Remember that scene in James Cameron’s “Titanic” where Bodine was talking to Lovette about the old Rose Dawson?: “I traced her back as far as the ’20s… she was working as an actress in L.A. An actress. Her name was Rose Dawson. Then she married a guy named Calvert, moved to Cedar Rapids, had two kids. Now Calvert’s dead, and from what I’ve heard Cedar Rapids is dead.”
Well, Mr Cameron (and Mr. Bodine) – Cedar Rapids is far from dead and very much alive with independent films!
I was watching our local KCRG-TV news program on February 21st and saw an interesting story. A film festival was taking place in my own home town on Feb. 22 & 23! Moments later, I surfed to the official Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival web site to gather as much information as possible. I finally contacted the promoters and learned this was their second event. How did I, the Critic Doctor, never hear about this festival? According to promoters, the first event was pretty low key and this year they didn’t start planning until last December. Well, now I know about it and what a wonderful surprise it turned out to be!
Co-Founders Ron Niermeyer (Sales Director) and Scott Chrisman (Public Relations Director) started “CRI Films” to help producers bring their work to the general public and provide a way for them to sell their movies – an effort to help recover production costs. These two cousins, amateur filmmakers themselves, then launched “Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival” to realize their goals. Lisa Bronson (Writers Guild Director) and Eric Dean Freese (Marketing Director) later joined the group to help make the dream come true.
The festival site was in McAuley Hall at Mount Mercy college in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A large behind-screen projection system was set up by Sound Concepts to showcase the movies – which ranged from your basic home camcorder flick to a full blown professional production. No matter how good or how bad the film, people enjoyed the opportunity to watch both amateur and professional movies. It was interesting to see how the average person could utilize a simple camcorder and make a movie (something I’ve always wanted to do for fun). Of course, to sit through some of this stuff, you truly have to have an interest and appreciation of film.
I entered McAuley Hall eager to watch movies. After obtaining my weekend pass, I browsed the small vendor area and picked up some freebies from the IOWA FILM OFFICE including a nice stitched baseball cap, a coffee cup and the “2002 Iowa Production Guide,” an information publication listing companies and services useful for filmmakers in shooting a production in Iowa. There’s nothing like free stuff. The festival staff was very enthusiastic and willing to help me in any way possible. These folks have a true heart for film and I think this event will continue well into the future. Now, on to the films presented.
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The first movie to flash before our eyes was “A Quiet Evening Home” (by Kimberly Busbee and James Serpento), a very strange, 23 minute dark comedy about cookies and death. In fact, this was probably the strangest movie screened during the festival weekend. I’m still pondering the plot. Next up was “Yearbook” (by Scott Beck), a 20 minute student drama about an alcohol related car accident. Though the movie was born out of a camcorder, the young filmmakers brought to life how various people and events were effected by a single student who got drunk at a party and ended up dead. They repeated scenes, adding a new perspective each time. The festival rightly awarded it “Best Student Film.” Once this nightmare was over, “Pond of Dreams” (by Jim Messina) brightened up the college theater with a 14 minute documentary about an Iowa farmer who converted a portion of his farm land into a pond to help conserve wildlife. The images on screen were beautifully filmed and a heart-felt story was told.
“World Teach: An Extraordinary Journey” (by Laya Schaetzel and Tim Hawthorne), a 54 minute documentary followed. A husband and wife team made this as a promotional video for WORLD TEACH, a 15 year-old non-profit volunteer organization. Filmmakers take you to various parts of the world and show you the importance of maintaining lines of communcation within different cultures.
Following a a 15 minute break, the festival introduced “The Audition” (by Rick Amundson). This was pretty much a one man show – using dry humor to fuel a know-it-all actor wannabe trying to get a part in a play. This was the funniest short film screened over the weekend and was awarded “Best Short Film.” “The Last Halloween” (by Denny LeMaster and Jay Kauffman) was made as a tribute to the John Carpenter’s classic “Halloween” movie. The film brought back Michael Meyer, and this time he comes home to Iowa. The movie had its funny moments and you could tell the filmmakers were having fun with this project. Another movie is in the works called “Transient”- their first serious attempt at a horror movie. I will be eager to see what the guys come up with.
When the night finally ended, I was pleased. My collegue, Mike Hall (an aspiring filmmaker himself) and I ended up having a late night snack at Perkins discussing the movies we saw and the movie he wants to develop. The festival sparked our creative juices and I hope others were inspired, too.
