Attending the Sundance Film Festival in January in Park City, Utah, gave Jerry Dalton only more ideas and inspiration for his own endeavor to help light up the silver screen for independent moviemakers.
The eighth annual Myrtle Beach International Film Festival opens next Wednesday with almost 50 productions covering four days through April 27, at the Carmike Cinemas’ Broadway 16 at Broadway at the Beach.
Dalton, its founder and director, said the lineup for this year encompassed a “wide variety,” with no particular story format – such as comedies or documentaries – in overabundance or underrepresented.
“It’s a pretty even mix,” he said last week of the process of reviewing and selecting submissions received from last May through February.
He said the amount of entries from the United States, Canada and Europe remain strong, but that fewer arrived from Asia, maybe because of the economy. Reminding how these works were each completed at least a year or two earlier, he said films, and their subject matter, reflect their times and social moods, hence the common theme of depression and death, but also the creativity that comedies bring.
“Art reflects society,” Dalton said, noting the music, visual art and other forms of expression that history chronicles.
He also likes how movies provide “an escape from real life ... great medicine for the mind.”
Mingling at Sundance, Dalton related to how film fests – big and small – give independent filmmakers an opportunity to present their art and to market themselves without exploitation by major studios and Hollywood forces. He said festivals even go beyond just movies in their host communities, with economic benefits from filmmakers traveling from around the world to meet up and experience a locale.
Meeting Sundance’s founder, Robert Redford, at an “art-house convergence,” Dalton said, he was reminded why having a “truly independent film festival” – words with which Redford praised the Myrtle Beach fest – remains important. Gaining more insight into expanding resources for distribution of independent films, Dalton said he wants to widen the channels for networking at the Myrtle Beach festival, and as Redford has done with the mountainscape in the Beehive State, help sell the Grand Strand as a destination.
Having the festival in April, in a shoulder season, between the extreme chilly and hot months, remains “spot-on perfect” timing, Dalton said, pointing out the abundance of hotel rooms and the proximity to Wilmington, N.C., a popular spot for studios to film productions.
Dalton cited the Nicholas Sparks story “Sea Haven,” for which Southport, N.C., provided a setting on camera with “a great film and story that hit all ranges of emotions.” Dalton spoke of the “residual effect” of a place used on screen lasts five to seven years,” and that tourists will seek out a restaurant to see a scene used in a movie. That might make Southport, in which Dalton said he spent a day walking for its charm, a stop for travelers on their way to or from Myrtle Beach.
Also seeking to broaden the Myrtle Beach festival into more of a social outing – for visiting filmmakers screening their works, as well as local residents and vacationers – Dalton said the theater lobby will have an art exhibition by Katya Wentz, a Russian born painter from North Carolina, as well as some complimentary early evening indulgences before final film blocks on two days.
Sample beers from New South Brewery Co. and food by Little Pigs Bar-B-Q, both of Myrtle Beach, on April 26, and taste wines from La Belle Amie Vineyard of Little River and sushi from Jimmyz Original Hibachi House of Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach, with jazz by the Denny Hess Trio, on April 27.
A number of participating filmmakers weighed in on the value of such film festivals’ value to expanding the reach of indie productions.
Jen Suwak of Bangor, Pa., has a short documentary, “Pulling Teeth,” showing April 27 and delving into an equestrian dentist’s use of communication in his profession. Suwak said film festivals let filmmakers and film lovers “talk about independent filmmaking ideas, trends and upcoming projects” and provide “excellent avenues for independent filmmakers to promote their work and learn by audience feedback.”
Genevieve Farrell of Los Angeles wrote, produced and starred in “Angela Wright,” a story showing on April 26 and covering parental pressure on children to excel in high school. She said with “so much content – on the Internet and in movie theaters – that being accepted by a top film festival like Myrtle Beach is essential to getting a film on audiences’ radars.”
Kecia J. Benson’s documentary “Beale Street Blues,” about musicians in Memphis, Tenn., will screen April 26. Benson said such festivals let filmmakers reach a broader audience and “that I had the opportunity to give these musicians ... a voice” with extra marketing through film fests.
John Richie, director/writer of “Shell Shocked,” on the lineup for April 25, said his documentary “about the homicide epidemic involving young, black males in our country,” was filmed in New Orleans and that it presents “the same issues every urban environment in the United States is up against today.”
“Without festivals, like Myrtle Beach,” Richie said, “our film might not be seen outside of the greater New Orleans area. Every pair of eyes that sees this film is a potential ally in this fight to save kids. That’s why these film festivals are important for small guys like us.”
Maynard Seider, a sociologist who taught almost three decades at a college in North Adams, Mass., will see “Farewell to Factory Towns?” – his first film – play April 26. He said he has relied on “local publicity ... word of mouth and a website” to publicize it.
“Having it accepted at the Myrtle Beach festival,” Seider said, “gives it credibility and the likelihood that more people and connect with the issues raised.”
Jason Salzman of Los Angeles wrote and directed the short “Birth of an Outlaw,” showing April 27.
“The big thing about short films,” he said, “is the only chance you really have to show it on the big screen to a mass audience is through film festivals.”
Salzman said film festivals bring creative arts to their host cities.
“It helps show people who sit around and watch films and say ‘I want to do that’ a chance to see,” he said, “that with a small amount of money and a lot of personal will and effort, you can get the story you want to tell out there for people to see.”
Also based in California, John Putch will give “Route 30, Too,” a sequel, its “southern U.S. premiere” on April 26. He said his films do not seek “profit or attention,” and that the best part of such festivals for “nonmainstream films” brings “the chance to share my films with audiences that actually choose to attend it.
Bright Blue Gorilla will have a world premiere of its fifth feature film, “Go with Le Flo,” Wednesday. The Los Angeles-based group’s Robyn Rosenkrantz said the romantic comedy was shot in Berlin with artists from more than 20 countries, and that festivals give a “great way to make new fans and get press, without having to rely on a big company or an expensive marketing campaign.”
“Since we’re also a band,” she said, “we take our movies on the road, touring art house cinemas in Europe doing concerts and screenings, which is another great ‘do-it-yourself’ way to reach new audiences.”
Joe Vitale Jr. of Canton, Ohio, directed “Encryption,” on the agenda April 25. He said most indie filmmakers cope with tight budgets and low funding but that festivals open up world exposure “at a cost we can afford.”
“Every film festival is a new venue, new group of people, and new outlet for our film to be presented,” he said.
Marian Yeager of Austin, Texas, will see her short film, “The Good Samaritan,” roll on April 26. She said getting people talking about a film translates into “the most important marketing you can obtain, and it’s essential in the indie world.”
Tunde Reid-Kapo is president of Yamie Chess Ltd., in Las Vegas, whose chess-themed animated film, “King Tigermore In Strawberry Fields,” will screen April 27, on a path to promote an educational learning aid to debut at the 2014 American International Toy Fair in New York.
Reid-Kupo said film fests play “a critical role in helping connect new films with receptive audiences, based on merit,” and that “other than through YouTube, I don’t know where else a new filmmaker can be so direct in presenting his or her animated work.”
Sometimes, stars just fall into place. Jason Lockhart of Los Angeles directed and co-wrote “Silent But Deadly,” on the docket for April 26. The drama about a killer stalking a retirement home boasts a cast including Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island,” and Miss America 1955, Lee Meriwether, whose resume includes “Barnaby Jones” and the “Batman” TV series.
“We filmed it in an active retirement home,” Lockhart said of the work in 2011, “and the people who lived there were just loving it.”