January 30, 2009

31st annual Big Muddy Film Festival opens Feb. 19

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- As the pace picks up ahead of next month’s Big Muddy Film Festival, founder Michael D. Covell says two key components are behind the event’s continuing success.

“When the festival started with the original group of students, I told them as long as the community and students supported and helped with the festival it would survive,” said Covell, a retired assistant professor in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Department of Cinema and Photography. “That’s what’s happened. I think that says a lot for the students who have been involved and it says a lot for the people in the community.”

The student-run film festival celebrates its 31st year and remains one of the oldest film festivals affiliated with a university. The 11-day festival is set for Feb. 19 through March 1 at various venues on campus, in Carbondale and around Southern Illinois.

The festival includes juried films in four categories -- animation, documentary, experimental and narrative. The festival has about 164 entries so far, although organizers expect to receive late submissions. The extended entry deadline is Feb. 14.

Festival organizers held two pre-screening sessions and another is set this weekend. The pre-screening committee is comprised of faculty, students and community members and determines the festival’s juried films.

The Department of Cinema and Photography is within the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. Another primary supporter since the festival’s start is The Illinois Arts Council, Covell said.

There are some new additions to this year’s festival -- including a pre-screening for high school students, and a live performance by the Southern Illinois Dance Company before one of the festival screenings in Furr Auditorium inside Pulliam Hall. The festival also features non-competition film categories, midnight movies and children’s movies.

A screening of selected films from past festivals is set for 7 to 9 p.m., Feb. 7, at the Yellow Moon Café in Cobden.

Additional festival information is available at http://bigmuddyfilm.com/31st-2009/index.html. The Web site features forums and bulletin boards. For more information, e-mail the festival at info@bigmuddyfilm.com.

Festival organizers have selected two of the three judges.

SIUC cinema and photography majors Danielle Williamson and Damon J. Taylor are serving as this year’s festival coordinators. The entries show a continuing tradition of strong documentary and narrative films. The festival is again attracting a large number of international films. Films from Spain, France, Germany, Canada and Cambodia are among the entries received.

Williamson, a sophomore, is the daughter of Mary and Wayne Williamson of Roscoe, formerly of Rockton. Taylor, a senior, is the son of Sue Taylor-Reiman and Dale Taylor, both of Belleville. Taylor is a transfer from Southwestern Illinois College.

Other festival committee members include Rick Leipold, a senior in cinema and photography, Rafal Kos, a senior in journalism, and Samuel W. Shirley, a sophomore in cinema and photography.

The John Michaels Film Award, which honors films that reflect and increase awareness on social, political and environmental issues, returns this year. Community activists involved in community organizations choose the award winner, Covell said.

There is a drop in entries from the previous few years, but Taylor points to an increased number of film festivals, along with the economy, as possible reasons.

“Everyone is holding back with how much they are spending,” Williamson said. “That plays into everything, and I think arts is feeling it the most.”

Williamson notes there are “countless” inaugural film festivals this year. She and Taylor both note the Internet’s influence, including several online festivals.

“It’s interesting that technology has spread that way. But there is nothing like sitting in a theater full of people and watching something and enjoying it and experiencing it together,” she said.

Even the pre-screening work enables those involved to make new friendships and “get to know some people we may not have otherwise gotten to know,” Williamson said.