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FUSING ART WITH EDUCATION

by Keith Barber

It could be argued the primary reason film festivals were invented was the natural inclination of filmmakers to socialize, network and share new ideas with their colleagues. The second annual Reynolda Film Festival, held April 1-5 at Wake Forest, embodied that collaborative spirit of cinema with its broad array of film screenings, panel discussions and educational seminars, but with a slightly academic twist. Film industry professionals shared their knowledge directly with Wake Forest students on the picturesque quads of the Winston- Salem campus during a number of “In the Shade” instructional sessions — a vital component of the film festival. The general public and students enjoyed equal access to several panel discussions and presentations by film industry professionals. Rounding out the festival programming was a screening of John Sayles’ latest film, Honeydripper, Thavisouk Phrasavath’s Academy Award-nominated film The Betrayal and Wendy and Lucy, starring Michelle Williams. Following the Honeydripper screening, Sayles participated in a video teleconference question-and-answer session. Student festival organizer Sam Smartt said he was struck by one of Sayles’ responses to a question about the relative ease of access to film technology. “He said, ‘My first film, I made for $40,000 out of pocket, and you could make it a lot cheaper these days,’” Smartt recalled. “Technology is accessible but being good at the technology doesn’t make you a good filmmaker. There are a lot of other more important, more abstract skills.” Smartt said Burke’s presentation on his work as an animator with Pixar served to underscore Sayles’ point. “He said you could learn [animation software] Maya, but that doesn’t make you a good animator,” Smart recalled. “You need to be an artist, you need to be able to draw — you need to be able to conceive of these kinds of things. The same thing is true for filmmaking and editing. Having that technology that even makes it possible to try is great, but you need a whole other skill set too.” An aspiring filmmaker, Smartt served as the filmmaker liaison for the 2009 festival. His duties included recruiting student filmmakers and processing submissions through the film festival’s Withoutabox.com online account. Nearly 100 films were submitted to this year’s festival. Smartt said student organizers John McGowan, Alex Saks and Brent Lindley, as well as Wake professors Max Negin and Steve Jarrett deserved much of the credit for the festival building upon the success of the inaugural event in 2008. Saks said a communications class of 20 students selected the finalists in dramatic, documentary and animation categories, while a group of nine professors from Wake and Elon University selected the winners. On April 5, the winners were announced. B for Beekeeper, director Thomas O’Keefe’s exploration of the symbiotic relationship between honey bees and the people that keep them, won the Best Documentary prize. O’Keefe chronicled beekeeper Bill Waddell’s personal journey through an accident and rebirth as a beekeeper. “A good beekeeper must see the bees as collaborators, rather than simply a resource,” O’Keefe said in a statement.

“I think this serves as a great example of how humanity might need to change itself in the coming years.”’  In the Dark, director Alex Fazeli’s spy story set in Iran just before the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, won the Best Dramatic Film prize. Director George Smaragdis’ film Scrimshander, which tells the story of a friendship that blossoms between an inquisitive young boy and a solitary bone carver, took top honors in the animation category. Also, director Gillian Munro won a special award for her film Small Avalanches, an adaptation of a short story by Joyce Carol Oates about a singular event in the life of a 13-year-old girl in the summer of 1971. McGowan said the Reynolda Film Festival is unique considering all it offers area film students and film lovers. Smartt concurred with McGowan’s assessment. “I think what you’re going to see in future years as the festival grows and develops is an increased interest in our student body in film itself,” he said.

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Student organizers for the 2 nd annual Reynolda Film Festival (fromleft) John McGowan, Alex Saks, and Sam Smartt said the festivaldistinguishes itself with its emphasis on the sharing of knowledgebetween film professionals and film students. The festival, held on theWake campus last week, received nearly 100 student film submissions,screened Academy Award-nominated documentaries and presented seminarson computer animation and visual effects. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

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