January 20, 2011

Judges named for Big Muddy Film Festival

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- For more than three decades, the Big Muddy Film Festival has regularly sought to bring the best of independent filmmaking to the region, and expand creative opportunities for students.

The 33rd annual installment will continue the tradition when it opens next month at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Three award-winning filmmakers will bring their expertise and insight as jurors for the festival, which runs Feb. 18-27 at various venues on campus, in Carbondale, and around Southern Illinois. Each of the judges will hold workshops or critiques along with screening and discussing their films.

Joshua Jones, Kerry Laitala, and Shanti Thakur will judge films that will compete for recognition and prizes.

“We’ve got some amazing films this year,” said Michele Torre, festival adviser and an assistant professor in the Department of Cinema and Photography. “I’m happy with the quality of films we’ve received and I’m confident we will have an excellent lineup.”

Started in 1979, the film festival remains one of the oldest film festivals affiliated with a university in the nation. The festival features juried films in four categories: animation, documentary, experimental, and narrative.

There will be 66 juried films in this year’s event, in addition to non-competition films showcased throughout the festival. Work continues on finalizing times and locations for the film workshops, and other festival events.

There were more than 200 submissions, a 68 percent increase over last year, Torre said. Film submissions came from more than 24 countries, including Iraq, Kurdistan, Luxemburg, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, China.

Torre credits the increase in submissions to earlier registration and the work of three graduate students in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts -- Silvia Dadian, Derek W. Smith, and Deron Williams.

Festival judges have an array of interests, including animation, narrative and experimental films.

Jones, an assistant professor in the School of Cinema and Interactive Media at DePaul University, is known for his animation work, including work for Will Vinton Studios on stop motion TV shows, “The PJ’s” and “Gary and Mike,” in addition to independent films, music videos, commercials, and feature films, according to his biography. Jones will host a workshop on character modeling in animation, in addition to screening samples from his past work and a current work in progress, Torre said.

Jones earned his bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University’s Department of Computer Graphic Arts and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts in the Department of Animation and Digital Arts.

Laitala, an experimental filmmaker, manipulates film through hand-processing to “reshape ‘found’ materials into 16mm and 35 mm handcrafted short films that embody and celebrate the phenomenon of motion pictures that made the early cinema going experience awe-inspiring,” according to her biography. She earned her bachelor’s degree in film and photography from the Massachusetts College of Art, and a Master’s of Fine Arts in Film from San Francisco Art Institute. Her 2003 film, “Out of the Ether,” earned top honors in the experimental category at the 2004 Big Muddy Film Festival.

Laitala’s workshop, “Lightstruck,” will deal with hand-processed film. The workshop will be open to a limited number of participants, and there will be a small fee for supplies. Students in the workshop will expose and hand-develop their film for editing and screening during the festival. Laitala will be screening a variety of films including some of her 3-D work, Torre said.

Thakur is an award winning filmmaker widely known for her documentary, experimental and narrative films. Thakur is an assistant professor in film production at Hunter College-City University of New York. She earned bachelor’s degrees in communications from Concordia University, and in psychology from Ottawa University, along with a Master of Fine Arts in Film and Media Studies from Temple University.

Thakur will offer a critique for budding filmmakers. Workshop participants will have the opportunity to screen their films and get advice on their projects. She will also screen a variety of her short films, which demonstrate the breadth of her career, Torre said.

The festival will focus on women filmmakers and include special screenings of works of female filmmakers, Torre said.

On opening night, Feb. 18, the festival will provide the Midwest premiere of “Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat By the Door.” Directors Christine Acham and Clifford Ward will also be at the festival to discuss the documentary which looks at the making of the 1973 film, “The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” and history of history of African Americans in Hollywood.

The festival also plans to have “almost midnight” film screenings in the Communications Building.

Additional information is available on the festival’s website, http://bigmuddyfilm.com/33/home.html. There is also a Big Muddy Film Festival page on Facebook.