December 17, 2007

Big Muddy festival draws more international films

by Pete Rosenbery

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CARBONDALE, Ill. — With already more than 220 submissions to review, the next two months are going to be busy for Big Muddy Film Festival organizers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

One of the oldest film festivals affiliated with a university, the Big Muddy Film Festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary. The festival is set for Feb. 22 through March 2 at various venues on campus, in Carbondale and around Southern Illinois. The festival includes juried films in four categories — animation, documentary, experimental and narrative.

Hong Zhou, a visiting assistant professor in SIUC's Department of Cinema and Photography, is coordinating the event. He is pleased the festival has already received approximately 220 entries. The extended entry submission deadline is Jan. 4.

Film festival finalist selection will be finished by Jan. 25, Zhou said. Festival organizers are in the process of selecting judges.

The Department of Cinema and Photography is within the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts.

"We're really excited that our student-run festival has such longevity," said Deborah Tudor, associate professor and department chair — who along with Zhou, is also serving as faculty adviser.

"Thirty years is an amazing run of success. Professor Zhou is doing a great job this year, building on the work of the previous coordinators, Mike Covell and Sally Shafto," she said. "We have more foreign entries from the widest range of countries ever. His leadership is helping to ensure that the festival will be around for many years as a community event here in Carbondale."

Zhou came to SIUC this fall from Toronto, where he was a cinematographer/videographer/editor. A filmmaker who has a teaching background in both Toronto and at Webster University in St. Louis, Zhou said he has always been appreciative of the Big Muddy Film Festival.

"I'm particularly interested in this festival because it is very different from all the other festivals," he said. "Nowadays, other festivals are more or less commercialized, and more focused on stars, big names and how glamorous the event is going to be.

"I believe our festival is more focused on substance; we are focused on grassroots filmmaking and the film viewing experience," he said. "We try to encourage filmmakers at the very front line of filmmaking.

"We are also focused on getting the local community involved and enhancing their film viewing experience," he said. "We want the audience to get in touch with very fundamental basic filmmaking."

That passion for films is "why our festival stands out and has a good reputation," Zhou said.

With an increase in international film entries, Zhou wants to see the number of festival films shown increase from approximately 20 percent of submitted entries to 25 to 30 percent. The increased number also supports the efforts of filmmakers, an aspect not lost on Zhou and the pre-screening committee as they focus on the filmmakers and their work.

"We are receiving more diverse entries than we have before," he said. "We want to increase the chance of presenting a more diverse program. Because there are more international films we want to increase the festival's international presence, and this gives an opportunity to support the work of more filmmakers."

The pre-screening committee includes about 40 faculty, students and community members, each with a passion for cinema and the arts, Zhou said. At least four committee members view each entry.

Committee members viewed 100 entries from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Dec. 8. Another pre-screening session is set for mid-January, and Zhou isn't ruling out additional sessions as entries continue to come in.

The festival "is shaping up very well," Zhou said. "All the students and volunteers are working very hard and are enthusiastic."

Zhou and several committee members met last week to sort and catalog recent entries. The pre-screening process is going well, said Lindsay P. Greer, a second-year graduate student in cinema and photography from Clare, Mich. She is the daughter of Michael and Shelley Greer.

"There are definitely some good films," she said. "There's that diamond that makes the day worth it."

Additional information on this year's festival, or entry submission information, is available at The Web site features a complete history on the festival, including previous years' posters dating back to the first festival in the spring of 1979.


Prepping for the 2008 Big Muddy Film Festival — Event organizers sort through some of the more than 220 entries already received for the 2008 Big Muddy Film Festival, which celebrates its 30th year at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Feb. 22-March 2. Some of the members of the pre-screening committee are: (from left) Kyle G. Dean, a senior in Cinema and Photography, from New Lenox, the son of Judy Dean of Milwaukee, Wis., and James Dean of New Lenox; Kwang Woo Noh, a doctoral student in Mass Communication and Media Arts; Hong Zhou, a visiting assistant professor in SIUC's Department of Cinema and Photography; Evan M. Kimball, a senior in Cinema and Photography from Carbondale, and Lindsay P. Greer, a second-year graduate student in Cinema and Photography from Claire, Mich., the daughter of Michael and Shelley Greer.

Photo by Jeff Garner, University Communications