February 10, 2011

33rd Big Muddy Film Festival opens Feb. 18

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Michele Torre was seven time zones and an ocean away from Southern Illinois University Carbondale last summer, but she still felt the impact of the Big Muddy Film Festival.

Attending an academic conference in Italy in June, Torre recalls an Italian professor telling Torre that her students previously submitted entries to the longstanding Southern Illinois film event. Torre, an assistant professor in SIUC’s Department of Cinema & Photography, said she finds similar reactions during her travels elsewhere both in the United States and abroad.

“It was a nice reminder that the festival has an international reputation,” said Torre, the faculty adviser for the 33rd annual festival. “It’s really well-known outside of Carbondale and Illinois and I think that is important to remember. It is one of the things that separates this University from a lot of the other universities as far as being a great place for students to come to film school.”

This year’s festival, which runs Friday, Feb. 18, through Sunday, Feb. 27, will feature 66 juried films, numerous non-competition films, juror lectures and workshops, screenings of SIUC faculty work, and “almost midnight” film screenings.

Unless noted, tickets to each showcase are $2 each for SIUC students with student identification and $4 each for the general public. Festival passes are $20 for students and $50 for the general public.

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

“We received a lot of excellent films this year and it was difficult making a decision,” she said. “The films we received were very, very good. The films in the festival are all fabulous.”

The festival features an opening night showcase that presents a pair of screenings that tie into Black History Month on campus. At 5 p.m., Feb. 18, screenings of the films “Maroko” and “Bar Beach Blues” by Nigerian filmmaker Femi Odugbemi will be in the John C. Guyon Auditorium in Morris Library. Odugbemi and Ayo Oluwasanmi, another Nigerian filmmaker, are visiting artists through the College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Africana Studies and the Black History Month Committee. Admission is free.

At 7 p.m., the Midwest premiere of “Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door” will also be in Guyon Auditorium. Filmmakers Christine Acham and Clifford Ward will present the 57-minute documentary, which looks at the making of the 1973 film, “The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” and the history of African Americans in Hollywood. Admission is $5, and includes a festival opening reception in the Morris Library rotunda.

Sound Core Music and Video, 122 S. Illinois Ave., is hosting each of the festival’s four “almost midnight” screenings. The first screening is at 11 p.m., Feb. 18, and is the 1973 film, “The Spook Who Sat by the Door.” Enter through the building’s side entrance on Monroe Street, Torre said. The College of Mass Communication and Media Arts Diversity Committee and Global Media Research Center are co-sponsoring the three opening night showcase events.

Other “almost midnight” screenings at Sound Core are 8 p.m., Feb. 19, “My Best Girl,” Mary Pickford’s final silent film from 1927; 11 p.m., Feb. 24, five short bizarre films will be followed immediately by the 1972 classic film, “Pink Flamingos,” by John Waters, and at 11 p.m.. Friday, Feb. 25, five alternative documentary films.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19, several faculty in the Department of Cinema & Photography and Radio-Television will present some of their work in Guyon Auditorium. At 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20, the festival features “Reinterpreting the Gothic,” a special event presented by Studio 27 – Wago Kreider, an assistant professor in radio-television and Jessica Allee, an architect and experimental film enthusiast.

This year’s festival focuses on the works of female filmmakers. Forty-one percent of the films in this year’s festival are by female filmmakers, which pleases Torre. In choosing films, the festival committee viewed the films in blind screenings, not knowing the filmmaker, and selected films for the festival on their merit. The number of female filmmakers in this year’s festival is higher than usual, and is an “exceptionally high number if you look statistically at the percentage of female filmmakers in the film industry,” Torre said.

Dean Gary P. Kolb said the festival is “an enduring tradition at SIUC.” While the festival officially runs for only 10 days, the efforts of students and the faculty adviser are “really a year in the making, so activity goes on year-round,” he said.

The festival focuses attention on the Department of Cinema and Photography, the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, and the University, Kolb said. Students who have worked on the film festival have gone on to lead “other significant film festivals around the country, including in major cities, coast to coast,” he said.

“That the Big Muddy has endured for 33 years is a remarkable testament to the energy and passion of our film students and others, including faculty advisers, who have sustained that effort,” Kolb said.

A listing of festival films, show times, and venues is available at http://bigmuddyfilm.com/33/schedule.html. The festival also features a Facebook page at “Big Muddy Film Festival.”

Three award-winning filmmakers are serving as jurors. Joshua Jones, Kerry Laitala and Shanti Thakur will also offer workshops in addition to screening their individual works. The juror’s individual screenings are free. Additional information on the workshops, locations, and cost, where applicable, is available on the website.

A live media event at 2 p.m. Feb. 26, at the Varsity Center for the Arts, 418 S. Illinois Ave., Carbondale, will feature works from Laitala’s workshop on experimental film techniques. The event is free, but a donation to the Varsity Center is suggested.

Screenings of other festival work, including family-friendly afternoon showcases, will be at the Longbranch Coffeehouse (100 E. Jackson St., Carbondale) and the Yellow Moon Café (100 N. Front St., Cobden). The John Michaels Film Award winner, which goes to a documentary that reflects and increases awareness on social, political and environmental issues, is at 1 p.m.. Sunday, Feb. 27, at the Gaia House Interfaith Center, 913 S. Illinois Ave., Carbondale.

The “Best of the Fest,” at the Liberty Theater, 1333 S. Walnut St., Murphysboro, closes at the festival at 7 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 27. Admission is $5.

Organizers hope to have additional Big Muddy film screenings at other locations in the region after the festival, Torre said.

Organizers received more than 200 submissions this year, more than a 68 percent increase from a year ago. Film submissions came from more than 24 countries including Iraq, Kurdistan, Luxemburg, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, China.

“The Big Muddy Film Festival is one of the gems of Southern Illinois University Carbondale,” said Walter C. Metz, professor and department chair, also noting the festival’s strong national reputation.

Torre “runs the festival with great skill, keeping the students focused on the artistic value of the festival to the University and the community by programming great, challenging films that would otherwise not find their way to Southern Illinois,” Metz said.