger, a UIUC alumna that was involved in the early years of Illini Film and Video. The film is a documentary about Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., a man who, at 40, decided to quit his job as an AT&T systems analyst and become a letter-press printer. He has since become a prominent figure in the artistic medium of printing, a professor at Indiana University, and something of a social/political activist and rabblerouser.
One of Kennedy’s works:
The film is particularly effective thanks to Kennedy’s infectious personality and positive outlook on his audacious (as it is often perceived) life choice. Zinger does an excellent job of exploring Kennedy’s work as a job and a career as well as his personal life and the opinions of his friends and family. Proceed is an incredibly fascinating film for these reasons. If you have ever considered that there is more to life than the 9-to-5 grind, then I cannot recommend this film enough to you.
Films aside, the “Best of the Fest” also explored what it means to be a filmmaker in central Illinois through its discussion panel, which was moderated by Jason Pankoke of C-U Confidential. Luke Boyce, co-producer of Leading Ladies, discussed in particular how digital advances have revolutionized independent filmmaking. Red System cameras were a popular topic of discussion, as they have allowed many independent filmmakers to produce high-quality works without being too incredibly expensive. Boyce mentioned how the Red System has really “leveled the playing fields” for film production but he also added, “You can use a Super 8 camera as long as the story is good.”
Johnny Robinson also discussed the Champaign Movie Makers group, of which he is a founder. Champaign Movie Makers currently has over 100 members and is growing. The group is intended for amateurs and professionals interested in learning more about the filmmaking process. The most valuable thing, according to Robinson, is getting people to work and learn together. “Films,” he said, “only happen when communities get together.”
The New Art Film Festival, over its six day run, offered a glimpse of the thriving filmmaking culture in Champaign-Urbana and established itself as, what I expect to be, a great new local tradition.