February 16, 2017

Big Muddy Film Festival opens Feb. 21

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Big Muddy Film Festival built its reputation on strong documentaries that highlight social issues. That trend continues as the festival prepares for its 39th annual run next week. 

A theme among several films in this year’s six-day festival is “peace” and the multiple perspectives that can take, according to festival organizers. The festival runs from Feb. 21 through Feb. 26. Started in 1979, the event 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. 

“We have these different perspectives we have been able to assemble, not only as it related to America, but also how it relates to the world,” Hassan Pitts, the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts’ technology coordinator and festival director, said. 

“We have intertwining themes; ‘peace’ as a word or concept, being reiterated through several different films and explored in totally different ways,” Pitts said. “Not just as one or two individuals, but also by groups of people.” 

Three films that profile peace in varying ways are:

  • “Disturbing The Peace,” a documentary that profiles how people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian issues are coming together to try and dismantle the ideological conflict that exists.
  • “Peace Has No Borders,” according to the directors, is a story about the impact of social activism and resistance to war in a story of Iraq and Afghan war resistors seeking refuge in Canada rather than return to the United States.
  • “The Peace Agency,” a story of a disabled Indonesian woman’s efforts to bring Muslim and Christian women together for peace in that war-torn nation.

All three films are among the 11 nominees for the festival’s John Michaels Film Award. 

Another film that Pitts said he will be interested to see audience viewpoints is “The Radical Jew,” a film about Baruch Marzel, an American-born leader of an Israeli far-right movement. 

This year’s festival features more than 70 juried films from several countries, including Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Russia and Singapore, Caleb Bunn, the festival’s student director, said. The festival received about 180 submissions. 

“There was no lack of good films,” said Bunn, a sophomore in cinema and photography from Nashville, Tenn. “It came down to how many are we able to show?” 

Festival screenings will be both on- and off-campus and will once again include screenings throughout the day. Many of the films will be at the Student Center, Morris Library’s John C. Guyon Auditorium and locations in the Communications Building. Other screening locations in Carbondale include the African-American Museum in University Mall; Longbranch Café & Bakery, 100 E. Jackson, St.; Artspace 304, 304 W. Walnut St.; and WDBX, 224 N. Washington St. 

All events are free for SIU Carbondale students with student identification. Tickets for SIU faculty, staff and the public are available at the door. A festival pass costs $20 and a day pass costs $5. 

Both Pitts and Bunn said the festival is another opportunity to reach out to other areas in the region. Members of The Big Muddy Crew, a registered student organization on campus, are also very involved in programming, shaping and staffing the festival. 

The John Michaels Film Award will be announced on Feb. 21. There are 11 films under consideration; the category honors films that reflect and increase awareness of social, community and environmental issues. 

A “Best of the Fest” will be from 3 to 6 p.m., Feb. 26, at Longbranch Café & Bakery. 

Filmmakers Tomás Pichardo-Espaillat, Alrick Brown, and Ines Sommer are serving as judges on juried films. 

The complete lineup, along with information on jurors, juried films, special events, festival history, and other topics is available at http://bigmuddyfilm.com/.  The festival also has a Big Muddy Film Festival page on Facebook.