Friday, February 25, 2011

The Fourth Annual Virginia Film Festival for the Byrd.

Pictures courtesy of VA Film Office

Hear the audio version of this story here

For the fourth straight year, the Byrd Theatre in Richmond is hosting the Virginia Indie Film Festival on Saturday and Sunday. The Festival, produced by the Virginia Film Office and the Virginia Production Alliance, will once again feature independent documentaries, short film, and features from filmmakers across Virginia.

Kathryn Stephens is the Industry Relations Manager at the Virginia Film Office, and alongside managing the Indie Film Festival, works with independent filmmakers to find locations and resources to show their films.

“It’s a great opportunity for Virginia filmmakers to showcase their work, allow other industry professionals to see who else in the state is making excellent film products, and it’s a great way to support the arts.”

According to Stephens, the Indie Film Festival is one of the few festivals in Virginia that shows shorts, documentaries, and feature films. The film festival is also open to a specific group of people.

“The Virginia Indie Film Festival is open only to Virginia filmmakers, so the most important qualifying rule is that they have to live in Virginia to submit their film. This year was the first year we allowed filmmakers who shot their films outside Virginia to submit work, but mostly we did this to sort of widen the pool of talent and talented films to be shown at the Byrd.”

The Byrd, Richmond’s historic theater located in the heart of Carytown, has played host to the Indie Film Festival since the beginning, and for specific reasons.

“It’s just gorgeous. It’s a gorgeous venue, and they’ve been very supportive of the independent film-making community. They allow filmmakers to screen their films there and they give them excellent rates, so we want to support the Byrd. They’ve been great to us, and it’s also just a fantastic historical venue to screen films in.”

This year’s films Span a wide-range and are full of topics and stories. The documentaries and shorts will be shown on Saturday.

One such documentary, “Beardo the Movie, covers the 2009 World Beard and Moustache Championships. IT’S being shown alongside A Gift for the Village, about a cultural connection between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Himalayas.

Shorts being shown include Caution Wet Floor, about corporate executives caught in a dangerous situation and RE: MESSIAH, which shows what happens when technology gains sentience, and love.

Robert Mark is the director of the short film Relax, which is a movie about relaxing sights and sounds meant to soothe the audience.
“It’s a small sample from a much bigger project that I’m working on, and as the name Relax implies, this film contains beautiful relaxing images and nat sounds to reduce stress.”

Mark, a Virginia Commonwealth University graduate and long-time Richmond citizen, is at the Indie Film Festival for a second time. His first entry was about VCU’s excavation of historic Curles Neck Farm, and the artifacts that were uncovered there, some dating as far back as the 1600s. Before making his own films, Mark spent some time in the television industry filming shows. When filming the archaeology film, Mark did not think it would go far.

“My personal history is that I worked in broadcast TV for over 20 years and most of the stuff I worked on in the past is news magazine programs and documentary-oriented programming, and the archaeology part was right up my alley. So I thought ‘Well, maybe I’ll put this out there and see if there’s any interest in it.’ And to my surprise the film festival liked it and put it in the finals.

Mark says that festivals like the Virginia Indie Film Festival are great for the city of Richmond because it showcases the city’s unique cultural status.

“I think it’s great that they do these types of festivals because it promotes filmmaking in general and it’s either low-cost or no-cost to enter these festivals, and I think it brings a lot of awareness to the region that it’s a creative hub. And Richmond has always been like that in terms of musicians, and artists, and filmmakers, it’s a very rich region for its size.”

Three feature films will be shown on Sunday, and include Quick Feet, Soft Hands, about a minor league baseball player trying to make it big, and Tracks, about a man reflecting on his troubled childhood in Baltimore.

Brian Wimer’s film, Danger. Zombies. Run., is one of the three feature films being shown on Sunday. In his movie, zombies attack a crew while filming a zombie movie.

“The movie is about a bunch of indie filmmakers who are making a zombie movie and they intermittently get attacked by real zombies, so it’s essentially my notion being an independent filmmaker of, I don’t know, reality intruding upon all of our notions of what zombies really are about and why zombies chase us.”

Calling his movie a “philosophical zombie comedy,” Wimer wanted to discover just why we’re so fascinated by zombies and why most zombie movies follow a similar formula.

“You can do something that’s really dumb that’s a zombie movie. But why do that? Why not, I went to an Ivy League school, I’ve got a brain, why not put in notions? So it’s to investigate what is it about zombie movies. Like, if I said I’m making a zombie movie, whoever’s in the room jumps up and down saying ‘Can we see it?’ If I said I’ve got a coming-of-age drama, you know, you’ll hear crickets, so what is it about zombie movies that make people crazy? And why here? I don’t know, Japan had Godzilla movies for a while and there was a reason why. It was because of Hiroshima, and we have zombie movies, and we’re plagues by zombies, why is that? I think there actually are philosophical, psychological ramifications to why we find ourselves to be persued.”

While the names involved in these small low-budget films aren’t recognizable now, Stephens has no doubt that some of them will end up becoming great success stories.

“I think it’s a lot of really talented film-makers who, although they’re not known now, maybe in 10 years they could be. So I think it might be one of those things that maybe, 10 years from now you’re sitting at a theater, watching a film and you realize ‘Oh I saw that guy’s film at the Indie Film Fest all those years ago. I totally connected that now!”

For more information on the individual screenings you can visit the Virginia Film Office’s website at

Screenings for documentaries and shorts will be on Saturday 1 to 6 p.m., and features will be presented on Sunday from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.

/James Klentzman.

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