February 11, 2015

Big Muddy Film Festival set to delight audiences

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Some of the best independent films from throughout the world are coming to Southern Illinois University Carbondale later this month as part of the annual Big Muddy Film Festival. 

The 37th annual event runs for six days, from Feb. 24 through March 1.  Started in 1979, it remains one of the oldest film festivals affiliated with a university in the nation and features both competition and non-competition screenings daily.  There are juried films in four categories: animation, documentary, experimental and narrative. 

This year’s festival features 85 juried films from 26 countries, including the United States. The festival received more than 300 submissions. Festival screenings will be both on- and off-campus, and for the first time in many years, will include screenings throughout the day. Many of the films will be shown at the Student Center or Morris Library’s John C. Guyon Auditorium. 

The complete lineup, along with information on jurors, juried films, special events, festival history, and other topics is available at bigmuddyfilm.com/.  

Stacy Calvert, a teaching and research graduate assistant in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts (MCMA) is this year’s festival director. Hassan Pitts, an artist-in-residence, is the co-director and adviser to Film Alternatives. Honna Veerkamp, also a teaching and research graduate assistant in MCMA, is the assistant director. 

Continuing the festival’s legacy is very important, Pitts said. That Big Muddy is one of the longest student-run film festivals is “pretty significant with the filmmakers who submit,” Veerkamp said. Members of Film Alternatives, a registered student organization on campus, are very involved in the festival and working hard. 

“They have been doing a lot and are very excited. It has been a great experience for them, too,” she said. 

A highlight is the return of director Edgar Barens, a two-degree SIU Carbondale alumnus whose  HBO Documentary Film, “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall,” earned a 2014 Academy Award nomination in the short subject category.  The screening and a Q-and-A with Barens is at 7 p.m., Feb. 25, in the Student Center. The event will follow the festival’s opening reception. 

“It’s really important for students to see what opportunities are out there; someone who came from the same place they did achieving an Oscar nomination,” Calvert said. 

All events are free for SIU Carbondale students with student identification. For SIU faculty, staff and the public, tickets are available online or at the door. A festival pass costs $15 and a day pass costs $4. 

Filmmakers Anna Margarita Albelo, Melika Bass and Bob Paris are serving as judges on juried films and will offer workshops while on campus. The jurors’ individual screenings are free. Organizers said the goal is to find jurors who have diverse backgrounds and who are strong in independent film. 

Another new feature that will coincide with the festival is the “Digital Muddy Expanded Media Festival.” The festival is for digital media submissions including website-based projects, webisodes, and digital imaging, and will be available online. 

Pitts said plans call for the “Digital Muddy” to occur twice a year, with the inaugural event Feb. 24 through Sept. 15. Digital artist and curator Nia Burks is the showcase juror. Pitts said the new festival is an “attempt to widen the discussion” that involves cinema and “provides the opportunity to leave the traditional theater model.” 

“This is something that hopefully students and the community can engage with in a less compressed way than being at a film festival for a day or a week,” he said.