FILMS PRESENTED, Friday, February 22 ^ A Quiet Evening Home (Dark Comedy by Kimberly Busbee/James Serpento), PG, 23 minutes ^ Yearbook (Student drama by Scott Beck), 20 minutes ^ Pond of Dreams (Documentary by Jim Messina), G, 14 minutes ^ World Teach: An Extraordinary Journey (Documentary by Laya Schaetzel and Tim Hawthorne), 54 minutes, PG ^ The Audition (Comedy by Rick Amundson) 27 minutes, PG ^ The Last Halloween (Horror by Denny LeMaster/Jay Kauffman) 79 minutes, R.
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Day two started at 10 am, but unfortunately I had prior engagements to attend. I made it to the festival just in time to see “Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market” (by Max Allan Collins). This 72 minute thriller takes place in a small grocery store where two guys hold customers and staff at gunpoint. The entire movie was filmed with surveillance cameras, of all things. Collins won several awards for this film and earned “Most Innovative” at this festival.
Attending an independent film festival doesn’t mean you won’t see a movie trailer. Brad Freese created the 3 minute “Orion Falling Trailer.” It looked like a cheesy preview of a James Bond flick without the hot women. Regardless, it looks like it might be a fun flick. “Fear” by Jeremiah Zentz followed, a 10 minute movie dedicated itself to showing people’s fears and paranoia through words and images – like a dream where you run and there is no escape. Strange little film, but interesting enough to watch. “Medium of Exchange” (by Darren Moore) presented a 25 minute action/suspense movie about an art scandal. Part of the fun was just watching familiar scenes in my own city as a bunch of crooked crooks try to kill each other in the streets of Cedar Rapids.
James Serpento and Kimberly Busbee show us another project called “The Yoofo Club,” a 124 minute drama about a bunch of misfits in a bar keeping Frank Townsend company while he waits for a flying saucer to bring back his wife who disappeared ten years before. The highlight of this film was simply the acting. Aaron Smith brilliantly played “Gringo,” the mentally challenged bar tender who could make you laugh and cry. Melissa Albright fit right in as “Jennifer,” a girl afflicted with cancer; and Brian R. Lynner played “Frank Townsend” who made you wish his wife was really coming back.
A well deserved dinner break followed before the last four films would be presented. Up first was “Truce,” a 23 minute drama by Matthew Marconi. The short shows how a rancher adjusts his life when he takes in his granddaughter. I missed the next short film “Snafu: The New Collection” while I talked with other festival attendees, so let’s just say it was good. Wait! Maybe it sucked!
One of the highlights of the festival was a documentary by Lane Wyrick called “The Nazi Drawings: by Artist Mauricio Lasansky.” This was one powerful exploration of the Holocaust, showing real footage of dead bodies being tossed into ditches. One Iowa artist from the University of Iowa painted a collection of Holocaust themed paintings and gave us his story behind the realities of man’s inhumanity to man. This documentary won several awards nationwide and walked away with 5 from the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival – including “Best Documentary.” Everything about this project was professional – beautifully filmed and well written.
My favorite movie came at the end called “Always Greener,” a movie filmed by teenagers (S.M.H Productions) from Fairfield, Iowa. Think of “American Pie” light – without the pie (thank God). A web-based cologne merchant goes too far with his marketing campaign and local students do everything in their power to put him out of business. The movie surprisingly is well put together. A budget of about $3,000 and 3 months of filming allowed these filmmakers to walk away with 6 awards at this festival – including “Best Narrative Feature.” Every character was fun to watch and I am very eager to see their next project.
Closing the festival was keynote speaker Bradley Smith. Back in the 1980’s, he won an Emmy Award for sound editing on the hit TV show “Miami Vice.” He is also a former resident of Cedar Rapids. Smith brought some interesting insight into the world of filmmaking and offered some valuable advice for both amateur and professional producers.
FILMS PRESENTED ^ Saturday, February 23rd
Edutainment (Documentary by Tim Ferry), 30 minutes, G. ^ McAuley Theatre Documentary (by Jeremiah Zentz), 28 min, PG.
METRO H.S. SHOWCASE – Seller of Souls (Student, by Jeff Larimore), 10 minutes; The Sessions (Student, by Philip Campos), 8 minutes, PG; Deadly Emcees (Student, by DJ Tisdale), 7 minutes.
Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market (Thriller by Max Allan Collins), 72 minutes.
Orion Falling Trailer (Trailer, by Brad Freese), 3 minutes, PG.
Fear (Short by Jeremiah Zentz), 5-10 minutes, Unrated.
Medium of Exchange (Suspense by Darren Moore), 25 minutes, R.
The Yoofo Club (Drama by Kimberly Busbee/James Serpento), 124 minutes, PG-13.
