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Best Boys: (l-r) Keith Pickard and Peter Barnett await the Edwood FilmFest.

PHOTO: Alicia Solsman

To Hollywood and Back

The Edwood FilmFest partners with the Spectrum 8 Theatres—and a handful of professional film editors in Los Angeles—to elevate the annual Albany festival to a new level

By Kathryn Lange

 

Settled at a streetside café table, Peter Barnett swirls a straw through his berry smoothie and cradles his backpack against his chest as he discusses the humble beginnings of the Edwood FilmFest and how his cinematic baby has grown. The festival began seven years ago as a one-night screening of local films at the Lionheart Pub on Albany’s Lark Street, where Barnett bartended, back when the pub was tucked above Bombers Burrito Bar and you could spend the evening curled on a well-worn couch. “In the first couple years, we’d take a film on the night of the fest,” Barnett recalls. “We’d slide it in and take our chances.”

From that modest start, the Edwood FilmFest has exploded into something much bigger—and much more competitive. “We got 130 something short films from all over the world” for this year’s festival, reports Barnett. “Eighteen are playing.”

“Some of these films have been bought for TV,” adds Keith Pickard, co-owner of the Spectrum 8 Theatres, where the fest begins tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 28). “Nickelodeon has played some, Comedy Central, even Oscar nominee Bill Plympton submitted a film. There is a lot of talent in the short-film section.”

The Edwood FilmFest has grown steadily over the years, reaching a new level of visibility this year in partnering with the Spectrum. Pickard, who co-owns the independent movie theater with his wife Sugi and partners Scott Meyer and Annette Nanes, has been following the festival’s evolution since its inception. Pickard says he approached Barnett in hopes that a partnership would be an opportunity to build community, embrace local filmmaking, and expand the festival audience. The match seems ideal. The two men share an effortless rapport; there is a constant volleying of laughter and ideas, an occasional synchronization of smoothie sipping.

And their goals for the festival are clearly complementary. “There’s a huge filmmaking community within 100 miles of Albany,” says Pickard. “People who have worked on all kinds of projects, whether it’s on Broadway or Hollywood—they’re living here. They may be undercover, but they’re living here, and we want to put that talent out there. . . . We want to share it, both by supporting the artistic community, and putting the work out there, saying, ‘This is worthwhile.’ ”

Since its conception, Edwood’s mission has been to showcase accessible and entertaining short films. The fest is named for infamous director Ed Wood (the spelling change is to avoid legal complications). “He’s mocked as the worst director of all time,” says Barnett, “but what we admired about him only is this: inspired low-budget filmmaking. Sometimes inspiration works, sometimes it doesn’t. We’re accepting the stuff that works.”

In a phone interview, Oscar-nominated animator Plympton shared how his own work parallels that of Ed Wood. “Ed Wood financed all his own films,” Plympton says. “He created his own stories, did all his own direction and cinematography. That’s what I’m about.” Plympton is a poster child for high-impact, low-budget films. His average budget is about $1,000 per animated minute, compared to the general guideline of $1 million per minute in Hollywood. In this age of computers, Plympton’s animation is hand-drawn, frame by frame. His minimalist approach holds its own against the Hollywood big boys. “Anyone can do it,” claims Plympton, and the Edwood FilmFest is hoping to prove just that.

The festival, screening all week at the Spectrum 8 Theatres, is divided into three components this year: a short-film contest, a spotlight on filmmakers and, new this year, a series of microsodes. Each component adds up to an approximately two-hour-long segment, shown independently. There will be a question-and-answer session with filmmakers and representatives of the festival after each screening. Ballot boxes at the theater welcome viewers to vote on their favorite films for Sunday’s People’s Choice Awards.

The short-film contest consists of 18 films from around the world, all less than 15 minutes in length and spanning a variety of genres. The films will be judged by an expert panel, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Kennedy, filmmaker Penny Lane, and film professor Ray Ortali. The second component, added to the festival last year, is the Spotlight Filmmakers program, a one-night showing of two longer-format films.

The final segment is what Pickard and Barnett seem most excited about. The festival organizers put out a regional call for screenplay “micro-sodes,” for which writers were required to submit two or more five-minute screenplays with reccurring characters. Of the 200 scripts submitted, the selection committee chose 10 to be produced in and around Albany. According to Barnett, the microsodes were “entirely cast and crewed from a public sign-up.” The turnout surprised organizers: “The first public audition was at the Albany Public Library,” says Barnett. “They were lining up all the way out to the street.”

