March 04, 2010

Big Muddy Film Festival winners announced

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A film that looks at the history of social and civil rights activist Father Michael Pfleger was the top documentary film at this year’s 32nd annual Big Muddy Film Festival held at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

“Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger,” a 58-minute film directed and co-produced by Chicago filmmaker Bob Hercules, looks at the issues of racism in the Catholic Church, the role of priests in today’s society, and Pfleger’s use of the media.

“Big Muddy is a pretty major film festival. I’m absolutely thrilled to win the best documentary award,” Hercules said. “To be included in the festival is an honor. To win best documentary is a double honor.”

The film festival -- the oldest and largest student-run film festival in the country -- ran Feb. 19-28, highlighting 50 juried films in four categories: animation, documentary, experimental and narrative. The festival began in 1979 and remains one of the oldest film festivals affiliated with a university.

Michele Torre, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Cinema and Photography and festival adviser, was pleased with this year’s event and with the quality of films presented.

Festival attendance was high, with 100 people attending the showcase featuring 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. A record crowd of 131 people attended the closing “Best of Fest” at the Liberty Theater in Murphysboro on Sunday.

“We thought we had really good films but the jurors really confirmed that,” Torre said. “They said they were impressed and inspired by the films they saw. They were impressed with the quality of films we had in the festival and deciding which films should win wasn’t an easy task.”

Hercules said “Radical Disciple” is a film project started in 2001 by David Axelrod, now a senior adviser to President Barack Obama. Axelrod was a big fan of Pfleger and wanted to make his own independent film, said Hercules, who met Axelrod four years later when the two worked together on another project. Axelrod initially asked Hercules if he would help him finish the film. Hercules eventually completed the film, including additional shooting and all editing, as Axelrod became busy with Obama’s campaign.

Hercules also credits Melissa Sterne, the film’s editor and co-producer, who helped in shaping the film.

Hercules said he was always attracted to Pfleger’s work, particularly his strong stance against racism.

“I guess I have always been attracted to agitators; people in society who are there to wake us up and think about things,” he said.

In making the film, Hercules said he found Pfleger to be a stark contrast to the firebrand many might recall from a video clip aired during the 2008 election. Pfleger, who is white, has been priest of the all-black St. Sabina parish since 1981.

“Unfortunately, that is how some people know him. They don’t know the real Father Pfleger,” said Hercules, who spent a lot of time with Pfleger during filming and found him “very quiet, almost unassuming in a funny way, and kind of modest.”

“One thing I learned on a one-to-one basis is he is a very gentle soul; a quite thoughtful, gentle soul,” Hercules said. “He’s incredibly charismatic and a wonderful person to watch because he’s entertaining and very captivating.”

Hercules said his biggest hope for the film is that it is “used as a tool for social action and sparks discussion and debate. If people don’t agree with it, at least it sparks a discussion about the issues the film brings up.”

Danielle Williamson, a junior in cinema and photography from Roscoe, was a festival coordinator and said she believes the festival went really well.

“We found a system that works and we want to improve on it next year,” she said.

She and Torre emphasized the important contributions of students and graduate assistants in helping the festival run. The festival also continued its tradition of community outreach, with screenings at various locations in Cairo, Carbondale, Cobden, and Murphysboro. There were also outreach workshops at Shawnee Community College.

Those efforts “definitely paved a path for the future,” Williamson said.

Event organizers are working on plans to present a “Best of the Fest” screening in Vienna in April.

A complete listing of results is available at

The 2010 Big Muddy Film Festival winning films, director, and run time are:

Best Documentary Film

  • “Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger,” directed by Bob Hercules, USA, 88 minutes.

Best Narrative Film

  • “Five Dollars,” directed by Clay Jeter, USA, 18 minutes.

Best Experimental Film

  • “Penumbra,” directed by Kimberly McLaughlin, USA, 6 minutes.

Best Animation Film

  • “Let’s Pollute,” directed by Geefwee Boedoe, USA, 6 minutes.

Honorable Mention Films

  • Documentary -- “Too Soon, Too Late,” directed by Adrianne Finelli, USA.
  • Narrative -- “Educating Cooper,” directed by Bryan Litt, USA, 15 minutes.

John Michaels Film Award Winner

  • “Worker’s Republic,” directed by Andrew Friend, USA, 60 minutes.

John Michaels Film Award Honorable Mention

  • “Raging Grannies,” directed by Pam Walton, USA, 30 minutes.
  • “Shooting Beauty,” directed by Courtney Bent and George Kachadorian.

Audience Choice Award

  • “The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club,” a 2009 documentary directed by Amanda Pope, USA, 64 minutes.

Spirit of Costume Award

  • “Tales from the Catholic Church of Elvis!” costume designer, Alayna Falco; film directed by Mercy Malick and Michael Traynor, USA, 86 minutes.