Thursday, August 31, 2006

24 Hour Film Festival hits New York

Independent films, short, long and everything in between converged in New York City for a day of nonstop films at Downtown Community Television’s (DCTV) 24 Hour Film Festival.

Starting at 7:30 p.m. 7 July at the landmark fire station at 87 Lafayette Street, the non-profit organisation DCTV highlighted a mix of documentaries, animation and narrative films from around the world.

Founded in 1972, DCTV provides classes and workshops, rents equipment and provides editing facilities to aspiring filmmakers. DCTV productions have been shown on major networks such as PBS and HBO and have won numerous awards, including 12 Emmys.

“We have independent filmmakers coming in on a daily basis working on their projects and when they finish they always say, ‘Well, now what do we do with them,’” said Jamie Boylan, DCTV’s director of marketing, distribution and sales. “We finally thought why don’t we just put up a showcase of our own and create a venue for people to show independent films.”

The festival opened with Jem Cohen’s Chain. In his introduction of the film, the filmmaker jokingly admitted it is a slow film and that it is good that it was not playing at three or four in the morning.

“We should occasionally have to feel slowness, so I made it that way on purpose. It asks for your patience, so I hope that is rewarded,” explained Cohen.

The film, a look at consumerism and globalisation, focuses on two separate plot lines: a Japanese women trying to get funding for an amusement park and a 20-something homeless American girl who splits her time cleaning motels and hanging at malls.

“It is a documentary, it is a fiction feature film and it is also, very much a political film,” said Cohen, which made it a fitting opening to the festival. Many of the films that followed were documentaries, but even many of the narrative films had a semi-documentary feel.

The festival took on serious subjects as varied as gun violence, race issues, Wal-Mart, military recruitment and arranged marriages. It was not all somber, far from it. The festival also featured amusing takes on identical twins, the worst chair in America and the cartoon series GI Joe as well as an assortment of riffs on love.

Darien Sills-Evan’s X-Patriots, which won the audience award for Best Feature was a film that bridged both the serious and the comedic. The film focused on two African Americans looking for love and identity in the Netherlands. Imagine a hybrid of the filmmaking styles of Spike Lee and Woody Allen filtered through European art house.

While most of the festival’s films were made within the last year, Sills-Evan’s film is a couple years old, and no longer traveling the film festival circuit. Nevertheless, for Sills-Evan it was important to have X-Patriots at the 24 Hour Film Festival because he believes it is a rare breed.

“Festivals like this, with movies like this aren’t really introduced anywhere, so that’s why I am here,” said Sills-Evans. “I like to see inexpensive movies that make things worth changing the world and I think that needs to be encouraged more and more.”

The festival was broken up into 12 time blocks and audience members could either come for individual time slots or for the whole 24 hours with an all access pass. Most of the sessions were in a small screening room with folding chairs, but one block of horror films was projected on a screen that was setup on the building’s roof.

Most people came and went, but a few die-hards decided to go the distance. A steady flow of free coffee was provided along with Rockstar energy drink at 1 a.m. and Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast to help the diligent fans make it to end.

“I came for inspiration as well as ideas and approaches, to see how people approach different subjects,” said Douglas Simpson an aspiring filmmaker and one of the few to brave the long hours and lack of sleep to take in the whole festival.

For Simpson, who wants to make documentaries about and for families, but is studying film late in life, the festival was an opportunity to absorb a variety of different styles in one crash course.

“I look at it as learning a new language, so that’s how I am approaching this, it is a different learning, but in doing that you have to expose yourself to everything,” said Simpson.

The films were not the festival’s only entertainment. Between blocks, there were 15-minute breaks to stretch your legs and, for some, dance. Lack of sleep can make people do strange things, including busting dance moves at four in the morning

The festival was put together in a relative short six months and for Boylan that is the only drawback to what they did. Boylan believes the festival could have been even better had they taken double the time in planning.

“I wish we had a little more time to advertise and just get an audience, that’s our biggest hump for next year. How do you get that audience in and let them know what is happening?” said Boylan.

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