48-Hour Film Project goes on without Clarey

by Brian Clarey

Up on the back deck behind the offices of my pal Dusty’s company, Keene Innovations, the filmmakers gather to plan for this year’s 48 Hour Film Project, which kicked off Friday night.

I’ve been looking forward to this day for almost a year, since our team, the Keene Collaboration, won last year’s Greensboro event and placed high enough in international competition to warrant a screening at the Cannes Film Festival.

But this year it is not to be.

I was unceremoniously disallowed from the competition two days before kickoff, after someone from Greensboro formally complained to the national 48 Hour Film Project about my participation. The complaint was, of course, anonymous – at least to me. Which is probably for the best, because if I knew who it was I don’t know if I would be able to suppress my desire for revenge.

The complaint had to do with the newspaper you hold in your hands. YES! Weekly has been a media sponsor for the Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project since the paper began publication in January 2005, which basically means that we give them a couple of free ads. This constitutes a conflict of interest.

Another aggravating factor is that one of our freelancers, film critic Mark Burger, has been a judge at the competition for the past four years.

We sponsor it because we believe in it; the Triad is home to a treasure of film-making talent and the project is an opportunity for the community to show off the goods. Plus the mission – short-burst creativity with a wicked sense of urgency – is a big part of what we do here at the paper.

And Burger is on board because he’s a part of just about everything that involves the film community in the Triad.

Before the competition last year, Burger and I were concerned about a conflict of interest, so we were extremely transparent about our relationship with project organizers Suzan McGee and Mindy Scott, who cleared everything with the national offices of the 48-Hour Film Project before we were allowed to proceed.

And for the record, Burger was the one judge who did not vote for our film, “JoBeth,” to win last year.

This year, after some controversy over sponsorship in Texas, the rules have changed, though nobody saw fit to tell us, one of 10 or so international 48 Hour Film teams to screen at Cannes.

I understand. We call people out for perceived conflicts of interest all the time. But I posit that the nature of the Triad filmmaking community is such that similar conflicts abound. Are NC School of the Arts alumni conflicted if a former professor is a judge? Are filmmakers who have been featured in the pages of YES! Weekly candidates for disqualification because of their relationship to a sponsor? These are questions for bigger minds than mine, and they will have to be answered by the national 48 Hour Film Project in due time.

I’m upset by the situation because with it comes the suggestion of impropriety, though it is ludicrous to think that Burger would jeopardize a 15-year career and reputation to throw an amateur film competition for his editor. And the judges that sent us to Cannes certainly were not influenced by the fact that I am the editor of a small weekly newspaper.

It’s disturbing that the Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project, which operates on a shoestring budget, will have one less sponsor next year if I really want to compete. The person who made the complaint likely neither knows nor cares about the importance of media sponsorship to an event like this.

But what bothers me the most is the petty nature of the whole thing, that some wanker lodges his protest just a couple days before kickoff, not enough time for us to appeal the decision or for my teammates to find a replacement, basically kneecapping us like that swine Jeff Gillooly did to Nancy Kerrigan. But at least Gillooly had the guts to do it in person.

Then there’s this: Getting me disqualified will not make this hater’s film any better, which is really what the competition is about. And frankly, I don’t think it’s going to make much difference to my old teammates, each one crackling with talent and skill. Our anonymous whistleblower greatly overestimated my role in the process, though I do wonder who will get coffee and water for the team while they’re shooting.

“JoBeth” was the first script I ever wrote, and I have to say it went pretty well. It will certainly not be my last. And save for that one crybaby, I still have great admiration for and faith in the Triad filmmaking community that, in my experience, is extremely supportive and helpful.

And I will try to be the same.

My thoughts right now are that the 48 Hour Film Project itself is more important than my own filmmaking aspirations, so it is likely that YES! Weekly’s sponsorship of the competition will continue. And as for our anonymous whistleblower, he will need to find another person to blame when his team does not earn Best in Show.

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