Aug. 17--If you've never been to a film festival, this is a great week to consider it with the 2013 Eichelberger FilmDayton Festival coming up Aug. 22-25. The screenings will be held at The Neon movie theater in downtown Dayton with some of the other events nearby.
The experience is a far cry from your typical visit to a movie theater -- it's much more interactive and an entertaining mix of film screenings, professional workshops, parties and contests.
Just ask Marisha Mukerjee, a Los Angeles-based writer who was instrumental in creating the first local festival five years ago and will be coming back to town this week as a participant in this year's events.
"I think we always had a vision that it would grow and it's very exciting to see it happen," says Mukerjee, who grew up in Springfield and now works as assistant to the executive producer on the FX hit show "Justified." She has also worked for the development company Cineflix.
Mukerjee will be leading a professional workshop entitled "Pitching Yourself and Your Story" as well as serving as a contest judge for the American Idol-type competition called Pitch It!, which she helped create in 2009.
"A film festival is not only about seeing great content, it's about being able to meet people within the industry, and it's a great way to garner an education over a weekend," she says, adding that it's also an opportunity to network and to interact with like-minded individuals who love movies.
How it grew
FilmDayton's director Megan Cooper says the very first FilmDayton Festival in 2009 was a celebration showcasing area talent with locally-connected films.
"Since then, we've continued our focus on regional talent while shining a light on more recent works and bringing in the 'best of the fests' for our film-savvy audiences to enjoy," she says, adding that some of the films being shown this year are only available to audiences in New York or L.A.
A case in point is the film "In A World," the comedy hit created by writer/director/star Lake Bell that will kick off the Dayton festival. Bell, known for her ability to create a wide range of voices, has been making news at other festivals and was recently featured on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air." The film was Winner of Best Screenplay at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Another example is "Short Term 12," which comes to Dayton on the same weekend it opens in Los Angeles and was named Grand Jury and Audience Award Winner at SXSW. It's the story of a young foster-care supervisor who looks after troubled teens while dealing with her own past.
Meet the filmmakers
One of a festival's most exciting draws is the opportunity to meet and hear from those who've created the films. The husband-wife team of Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman will lead a discussion following the showing of their documentary, "Remote Area Medical." If Jeff's name sounds familiar, it's because he is the nephew of Yellow Springs filmmaker Julia Reichert and worked with her on the film, "The Last Truck."
"Remote Area Medical" introduces audiences to some of the people struggling without health insurance and the medical professionals who volunteer their time to serve them. The idea came from a relative who volunteered at the clinic and suggested Reichert check it out.
"This could be a movie," she told him.
And she was right. The filmmakers were on the scene over a three-day period when nearly 2,000 patients were treated on the infield of Bristol, Tenn.'s NASCAR speedway.
"We are open to all types of film so we went and filmed and met people and tried to find interesting stories," says Reichert, who says a documentary film maker must "just go and be instinctual."
"When we started making the movie, we thought it would be about the clinic and how it worked, and once we were in the area it had to be more about the folks that were coming," he explains, adding that the response to the film has been positive and that some folks who've seen it have then volunteered at the clinic.
Reichert's interest in movie-making began in childhood.
"When I was a kid I would see movie and want to be the people in them -- like an archaeologist because of the Indiana Jones films," says Reichert, who grew up in South Jersey. "In high school instead of doing papers for projects, I started making videos."
After working in film distribution and doing marketing and publicity for a number of independent films, he started making films in 2006.
"Every aspect of it is great, from trying to figure out how to shoot it to the sound mix and color correction," says Reichert, who says he likes the edit the best. "You know what you have and you can take it in any direction you want."
The Brooklyn couple will also be leading a workshop entitled "Demystifying Distribution." Reichert works at Cinedigm and Farihah was formerly at Magnolia Pictures.
Fun and Games
Mukerjee worked in England for a number of years and brought the Pitch It! concept there to Dayton's festival. The idea is that screenwriters pitch their movie idea to industry insiders and get feedback in an American-Idol type format.
"I thought it would be a great ice-breaker for people who have ideas but haven't gotten to the writing stage," she says. "They can get them heard out loud and develop their pitching skills and because it's also fun and a game, it's not scary. Most of the time you can get constructive feedback and at the end of the day, this is what it's about."
Cooper says the biggest change in the festival over the past five years is the addition of submission-based short films.
"In the past, the FilmDayton Festival showed movies by invitation-only," she said, explaining that a jury would review films they sought out because of their local connections or critical success. Then they'd put together a program.
"This year, we took a leap forward with a process that many of the larger film festival utilize -- submissions by filmmakers," she explains. " We put out a call for short films and were wildly impressed by the selection -- filmmakers from over 10 countries (across four continents) submitted their work for consideration!"
Those chosen for the festival will be shown in four "blocks."
The FilmDayton Awards were launched last year "to celebrate filmmakers, advocates and friends of the regional film community who raise the level of quality and put Dayton on the map."
This year three recipients, nominated by their peers, will be honored at 8 p.m. on Sunday evening, Aug 25. Sadly, two of those being recognized will be honored posthumously.
-- Jud Yalkut, who made video art and taught at both Wright State University and Sinclair Community College, died recently and is being given the Innovation Award for a lifetime of innovation and creativity in filmmaking.
-- Andy Copp, an educator and independent filmmaker who was part of the Dayton Access television family and had his own production company, will receive the Filmmaker Award.
-- And the Key award will be given to the Levin Family Foundation for special service to the regional film community. The Levins have supported filmmaking in the region for decades through their theaters and have recently been involved in underwriting "Take Us Home," a documentary depicting the challenges faced by Ethiopian Jews who hope to go to Israel.
Tried and true
Cooper says in addition to these newer additions to the festival, there are some things that will never change.
"Every year, professional filmmakers, aspiring media artists and interested onlookers participate in in-depth workshops that provide a behind-the-scenes look at the film industry," she says. "Filmmakers have the opportunity to expand their skills and audiences have fun learning about a new aspect of movies."
This year topics will include the pitch and what makes a good one, the details of a movie budget, the ways in which filmmakers secure distribution to get their film out into the world, what it takes to make a movie beautiful with production design, and how changes in media such as television and the Internet are affecting filmmakers.
Cooper says the festival also likes to foster young talent and has partnered with the Wright State University Big Lens Festival for a Thursday night event. The Sundog Film Festival features the work of high school students.
"Audiences have a great time seeing the next generation of Dayton filmmakers and the students get to be proud of their wonderful work while seeing it up on the big screen," she says.
Reichert says his advice to parents whose kids want to make films is to remind them that it's possible to make a living in the industry in a variety of ways.
"If it's a passion, you can't turn it off," he says from personal experience. "If you can't make movies, then work in and around movies. There are so many different things you can do!"
Mukerje is a great example. She began by working in production, but had always dreamed of writing.
"I've always loved storytelling," she says. "The opportunity to tell stories is amazing."
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