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It's Yours, Fresno
Fresno Filmworks celebrated its eighth anniversary this month -- eight years of bringing first-run independent, experimental, and international movies to the central San Joaquin Valley each month.
Now, to kick off its ninth year, the all-volunteer nonprofit has scheduled its sixth annual festival for April: the 2010 Fresno Film Festival, featuring 19 movies from 15 different countries.
The festival will run April 16-18 at the historic Tower Theatre, continuing to offer Fresno-area moviegoers a multicultural, international film experience that cannot be regularly found at commercial theaters.
The group's president, Joy Quigley, took some time to talk with Fresno Famous for an interview.
Filmworks is again collaborating with downtown Fresno design collective Anti Laboratories on the Fresno Film Festival's theme. Filmworks and Anti Labs chose “It's Yours” as this year's theme. What's the idea behind that?
The idea behind “It's Yours” is bringing the larger community together. The whole idea of Filmworks and the festival has naturally appealed to the Tower District and downtown crowds. We've also been trying to draw in Fresno State and Fresno City College students. But with “It's Yours,” we'll be trying to reach more people throughout Fresno and the surrounding areas.
We have four new venues to buy tickets and festival passes, the Fig Garden Bookstore in Fig Garden Village, the Pop Laval Gallery at Friant and Fort Washington, FTK at Shaw and Blackstone, and The Laundry Room at Palm and Nees. [You can still buy tickets and passes online at FresnoFilmworks.org or at the Tower Theatre box office.]
“It's Yours” is about letting everyone know that Filmworks and the festival belongs to all of them. No matter who you are, it's yours.
The festival opens this year with the historical drama “The Last Station,” the Leo Tolstoy biopic that features an ensemble cast and stars Oscar nominees Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer. Why did Filmworks pick this movie as the opener?
Besides the fact that I'm in love with Helen Mirren? [Laughs.] We wanted to pick something strong and also festive for opening night. “The Last Station” has won awards and has gotten great reviews. It's a great place for us to start. We chose it before the Oscars, of course. We knew it was nominated but it hadn't won anything yet.
Yes, the film also has some behaving badly. Mirren and Plummer are fun, fantastic actors. How could we go wrong?
On the festival's second day, you've got the animated film “A Town Called Panic,” from France and Belgium. I saw a trailer for the movie this past month at the Filmworks screening of the Oscar shorts and it looked zany and surreal – stop-motion animation and 1950s style cowboy figurines as characters. Why pick a full-length animated film?
First, the movie looked like a lot of fun. With every film we pick, we read reviews, see trailers, and spend time watching screeners. We try to get info from wherever we can. Multiple [board members] saw it and thought it was terrific. Also, we always get a strong audience response for films in French.
We have, at past festivals, shown family films at midday Saturday. This one's animated, but it's different than past animated movies we've shown. It's a bit more challenging because it has subtitles. But I watched it with a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old – both of them precocious – and they liked it. Even if you can't keep up with the subtitles, it has charming animation and it's a good story.
We did show “Waltz with Bashir” last year, which has a completely different kind of animation, and it did very well. In fact, our audience chose it as best feature in last year's festival.
The sixth annual festival's lineup features eight programs, with 19 films from 15 different countries. I noticed that the board picked a slimmer but broader mix of films this year. What was the rationale behind this year's lineup?
One of the things we're trying to do is to have juried awards for short films. In the past, we've only had audience favorites. This year we have a jury and will be awarding prizes. We'll give a cash award and an in-kind gift of editing software for short-film makers. We're doing this because in order to be considered an Oscar shorts-qualified festival, we must have a festival for five years and also have a juried award. We're trying to move in that direction.
With the juried awards, we have a slightly smaller selection of short films with higher production values. The last two years, we've had two full shorts programs. This year there's only one, plus a bunch of shorts sprinkled in with the features.
