March 12, 2008

Big Muddy Film Festival winners named

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A retrospective view of America's most notorious prison, the men once housed there and its transformation into a tourist mecca with more than one million visitors annually was the top documentary at this year's 30th annual Big Muddy Film Festival held at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

"Alcatraz Reunion," a 73-minute film produced and directed by John Paget of Buffalo, N.Y., tells the story of an alumni homecoming of convicts and correctional officers at the 70th anniversary of "The Rock."

The festival — one of the oldest film festivals affiliated with a university — ran Feb. 22 through March 2, highlighting 78 films culled from more than 300 competition submissions from more than 20 countries.

The festival was a "resounding success," said interim Mass Communication and Media Arts Dean Gary P. Kolb.

"The breadth and quality of the films entered and exhibited was outstanding," he said. "Marking the 30th anniversary of the festival, this year pointed to great promise for continued quality and growth. Our jurors were outstanding and the support and attendance from the community in challenging weather was particularly gratifying. We can't wait for next year!"

"Empathy," a 39-minute film by Israeli filmmaker Adi Refaeli, received Best Narrative Film honors. Canadian filmmaker Eduardo Menz's 12-minute piece, "Las Mujeres de Pinochet," received Best Experimental Film honors.

The festival marked the U.S. premiere for "Alcatraz Reunion," said Paget, who is "extremely honored" by the award.

"It is especially meaningful to receive the award from a festival with such venerable tradition as Big Muddy," he said.

The film was one of 29 documentaries highlighting the internationally known competition. Paget noted the expansion and growth of the documentary film genre in recent years — both in its art and in the sheer number of films being made.

"Recently, news headlines worldwide carried the story that the U.S. now imprisons one in every 100 adults, and that our incarceration rate is No. 1 in the world," Paget said. "'Alcatraz Reunion' never makes overt arguments or political statements — it is very much a character film and sometimes it is even comical — but I hope that while it is entertaining it also works on a subversive level, provoking audiences to think about our culture, crime and prisons."

Paget hopes "Alcatraz Reunion," is screened at several more film festivals, and that it finds its way to television.

"This honor will really help bring the film to a wider audience," he said.

The film provides an interesting look at one aspect of society, said first-year film festival coordinator Hong Zhou.

"What is unique about this film is the prison symbolically mirrors both sides of society," Zhou said. "The film reveals how former prisoners transformed their lives decades after they left the prison. It also shows how society reconciles and heals itself."

The 11-day festival was shortened by one day due to an opening-day Feb. 21 ice storm, and films set to be shown that night were rescheduled to later in the festival. The Feb. 22 opening attracted a large audience and helped kick off a successful event, Zhou said. Approximately 1,400 people viewed the 78 films at various venues on campus and in theaters throughout the region.

Zhou is a visiting assistant professor in SIUC's Department of Cinema and Photography. He praised the enthusiastic efforts of the roughly 50 graduate and undergraduate students in putting the festival together – work that began in August. Students were able to interact with jurors and filmmakers during the festival.

"They were able to ask many questions to jurors during and after their presentations," Zhou said. "It's very beneficial to students' experiences because they are well-known, accomplished and critically acclaimed artists."

A complete listing of results is available at

The 2008 Big Muddy Film Festival winning films, director, and run time are:

Best Documentary Film

  • "Alcatraz Reunion," directed by John Paget, USA, 73 minutes.

Best Narrative Film

  • "Empathy," directed by Adi Refaeli, Israel, 39 minutes.

Best Experimental Film

  • "Las Mujeres de Pinochet," directed by Eduardo Menz, Canada, 12 minutes.

Honorable Mention Films

Narrative Feature — "Commit," directed by Mickey Blaine, USA, 90 minutes.

Experimental — "The End of My Enchilada," directed by Alexandria Searls, USA, 3 minutes.

Narrative Short — "Li! The Patterns of the Nature," directed by John Campbell, USA, 9 minutes.

John Michaels Film Award Winner

  • "Considering Democracy: 8 Things to Ask Your Representative," directed by Keya Lea Horiuchi, USA, 59 minutes.

Second place — "Standing Silent Nation," directed by Suree Towfighnia, USA, 53 minutes.

Third place — "Third Ward TX," directed by Andrew Garrison, USA, 57 minutes.

Honorable Mention — "Cartoneros," directed by Ernesto Livon-Grosman, Argentina, 60 minutes.

Audience Choice Honors

Over 30 ballots

Animation — "Everything Will Be OK," directed by Don Hertzfeldt, USA, 17 minutes.

Experimental — "Fracas," directed by Eduardo Menz, Canada, 5 minutes.

Narrative Short — First place – "Damn the Past," directed by Juli Kang, USA, 29 minutes; second place – "The Job," directed by Jonathan Browning, USA, 4 minutes.

Documentary — "Standing Silent Nation," directed by Suree Towfighnia, USA, 53 minutes.

Under 30 ballots

Documentary — "Gulf War Syndrome," directed by Gary Null, USA, 113 minutes.

Narrative Feature — (tie) "My Way," directed by Emsi Primo and J.A. Salgot, Spain, 105 minutes, and "Commit," directed by Mickey Blaine, USA, 90 minutes.