Truce (Drama by Matthew Marconi), 23 minutes, PG 13.
Snafu: The New Collection (Drama by Mark Scovel), 6 minutes, R.
The Nazi Drawings: by Artist Mauricio Lasansky (Documentary by Lane Wyrick), 25 minutes, PG-13.
Always Greener (Comedy by S.M.H. Productions), 100 minutes, R.
Keynote Address by Brad Smith, Emmy Award-Winner; Award Ceremony.
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2002 FESTIVAL AWARDS ^ Soundtrack Recognition: Layla Schaetzel Hawthorne, Tim Hawthorne, “World Teach: An Extraordinary Journey”; SMH Productions, “Always Greener”
Best Soundtrack: Lane Wyrick, “The Nazi Drawings: by Artist Mauricio Lasansky” ^ Cinematography Recognition: Max Allan Collins, “Realtime: Siege at Lucas Street Market”; SMH Productions, “Always Greener” ^ Best Cinematography: Lane Wyrick, “The Nazi Drawings: by Artist Mauricio Lasansky” ^ Screenplay Recognition: Rick Amundson, “The Audition”; Max Allan Collins, “Realtime: Siege at Lucas Street Market” ^ Best Screenplay: SMH Productions, “Always Greener” ^ Student Film Recognition: Jeff Larimore, “Seller of Souls”; Jeremiah Zentz, “McAuley Theatre Documentary”; Philip Campos, “The Sessions”; DJ Tisdale, “Deadly Emcees”; Jeremiah Zentz, “Fear”; Brad Freese, “Orion Falling Trailer” ^ Best Student Film: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, “Yearbook” ^ Innovation Recognition: Jeremiah Zentz, “McAuley Theatre Documentary”; Tim Ferry, “Edutainment” ^ Most Innovative: Max Allan Collins, “Realtime: Siege at Lucas Street Market” ^ Short Film Recognition: Kimberly Busbee, James Serpento, “A Quiet Evening Home”; Marc Scovel, “Snafu: The New Collection”; Matthew Marconi, “Truce”; Darren Moore, “Medium of Exchange” ^ Best Short Film: Rick Amundson, “The Audition” ^ Editing Recognition: Max Allan Collins, “Realtime: Siege at Lucas Street Market”; SMH Productions, “Always Greener” ^ Best Editing: Lane Wyrick, “The Nazi Drawings: by Artist Mauricio Lasansky” ^ Acting Recognition: Kimberly Busbee, James Serpento, “A Quiet Evening Home”; Rick Amundson, “The Audition” ^ Best Acting: SMH Productions, “Always Greener” ^ Documentary Directing Recognition: Layla Schaetzel Hawthorne, Tim Hawthorne, “World Teach: An Extraordinary Journey”; Jim Messina, “Pond of Dreams” ^ Best Directing, Documentary: Lane Wyrick, “The Nazi Drawings: by Artist Mauricio Lasansky” ^ Narrative Directing Recognition: Kimberly Busbee, James Serpento, “The Yoofo Club”; Rick Amundson, “The Audition” ^ Best Directing, Narrative: SMH Productions, “Always Greener” ^ Documentary Recognition: Tim Ferry, “Edutainment”; Layla Schaetzel Hawthorne, Tim Hawthorne, “World Teach: An Extraordinary Journey”; Jim Messina, “Pond of Dreams” ^ Best Documentary: Lane Wyrick, “The Nazi Drawings: by Artist Mauricio Lasansky” ^ Recognition for Narrative Feature: Kimberly Busbee, James Serpento, “The Yoofo Club”; Max Allan Collins, “Realtime: Siege at Lucas Street Market”; Denny LeMaster, Jay Kauffman; “The Last Halloween” ^ Best Narrative Feature: SMH Productions, “Always Greener” ^ Audience Choice: SMH Productions, “Always Greener”
The Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival went pretty smooth – regardless of a few technical problems here and there (and what film festival doesn’t have them?). Hopefully, the promoters will add some panel discussions next year so filmmakers can get on stage and briefly talk about their films. “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival” does this and audiences love it! Watching too many movies, one right after the other, can be a little exhausting at times. Lisa Bronson (Writer’s Guild Director) said they would like to bring in a local celebrity to host the festival next year. Excellent idea!
Overall, I was thrilled with this film festival. You don’t have to like every film presented, either. It’s a pure joy just having the opportunity to watch local filmmakers (professional & amateur) do their stuff – right here in Iowa. It’s not just an entertainment event, it’s an educational journey into the world of independent filmmaking.
I’m looking forward to next year!
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