Our first jury panel will consist of Damian Acevedo, a Fresno native and award-winning cinematographer who is L.A. based. Then there's Darrin Navarro, another L.A. based Fresno native who is a film editor. There's Peter McCandless, an award-winning cinematographer based in San Francisco. There's Joyce Aiken, an artist and professor emerita from Fresno State. And there's also Garance Burke, a Fresno-based reporter for the Associated Press.
What are some of your personal favorites at the festival? What surprises are in store?
“Manual Practico” opens the shorts program Saturday and it's absolutely hysterical. It's a live-action comedy from Spain. This guy plays a motivational speaker for his imaginary friends. It's a total crack-up.
There's also “A Harlem Mother,” a documentary. I have a soft spot for documentaries because that's what I've always worked in. This film is about a woman who has lost her son to violence in Harlem. She forms a support group and they become activists to try and change the way things are going there. It's a very well-made doc. The filmmaker, Ivana Todorovic, is a Serbian woman, recently moved to New York, who's a film student at The New School. She has had her own struggles as well.
I also like the feature “Kisses,” an Irish film. It reminds me of the 1980 film “Times Square” [directed by Allan Moyle]. It's about two neglected kids who run away to the city to discover new things, new people. They support each other. It's beautifully shot. It uses an old trick: It's black and white in the rundown neighborhood where they live, gradually moving into color while the two travel to Dublin, all color and bright lights.
The closing night film is the Oscar-nominated documentary on Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, “The Most Dangerous Man In America.” Why did you pick this film to end the festival?
First, I know our core audience would really appreciate it. Many of our die-hard fans and followers have close affiliations with Peace Fresno, the Fresno Center for Nonviolence, WILPF, and similar organizations in the peace community.
But also, when scheduling documentaries, it can sometimes be hard to get a good audience. This one's a popular, engaging film that has gotten so much good press. We're excited about it.
Also on closing night, Filmworks is planning a special tribute to the late local filmmaker John Kelly, who passed away this past fall. What does the board have planned and how did that come about?
John Kelly was a prominent member of the local filmmaking community and beyond. He worked nationally and internationally. He worked in L.A. and San Francisco. But he was based here in Fresno and stayed here because his son Patrick lives here.
One of our recent additions to the Filmworks board, Cindy Wathen, was John's partner for the last year of his life. He passed away from cancer. Cindy has established a Filmworks fund in John's name. So this is the first year we'll have an award for cinematography in John's name. It will be called the John Kelly Award for Excellence in Cinematography in a short film.
Local filmmakers Steve Bryant, Greg Amaro, and Jeff Ervin are putting together a tribute reel on John that will be shown on Sunday night before the closing film and awards. They are longtime friends and colleagues of John's.
You've been board president at Filmworks for almost a year now, taking over for founding president John Moses, who is still on the board as program director. How has your tenure gone so far? What has surprised you about Filmworks month after month?
It actually still surprises me that distributors won't always work with us. They think that their films will make it to multiplex and they don't. So we all have to wait. It's astonishing to me when we try to tell them that the multiplex isn't going to give them a booking. We're the only place in Fresno that a lot of these films are going to show. It can get frustrating.
Filmworks would love to book films earlier in their runs and not have to wait so long for them. John Moses, as program director, has such a good bead on what the multiplex will book and it won't. But the distributors won't always follow his instincts. We just end up waiting or we have to pick something else and pass on something good. It can be such a shame.
Filmworks recently celebrated its eighth anniversary in March. What's the biggest challenge facing the group going into the year?
We continue to be grateful to the Fresno Arts Council for their community enrichment grant once again this year. There's also strong support this year from our sponsors, especially individual donors and contributors. We had a terrific evening in January at the John Keats poetry night we held at the Revue Cafe as a fundraiser. We had a great turnout and we hope to do more events like that.
One thing that people don't quite realize is that there's no way Filmworks can survive on ticket sales alone. We rely so much on donations and support. People continue to be very generous when we send our annual calls for donations and festival sponsorships. We're grateful for that and we try to keep going.