Once the actors and crew were selected, filming kicked off at the Spectrum. “We did this great event where we had a backlot,” recalls Pickard. “We closed off our parking lot and shot scenes from various microsodes. We had over 200 people: actors, professionals, nonprofessionals, choreographers, technicians.” The event culminated in a parade down Delaware Avenue. “The actors were all in full costume, leprechauns and pirates,” Barnett says, chuckling. “We even turned an old VW Bus into a pirate ship.”

After filming, the rough microsodes were shipped to Hollywood for editing at Paramount Studios. Editors who worked on blockbuster films, including Donnie Brasco, Apocalypto and Castaway, have been working for two months on the Albany-made microsodes, collaborating with the local filmmakers. “Think of it from the filmmakers’ viewpoint,” Says Pickard, whose enthusiasm about the microsodes is palpable. “They’re getting this conversation with a professional film editor, editing their work, talking about their vision, and coming back with a finished product . . . That’s what’s unique about this one section of the festival. It was this learning, collaborative experience.”

The final cuts have yet to arrive from Hollywood, and Barnett’s anticipation is obvious. When a deliveryman walks by carrying the distinctive metal cases that indicate movies have arrived, Barnett pipes, “Do we have to do anything? Maybe it’s the ones from Hollywood!”

In addition to the films, this week’s festival brings an array of festivities for the filmmakers and the public. Edwood organizers have planned an Aqua Ducks tour of Albany for the out-of-town participants, public receptions at local restaurants, and a “Cinema-go-go” party at the Washington Park Lake House on Saturday night, featuring films, fire eaters, psychics, food, live music and dancing. According to Barnett, who seems ready to pop the champagne as we speak, “It’s an opportunity for everyone to get together, filmmakers, sponsors, viewers. Everyone gets together and conjures what it is we’re going to do next year and enjoys what we’ve done this year.”

When asked what he’s most excited about, Barnett can’t settle on one thing. The whole festival seems to have him buzzing. “This is a real celebration week of films, of what everyone’s made, both locally and around the world,” he enthuses. “This is a way of celebrating film and coming together for all those who like them. It’s a great opportunity to showcase the city and its talent.”

Edwood FilmFest Schedule

The Edwood FilmFest is being screened at the Spectrum 8 Theatres (290 Delaware Ave, Albany), beginning tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 28) through Thursday, Oct. 4. Each of the three segments runs approximately two hours. The films have not been rated, but some contain adult language and violence. For more information on the festival and the films, go to www.ewfilm.com, or call the Spectrum at 449-8995.

 

Microsodes

3:30 and 9:30 PM Friday-Thursday (3:30 PM only on Sunday)

Amerikan Partizan by Tobias Seamon

Five Alpha Beatdown: The Amazing feature Film by John Brodeur

Clumsy Robots by Errol Farr

Coin Flip Road Trip by Johnathan Farr

Four by T. George McCardle and Henry Slattery

Funny How the Seasons Change by Josh Turner

Lost Kids by Dorius Matsumi

Rachel’s Ward by Rebecca Angel Maxwell

The Haiku King by the Unknown Filmmaker

Tragic Donut by Jefferson Briggs

 

Short Films

12:30 and 6:30 PM Friday-Thursday

And Then There Were Nun (comedy, North Carolina)

Bitter (drama, New York)

Boy in Flight (animation, New York)

Con-Time Machine (comedy, California)

Dead Residence (horror, New York)

Finite (drama, Texas)

Gothic Nightmare (music video, New York-Connecticut)

It’s Just Coffee (comedy, California)

Letting Go (drama, New York)

Our Band Sucks (animation, New York)

Process Enacted (animation, New York)

Shuteye Hotel (animation, New York)

Spider Baby, Baby (horror, United Kingdom)

1000 Pictures of You (comedy, United Kingdom)

Under the Apple Tree (comedy, New York)

Walken Talk (comedy, California)

We Could Be Models (music video, New York)

 

Spotlight Filmmakers

9:30 PM Sunday only

Star Trex Enter The Brown Fist, Brooklyn-based multimedia artist Mike Reed’s sci-fi kung-fu action-figure comedy (26 minutes)

Visard Mask, a cinematic and musical oddity created by now-local Tennessee native, Jeff Knight, the fifth installation in his I Fought a Witch series (3 minutes)

A Gentle Art, Knight Owl Entertainment’s third feature film, a locally made tale of love, murder and torture (93 minutes)

 

Parties

Opening Reception, Noché , 895 Broadway, Albany, Thursday, Sept. 27, 7-11 PM

World Premiere Reception, Avenue A, 544 Delaware Ave., Albany, Friday, Sept. 28, 10 PM-1 AM.

CinemaGoGo Party, Washington Park Lake House, Albany, Saturday, Sept. 29, 8 PM. $10.

People’s Award Show Closing Party, Ballinger’s, 42 Howard St. Albany, Thursday, Oct. 4, 7-12 PM.


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