The Carolina connections to the ninth annual Myrtle Beach International Film Festival are bountiful.
Sasha Carrera has found what she called magic in picking up a keyhole urchin, better known as a sand dollar, on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The writer, co-producer and star of “Mr. Hopewell’s Remedy,” a comedic short produced and directed by Kathi Carey, said having the film premiere in the noon-2 p.m. block April 26 completes a journey for the project.
The fest, with 48 films, opens Wednesday for four days through April 26 at Carmike Cinemas’ Broadway 17, at Broadway at the Beach.
Carrera, who grew up in Virginia and loved family summer vacations in Sunset Beach and Bird Island, N.C., said finding such a perfect sand dollar near her home in Santa Monica, Calif., took her back to days trolling for them in the Carolina surf.
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“I didn’t even know there were sand dollars on the Pacific coast,” she said. “Most people have never seen one here. This one had nothing cracked, and the flower pattern was on the back. I took that as a sign.”
Carrera said that discovery marked a “kindred spirit” and turnaround in the production, that “the stars are lining up,” because on that day, plans to shoot “Mr. Hopewell’s Remedy” looked at risk, but all the pieces came together last year, all leading to its debut next week.
“The whole feeling of the thing,” Carrera said of the film about a man’s quest to find a cure for sorrow, “is very kind of Mayberry. ... A surreal, beautiful, magical realm with a very quiet kind of town that time forgot.”
She also thought back to a theater professor’s prescient words that “everything you do is autobiographical,” but you might not know it at the time, and this film has proven it for her.
Mason Thomas Freeman, an independent filmmaker from Charlotte, went south one state to shoot his narrative short, “The Painter,” all in Beaufort, he said, because a plantation was sought, and “we needed for it to have the feel of a period piece.”
The film, screening in the 2:30-4:30 p.m. block April 25, focuses on an 11-year-old artist, who after losing a loving parent and wanting a family feeling again, encounters a traveler, played by Emmy Award-winner GregAlan Williams who gives her hope.
Freeman said the draw of the Carolinas to make movies, especially with the opening in 2010 of EUE/Screen Gems Studios Atlanta, has only added to the Carolinas’ appeal for locations to film. He cited “Homeland” TV drama being shot in Charlotte, and Wilmington’s continued popularity.
“The area itself is sort of like Hollywood East, almost,” he said.
Freeman called South Carolina’s Lowcountry “a filmmaker’s best friend” and that Beaufort boasts a “really nostalgic aura about it.” The Palmetto State’s accessibility and landscape also help, so much that a producer can film at a plantation in the morning, the beach in the afternoon, and the mountains at night.
He’s ready to revisit Myrtle Beach after seeing “The Painter” premiere last week at the Bare Bones International Film and Music Festival in Muskogee, Okla.
Freeman views the Myrtle Beach film fest as “one of the most respected” by indie filmmakers in the country and that “people on the circuit” know about it.
He also said taking a story “from paper to the screen,” many people help out, “ sharing “a passion to tell a great story.”
Molding history to tell
A historical documentary, “Discovering Dave: Spirit Captured in Clay” will round out the 2:30-4:30 p.m. block April 25.
A co-producer of the film, George Wingard of Warrenville, and fellow staff members of the Savannah River Archaeological Research Program unearthed a piece of pottery at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in Aiken. The vessel was signed in 1862 simply by “Dave.”
Research led to details about this man, who was born into slavery in about 1801 in the Edgefield area, in South Carolina’s western Piedmont. Wingard and filmmaker Mark Albertin of Scrapbook Video Productions sketched the framework of Dave’s life from interviews with artists, scholars, writers, historians and archaeologists. Wingard said the 21/2-year effort evolved for “outreach purposes.”
Wingard treats this story as “greater” than within South Carolina’s boundaries, for school systems in such states as Nebraska and Indiana have sought to play the film for students, a Dave-inspired play has taken root at the University of Delaware, and just maybe, other schools can “build a curriculum” around this true-life story.
From the perspective “of archeology and history,” this documentary serves as “an ambassador,” Wingard said, as the pot, measuring 11 to 13 inches, is taken for presentations to schools along with showing the 47-minute film.
“It’s just so easy to see it,” he said. “Most of these vessels are in museums, behind glass or in private collections. this one goes out.”
