North Carolina Film and Video Festival: A Homecoming
by Lawrence Ferber
In its third year, North Carolina’s uniquely indigenous-oriented film
festival hosted a bevy of local cinephiles and out-of-towners, accompanied
by. . . tuna-cilantro pizzas. Unique? Films submitted to the NCFVF must
have a North Carolina connection whether it be filmmaker, subject, or
setting. Last year’s feature prize winner, Julian Stone’s “Follow The Bitch“,
incited an uncomfortable stir due to its dubious eligibility. This year,
such chagrined memories were buried underneath a victorious series of
well-attended screenings, panels, and parties.
Opening night began with a reception at Raleigh’s Rialto Theater. Milling
about with platefuls of mysterious hors d’oeuvres such as chicken with
sesame seeds and horseradish, and a warm, creamy, crab paste atop rustic
toast, one could spot John Pierson, Guest of Honor Victor Nunez (“Ulee’s Gold“), and entertainment lawyer Alex Murphy (“In The Company Of Men“).
Following a tribute to NC filmmaking legend Jeff Leighton, who lost a long
struggle with cancer earlier this year, NCFVF’s Artistic Advisor Godfrey
Cheshire took to the stage with Victor Nunez for a discussion and screening
of Nunez’s “Gal Young ‘un” amongst other things. Nunez emphasized the role of
filmmaker as passionate artist driven by the need to make films, rather
than make films in exchange for the poser status of filmmaker: a call for
integrity in a business known for its status-seekers.
Artistic Advisor and film critic Godfrey Cheshire, who now resides in
Manhattan, (this appears to be a trend – Tim Kirkman and Macky Alston,
whose respective “Dear Jesse” and “Family Name” deservedly won prizes this
year, also relocated to NYC for successful film-borne careers) was
introduced by NC theater legend Ira David Wood. “Turn in the dictionary to
the term ‘film’ and you will find a picture of Godfrey Cheshire,” he waxed.
Perhaps a bit dramatic in gesture, but one certainly well-deserved.
Cheshire’s success and involvement as film critic (Film Comment, The New
York Press), festival juror/moderator (Sundance), and champion (his
involvement with “Dear Jesse” amongst others has been priceless to NC
filmmakers/film watchers) is inarguable.
Prior to the evening’s awards ceremony, Saturday’s activities included a
lecture/clip presentation with John Pierson, who screened select clips from
his “Split Screen” series, and a panel on Documentary Filmmaking. Prolific
indie lawyer/producer John Sloss zipped in for a panel on “Independent Film
Production from the National Perspective,” joining Pierson, Sony Pictures
Classics’ Dylan Leiner, Filmmaker Magazine’s Scott Macaulay, and Good
Machine’s Mary Jane Skalski.
Cheshire welcomed this year’s three judges to the stage Saturday night for
prize-giving. Jennifer Essen, a senior publicist at the Whitney, presented
“Southern Belle“‘s” William Olsen with a special Juror Citation. Olsen, whose
list of credits includes Troma offerings, happily accepted his award.
Skalski presented David Hardy with another special citation for “Takeover: The Trials Of Eddie Hatcher” on behalf of himself and Taylor Sisk. Leiner
presented Tim Kirkman, currently a Miramax employee and whose poster
designs are familiar to us all (“House of Yes” is his latest), along with
producer Mary Beth Mann, with a special jury prize for Tim Kirkman’s “Dear Jesse“, which screened on Sunday. Other winning films included: the
documentary “Subdue The Universe” by James Taylor, a hysterical look at
obscure 1996 presidential campaigners; the experimental “Mangolia House” by
Chapel Hill’s David Teague; best music video “Battle Of Who Could Care Less“
by Flicker curator/organizer Norwood Cheek; and best short “She Hangs Brightly” by David Baeumler.
Finally, Cheshire welcomed Sundance award-winner Macky Alston up to present
his “Family Name“, which has since been picked up by Strand Releasing.
Coincidentally, both Kirkman and Alston are gay, North Carolinians. They
live in New York at present, and have produced highly-respected,
provocative, personal documentaries. Both films enjoyed preview screenings
at Chapel Hill’s Carolina Theater as well.
Following Alston’s screening, a rather juicy Q&A was conducted. Alston
revealed that his film, which delves deeply into the Alston family moniker
and its split between black and white Alstons, suggesting his slave-owning
ancestors having owned the black side’s ancestors, was originally slated to
include two other “secrets.” One story was to involve the murder of four
blacks by wealthy, prominent white families, one of which might have been
his own, and the tale of a gay ancestor who kept this rather
verboten-at-the-time secret rather hidden away. Maintaining his penchant
for truth and fact seeking, Alston’s next project, “Allen Smith’s Life After Death” concerns the question of a benevolent God’s existence in light of the
Unsurprisingly, Tim Kirkman’s “Dear Jesse” screening was packed. Family,
friends, fellow NC filmmakers such as “The Delicate Art Of The Rifle“‘s Dante
Harper and “Chesterfield“‘s David Reid Iversen and Catherine Constantinou,
and even some viewers from Helms’ county arrived for this anticipated
event. During the Q&A, one of the latter group asked, “When you gonna take
it to Union (Helms’) County?” Kirkman puzzled over the availability of such
a venue and then chimed, “Maybe we can show it at the Jesse Helms center —
on the side or something!” sending a wave of chortles and applause. Indeed,
the NCFVF, unlike Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, and even Slumdance, maintained an
air of homecoming or at the very least, an open door to familiar visitors
[Lawrence Ferber is the Selection Coordinator for NC’s Gay and Lesbian Film
Festival, a founder of the monthly SCARCE SIGHTINGS, the Asst.
Entertainment Editor for NC’s The Front Page, and a filmmaker himself.
After over seven years living in NC, he has relocated to Park Slope,