March 03, 2009

Winning films named for Big Muddy festival

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A film that looks at chemical contaminants in the human body was the top documentary film at this year’s 31st annual Big Muddy Film Festival held at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

“Homo Toxicus,” an 88-minute film directed and produced by Carole Poliquin, seeks answers from corporations and governments about the sometimes toxic chemicals found inside the bodies of adults, children and infants. Poliquin started with her own blood tests to look at links between the toxic substances and increased health issues of cancer, and problems with fertility and hyperactivity, according to the movie’s Web site.

The film festival -- the oldest and largest student-run film festival in the country -- ran Feb. 19 through March 1, highlighting more than 80 juried films in four categories: animation, documentary, experimental and narrative. The festival, which began in 1979, remains one of the oldest film festivals affiliated with a university.

“VIKO,” a 17-minute film by Larysa Kondracki, received Best Narrative Film honors. Best Experimental Film went to Joe Taylor for his 17-minute film, “Dead Lonesome.” German filmmaker Vuk Jevremovic received the Best Animation Film Award for his six-minute film, “Patience of the Memory.”

Kondracki, the writer director for “VIKO,” said she is thrilled with the award. The film looks at the epidemic of sex-trafficking in Europe, depicting a teenage boy in the trafficking industry. A Canadian-born Ukrainian, Kondracki said the topic is very resonant for her. She said she first heard about the sex-trafficking epidemic while finishing the master of fine arts directing program at Columbia University. In her film research, her interviews included high-level officials with the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union, victims, and workers with non-governmental organizations associated with the U.N.

“What became clear was that while it is integral to represent the point of view of the victim in order to raise awareness of trafficking, it is only by examining the root causes that we might be able to actually help stop the trade,” Kondracki said. “I have always been a firm believer that the media, and narrative film in particular, has the power to do that. And I’m thrilled to hear of that reception at the Big Muddy Film Festival.”

Damon J. Taylor, one of the festival’s coordinators, believes the event went really well.

“I’ve heard a lot of good feedback about the showcases,” he said.

“Viko was a well-shot narrative,” he said. “Dead Lonesome is just visually stunning. I saw it four or five times and saw something new every time.”

Taylor also heard comments that the documentaries screened “were among the best they had seen,” he said. “I think part of that has to do with the content, and that the people who are making these films have a passion for what they are doing.”

Helping coordinate the festival proved to be “an invaluable learning experience,” he said.

The judges awarded $500 apiece to winning films in the five categories, including the John Michael Film Award.

Award-winning filmmakers Keya Lea Horiuchi, Wendell B. Harris Jr., and Ines Sommer served as jurors.

Michael D. Covell, a retired assistant professor in SIUC’s Department of Cinema and Photography, returned this year as faculty adviser.

The festival might be officially over, but Covell said the group plans to soon announce special screenings of some of the films.

Covell heard very positive responses to issues covered in “The Women of Brukman,” which captured the John Michaels Film Award. The film played at the Interfaith Center in Carbondale before about 125 people. The film focuses on the problems caused by the global economy for working class people, he said.

Sommer has arranged for an internship this summer for one of the festival’s student volunteers, Covell said.

Danielle J. Williamson, another festival coordinator, said it was nice to sit back and listen to responses of about 125 audience members during the “Best of the Fest,” Sunday at The Liberty Theater in Murphysboro.

“Responding to the films while they are watching them gives me a sense of joy,” said Williamson, who with Taylor started working on the festival last fall.

“It made me feel happy to hear and to see people enjoying themselves,” she said. “That’s been my biggest concern throughout this whole festival; are people happy, are they having a good time? Festivals are there for people to enjoy themselves and to network and socialize with people interested in the same things. It made me feel real good when I heard people reacting positively to the festival and knowing they were having a good time.”

Covell is happy to see festival volunteers, such as Taylor and Williamson, “have that level of commitment and energy for the festival.” He is also pleased with the level of continuing community support, which shows the festival retains its meaning and importance to the local community.

Taylor, a senior in cinema and photography from Belleville, plans to help with organizing next year’s festival starting next fall. Williamson, a sophomore in cinema and photography from Roscoe, formerly of Rockton, will be involved again next year.

A complete listing of results is available at

The 2009 Big Muddy Film Festival winning films, director, and run time are:

Best Documentary Film

  • “Homo Toxicus,” directed by Carole Poliquin, USA, 88 minutes.

Best Narrative Film

  • “VIKO,” directed by Larysa Kondracki, Canada, 17 minutes.

Best Experimental Film

  • “Dead Lonesome,” directed by Joe Taylor, USA, 17 minutes.

Best Animation Film

  • “Patience of the Memory,” directed by Vuk Jevremovic, Germany, 6 minutes.

Honorable Mention Films

• Documentary -- “Behind the Wheel,” directed by Nat Dinga, USA, 89 minutes.

• Narrative -- “Off Off Broadway,” directed by Jeff Huston, USA, 80 minutes.

• Experimental -- “A Bump was a Pearl,” directed by Johanna Hibbard, USA, 3 minutes.

• Animation -- “Token Hunchback,” directed by Timothy Reckart, USA, 6 minutes.

John Michaels Film Award Winner

  • “The Women of Brukman,” directed by Isaac Isitan, Canada, 90 minutes

• Honorable Mention: “A City to Yourself,” directed by Nicole MacDonald, USA, 25 minutes.