February 18, 2009

31st Big Muddy Film Festival runs Feb. 19-March 1

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Another strong field of independent films comprises the 31st edition of the Big Muddy Film Festival at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The student-run film festival begins Thursday, Feb. 19, and continues through March 1 at various venues on campus, in Carbondale, and in Cobden and Murphysboro. The festival, which started in 1979, remains one of the oldest film festivals affiliated with a university.

The festival features a record number of juried films -- more than 80 films screened over 11 days. The festival features juried films in four categories: animation, documentary, experimental and narrative.

"The Big Muddy Film Festival is the oldest and largest student-run film festival in the country,” said Gary P. Kolb, dean of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. “It brings international recognition to the University and expands the cultural vista of Southern Illinois. It also provides a wonderful opportunity for our students to gain hands-on experience running a professional festival.

“Each year the Big Muddy engages the regional community by screening films at venues throughout the area. This kind of outreach is an important part of the mission of SIUC and the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts,” he said.

Among the highlights of this year’s festival are performances by the Southern Illinois Dance Company before festival screenings in Pulliam Hall’s Furr Auditorium. The performances relate directly to the art of cinema. The first performance at 7 p.m. Thursday opens the festival, and is free, although donations are accepted.

“From there we have assorted competition and non-competition films,” said Damon J. Taylor, one of the festival’s coordinators. “It’s a grab bag of all different genres.”

A second performance by Southern Illinois Dance Company -- complete with a different collection of films and dance performance variations -- is Feb. 24. Admission to that event is $4.

The festival again features non-competition films, midnight movies, and children’s movies. A listing of films, show times and venues is available at http://bigmuddyfilm.com/31st-2009/films.html.

The festival received more than 200 submissions.

“I think an indicator of the quality of the films is the number of films they have chosen to show to the jurors,” said festival founder Michael D. Covell, a retired assistant professor in SIUC’s Department of Cinema and Photography. “That is saying the pre-screening committees thought there was pretty high quality work in all categories.”

The festival is “one of the signature programs here in the college,” Associate Dean Deborah Tudor said. “It allows students an opportunity to get real-world, hands-on experience in organizing a film festival.”

Students are involved in logistics, public relations, issuing the call for entries, setting up the screening and film venues, approaching and working with judges and also working with filmmakers. It is the kind of work that looks good on a graduate’s resume.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to see how this type of cinematheque operation or festival operation works,” Tudor said. “It gives them a chance to meet a lot of filmmakers who they might not meet otherwise.”

Award-winning filmmakers Keya Lea Horiuchi, Wendell B. Harris Jr., and Ines Sommer are serving as jurors. Each of the jurors is participating in juror presentations during the festival.

A section on the festival’s Web site provides a link for participating filmmakers to introduce their films and provide additional information. It is located at http://www.dtoasm.org/bmbb/viewforum.php?f=2.

Danielle Williamson, another festival coordinator, said the experimental films in this year’s festival include works manipulated by scratching, painting and bleaching. Many of the narrative films are action-based and without much dialogue.

“It is all interpretive, or what you see is telling the story,” said Williamson, a sophomore in cinema and photography from Roscoe, formerly of Rockton. Taylor is a senior in cinema and photography from Belleville.

Seventeen documentary films are competing for the John Michaels Film Award. The category honors films that reflect and increase awareness on social, political and environmental issues. The award honors the late John Michaels, an SIUC graduate student who earned his master’s of fine arts while here and was involved in community organizing and activism, Covell said.

“Since we’ve started the John Michaels category we have received a lot of documentaries in the last eight or nine years that are really relevant to what is happening today,” he said. “That’s important. They have been pretty powerful.”

Those films include:

  • “Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai” -- Filmmakers Lisa Merton and Alan Dater tell the story of environmentalist and political activist Wangari Maathai of Kenya, who founded the Green Belt Movement. She is the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • “Renaissance Village” -- Gabe Chasnoff and Nti Upstream take a critical look at the home of 3,000 evacuees, called “FEMA’s largest post-Katrina trailer park,” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Cost in August 2005.
  • “Morristown: In the Air and Sun” -- Anne Lewis chronicles “the working class response to globalization and issues of immigration, factory flight and organized demand for economic justice,” according to event organizers.

Non-competition films showing this year at Kerasotes University Place 8, 1370 E. Main St., Carbondale, include the children’s film, “Hook,” and mature films “City of Lost Children,” and “Persepolis.”

A film memorial to the late Paul Newman featuring “Cool Hand Luke,” is at 4:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 21, in the Student Center Auditorium.

The festival has room for people who would like to get involved. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the festival via email at mailto:filmalternatives@gmail.com.

“The people who have worked on the festival have done a wonderful job. They’ve worked really hard and you can honor their work and the independent filmmakers who sent their films by attending the festival,” Covell said.

Tickets for shows at venues on campus are $4 per person. Tickets for shows at Kerasotes University 8 Place Theater (1370 E. Main St., Carbondale), and the March 1 "Retrospective Showcase" and "Best of Fest," at Liberty Theater (1333 S. Walnut St., Murphysboro) are $5. Screenings at the Longbranch Coffeehouse (100 E. Jackson St., Carbondale) the Interfaith Center (913 S. Illinois Ave., Carbondale), the Big Muddy Independent Media Center, Yellow Moon Cafe in Cobden, and juror presentations at the SIUC Student Center Auditorium are free.

Two separate ticket packages are available. An all-event pass for all films except those at University 8 Place Theater is $25 per person. Covell created a second option, "Bring Your Buddy to Big Muddy," which provides an all-event pass for two people for $40.