Wingard remains amazed how this Dave pot was found in a trash pile from the 1950s, when 6,000 people were relocated by the Atomic Energy Commission for a development project, but the art piece has endured the times and change.
“It’s not part of my history,” Wingard said, “but I am part of its history.”
Film festivals also help spread the word, even globally, with a story bound to be just as valuable 100 years from now.
“I had someone from an Italian film festival out of the blue contact me,” Wingard said, “asking, ‘Can you send me a copy?’ That’s pretty impressive.”
Hunkering for horror again
Tommy Faircloth of Columbia can’t wait for the S.C. premiere for “The Cabin,” a half-hour horror he wrote and directed. Part of the 2:30-4:30 p.m. block April 25, this film will be its roughly 25th screening at a festival, he said, but this marks only its second that’s not just one genre, in contrast to the San Antonio Horror Film Festival, where it won for best short in its world premiere.
Faircloth said he has shot two other horrors, both in South Carolina, released in the late 1990s on VHS, then got into documentary fare related to theme parks and roller coasters. The previous horrors were shot on film, in his 20s, in a time when production was so much more costly.
Still a VHS fan with boxes of tapes – highlighted by a copy of “Hairspray” signed by John Waters – Faircloth said a fellow filmmaker doing a documentary about the VHS mode renewed a bite to tackle another horror. “The Cabin,” he said, took only a week to write, and a weekend to film, in the Carolinas and Tennessee, with “just a skeleton crew.”
“It has been so well-received everywhere,” Faircloth said, glad to assemble “creepy, jump-out-of-your-seat kind of stuff” that even his mother lauded for its lack of cursing.
The small cast, Faircloth said, localizing this story even more, includes a Coastal Carolina University theater graduate, Jason Vail.
“Every time I turn around,” Faircloth said, “he’s on TV.”
Work is about to start on a new feature, “Crinoline Head 2: Dorchester’s Revenge” across the state, for what Faircloth said is the sequel to his very first horror when he was studying at the University of South Carolina, and Vail is cast in this as well.
Steady festival growth
Jerry Dalton, founder and director of the Myrtle Beach film festival, said he’s excited to broaden the reach of this festival and its components every year.
He said taking a version of this festival also has been staged in Michigan in each of the past two years. Seeing a booklet in a store there prompted him to put together a 34-page printing for the 2014 festival in Myrtle Beach.
“People are always looking for full descriptions of movies,” Dalton said, appreciating “this little magazine that shows every movie and gives a brief synopsis of each. ... It’s convenient for the film enthusiast, something they can carry around.”
Repeating early evening social hours with some local establishments’ complimentary bites and beverages on April 25 and 26, with an open invitation for local artists to exhibit all-age appropriate works, Dalton also has added networking events at hotels to close the festival’s first two nights so visiting film producers, directors and personnel have quality time to mingle.
“Film, food and art – it’s all art,” Dalton said.
One film that fuels his fervor is “The Starfish Throwers,” closing the 5-7 p.m. block April 26, for it covers how a five-star chef in India, a retired middle school teacher, and Katie Stagliano, a then-9-year-old vegetable garden planter from Summerville who started with one cabbage, each pioneered approaches to help reduce global hunger in their own worlds.
Dalton said the screening of this documentary will be the first time that Stagliano’s “whole family has seen it.”
This festival also stands out, he said, because “whatever comes in that is good, we play – we don’t block things with agendas.”
He said “Jihad in America: The Grand Deception” played at the 2013 festival, after its producers found it refused for some other gatherings. Besides winning top documentary honors in Myrtle Beach, it went on to claim awards at festivals in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles and New York, among other European accolades.
“After we played it,” Dalton said, “it opened the doors for them.”
This year, he drew a possible parallel in poignancy to the documentary “Off Your Knees, Germany,” playing in the 2:30-4:30 p.m. block April 26. It covers a case of a German-Canadian activist incarcerated for seven years across three countries and two continents.
Dalton voiced a pledge “to keep freedom of speech alive and well,” because movies provide a vital outlet for expression.
“We love freedom,” he said. “What is more American than that?”
With any such movie with a strong message, Dalton said, “I don’t care whether I agree with it. .... As long it’s well done.”