February 15, 2010

Big Muddy Film Festival opens Feb. 19

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Good filmmaking doesn’t just happen along the East or West coast.

The 32nd annual Big Muddy Film Festival at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will highlight the works of artists from throughout the country, including the Midwest, during its 10-day run, Friday, Feb. 19, through Sunday, Feb. 28.

Two of the festival jurors are from the Midwest, and the directors of five non-competition films also come from the Midwest, said festival adviser Michele Torre, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Cinema and Photography.

“It highlights to the community how rich of an area this is culturally,” she said. “It also is encouraging to students here because it means they don’t necessarily have to go to Hollywood to become a filmmaker. This is becoming a booming place for film production because it is so much cheaper than Los Angeles.”

This year’s festival theme is “Getting Back to our Roots.” Started in 1979, the film festival remains one of the oldest affiliated with a university in the nation. The festival features juried films in four categories: animation, documentary, experimental, and narrative.

Fifty juried films comprise this year’s event. There are also 11 non-competition films, including the Oscar-nominated, “Burma VJ,” a look at video journalists trying to show the country’s military regime in spite of Myanmar’s government. A winner of more than 40 international awards, the film is an Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature.

“We’re really proud to be bringing that to Carbondale,” she said. “For our Oscar fans, this is probably the only chance there will be to see it in Southern Illinois.”

The festival features six foreign competition films and about seven international non-competition films, Torre said.

The festival also features several special events and showcases. The Southern Illinois Dance Company will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 19, prior to the festival screening of the animated film, “Sita Sings the Blues.” The performance, in Pulliam Hall’s Furr Auditorium, relates directly to the art of cinema. Admission is $5.

Another showcase features the 1920 silent film, “Within Our Gates,” by Metropolis native Oscar Micheaux, the first African American to produce a feature-length film, according to Internet Movie Database. The film is viewed as a “powerful rebuttal” to D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film, “Birth of a Nation,” by “depicting the violence of Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan,” according to the Big Muddy Film Festival Web site. The group “Stace England and the Salt Kings” will provide musical accompaniment. The showcase is at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 20, at Thomas Elementary School, 1025 N. Wall St., Carbondale.

“We’re proud to once again be offering the Big Muddy Film Festival for the enjoyment and enlightenment of the University and regional communities,” said Gary P. Kolb, dean of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. “We hope people from throughout Southern Illinois will take time to enjoy some of the wonderful films and the presentations of this year's jurors. The Big Muddy is an enduring tradition that for more than 30 years has brought quality international film experiences to our region. It is one of Southern Illinois’ cultural gems and we're sure this year’s programming won't disappoint.”

A listing of festival films, show times and venues is available at http://bigmuddyfilm.com/32nd-2010/Allfiles/home.html.

“I’m really excited about the festival,” Torre said. “My students have done a fabulous job. Despite the fact we had a small budget this year we really have pulled it together. I think we are going to have a good festival.”

The festival received more than 140 submissions. Because of the quality of submissions, event organizers were selective in the films chosen for the festival, Torre said. The number of submissions is down slightly this year, which Torre said is a sign of the economic pressures filmmakers also face. But the festival had great luck in that many filmmakers want their films shown, she said.

“It’s great how many of the films we were able to get into the festival this year, especially the non-competition films, that highlight the theme, which is getting back to our roots,” said festival coordinator Danielle Williamson, a junior in cinema and photography from Roscoe. She credits the work of “amazing graduate assistants” in helping put the final touches on the festival.

This is Williamson’s second year as a festival coordinator, and she said she feels the energy and comfort level going into this year’s event.

“I learned a lot last year and that carried over this year. I feel really good about the festival and I’m glad to be a part of it again. It’s good for the community,” she said.

Filmmakers Kevin Willmott, Sasha Waters-Freyer, and Kristin M. Burke are serving as jurors. Each of the jurors is participating in juror presentations during the festival. The jurors’ shows and presentations are free.

Walter C. Metz, associate professor and department chair, said he’s proud of the students, volunteers, and faculty advisers “who work so hard to put on the Big Muddy Film Festival every year.”

Because the festival is completely student-organized and run, it is a “tremendous example of service learning,” he said.

“Film schools struggle to deliver real-world experience in the film industry; this festival is one of the shining examples in the United States of providing students practical experience working with professionals in the film festival market, a crucial yet unfortunately neglected sector of academic filmmaking,” said Metz, who came to SIUC last summer from Montana State University’s School of Film and Photography.

“The Big Muddy Film Festival was one of the ways I knew of the importance of SIUC before arriving here on campus: my former graduate students and faculty colleagues continue to submit their film work to this festival because of its sterling reputation,” he said.

Eight documentary films vie 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 of fine arts degree while here and was involved in community organizing and activism.

Another special showcase focuses on “Queer and Gender Issues.” The six competition films in the showcase feature works from each of the festival’s categories.

The festival also will feature a collection of non-competition films featured in an African film documentary festival in St. Louis, Torre said.

At 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 21, the SIUC Improvisation Unit, under the direction of Ron Coulter, a lecturer of percussion studies in the University’s School of Music, performs at the Old Baptist Foundation on campus.

Festival organizers also are helping assist Haitian earthquake relief efforts. A documentary series that runs from 4 to 6 p.m. in Morris Library’s John C. Guyon Auditorium includes the film, “Poto Mitan,” a documentary about Haitian women. Proceeds from that showcase will go to the Haitian relief fund, Torre said.

The festival is continuing its tradition of community outreach, with screenings at the Longbranch Coffeehouse (100 E. Jackson, St., Carbondale), Interfaith Center 913 S. Illinois Ave., Carbondale), Yellow Moon Café (110 N. Front St., Cobden), Rustle Hill Winery (8595 U.S. Highway 51, Cobden), and Ace of Cups, 1007 Washington Ave., Cairo.

All of the off-campus screenings, except for the “Best of the Fest,” are free. The “Best of the Fest,” at the Liberty Theater, 1333 S. Walnut St., Murphysboro, closes out the festival at 7 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 28. Admission is $5,

The festival is also doing two outreach workshops at Shawnee Community College beginning at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 24, and at 8 a.m., Feb. 27.

The festival has room for people who would like to get involved. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the festival by email at filmalternatives@gmail.com. A Facebook page, “Big Muddy Festival,” will feature stills from a variety of films, photographs from different festival activities, and comments from visiting filmmakers on their films.

Tickets for the competition shows at venues on campus are $3 per showcase. The special showcases are $5 apiece. A festival pass for competition films only is $40, and a festival pass that includes the special screenings is $52.