February 08, 2008

Judges selected for Big Muddy Film Festival

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Three internationally recognized film artists will serve as jurors for the 30th annual Big Muddy Film Festival later this month at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Usama Alshaibi, Jonathan Caouette and Naomi Uman each bring distinctive artistic and cultural backgrounds to judging films that will compete for recognition and possible cash prizes. The festival runs Feb. 21 through March 2 at various venues on campus, in Carbondale and around Southern Illinois.

The film festival — one of the oldest affiliated with a university — features juried films in four categories: animation, documentary, experimental and narrative.

An updated festival screening schedule is at http://www.bigmuddyfilm.com/30th-2008/schedule.htm.

This year's festival will showcase a record 78 films. There were more than 280 competition submissions from more than 20 countries. There is also a record number of international films in the festival this year, said Hong Zhou, a visiting assistant professor in SIUC's Department of Cinema and Photography, who is coordinating the event.

"This year's judges are some of the most distinctive working artists out there in their respective fields," Zhou said.

All three judges represent the "spirit of grass-roots independent film making" that identifies the film festival, he said.

Lindsay Greer, a second-year graduate student in cinema and photography from Clare, Mich., is pleased with the films, and the judges who comprise the jury. Greer is one of the student organizers, and also on the pre-screening committee

"I think we have some strong films," she said.

Alshaibi's work in more than 30 short films and videos is widely known. He returned to his native Iraq four years ago to reunite with his family after nearly 24 years and shot his first feature documentary, "Nice Bombs." The film captured the Chicago Underground Film Festival's Award for Best Documentary in 2006, and has its broadcast premiere on The Sundance Channel at 5:30 p.m., March 19. He attended the University of Iowa, and earned a bachelor's degree in film and video from Columbia College in Chicago in 1997. A freelance producer, director, videographer and editor, Alshaibi is also a radio host and producer for Chicago Public Radio's Vocalo.org.

A filmmaker since he was 11 years old, Caouette starred in, directed, and edited his 2003 feature debut, "Tarnation." The critically acclaimed film focuses on his family life while growing up in Texas. Caouette mixed mediums — including super-8 film and low-quality home video footage – in making a very creative film, Zhou said.

"Tarnation" earned a Best Documentary Award at the Los Angeles IFP/West Film Festival, The National Society of Film Critics Award, and the Sutherland Trophy at the London Film Festival. Caouette, who is also an actor, is currently directing "All Tomorrow's Parties."

Uman's 16 mm film work includes short films "Removed," "Private Movie," "Hand Eye Coordination," along with "Leche," and Mala Leche." Her work has shown at venues including The Sundance Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival. Uman, who lives in Mexico City, earned a bachelor's degree from in medieval studies from Columbia University, and a master's degree in fine arts from the California Institute of the Arts. Uman also received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002, and is a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow.