Spirits were high Sunday night as local filmmakers, and film fans gathered at the Marketplace Cinemas Winston-Salem for the third annual MPCWS Short Film Gala.
Although this year’s attendance didn’t match last year’s near sell-out, “we are here, and we have brought the best line-up yet,” announced event organizer Zack Fox in his introductory remarks. Judging by audience enthusiasm, his last sentiment wasn’t mere hype.
There were 14 short films at this year’s event, including a special screening of the Thomas Edison-produced 1910 silent short Frankenstein, boasting by live musical accompaniment from the Davie County Community Band. There were 12 films eligible for awards consideration.
The first-prize winner was Wings, a droll meditation on life and death as seen through the eyes of a curious young girl. The film marks the debut of writer/editor/director Aidan Millroy, a second-year student at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking. It is not, however, his student film, but rather a project he and some friends shot over a few days. In his introduction to the film, Millroy described Wings as “kinda funny, kinda sad, and a little out there!”
Upon receiving his framed first-place certificate, he admitted that he was not expecting to win, but he appreciates it.
“I was really pleased by the audience response,” Millroy said later while accepting congratulations from fellow filmmakers and guests. “That was great, but this [award] is really nice, too – and very unexpected, as I said.”
The second-prize winner was Ademir Gogic’s Apart, which wasn’t even filmed in the United States, much less North Carolina, but which added a stylish international flavor to the gala. The third-place winner was Kevin Murray’s quirky fantasy For Love.
Carl T. Jacobs, whose Edgar Allan Poe short Annabel Lee won the top prize at the first MPCWS gala, was back with Murky Water, a brooding Southern Gothic in the spirit of Flannery O’Connor. The film was his senior thesis project at Florida State University but befitting the gala was steeped in Southern flavor, albeit of a dark sort.
“I’m very pleased to have my films come here three years in a row,” he said. “It’s so important to support these venues for North Carolina films.”
A long-time fan of the horror and fantasy genres, he’s already mapping out his next short film – and it won’t be a musical (“I don’t think so,” he smiled). Although Murky Water didn’t win an award, Jacobs was pleased by the audience response.
“I like to keep audiences on the edge of their seats with mood and atmosphere,” he said. “I’m not into blood and guts.”
Several of the filmmakers on hand participated in more than one film, including Sammie Cassell (Midnight Shift and Cinema One: A Popcorn Adventure), Tom Gore (Midnight Shift and The Last AirBnB), and Fox himself (Cinema One and Our War). As Fox is also the gala organizer, does this create a conflict of interest during awards consideration?
“It hasn’t come up,” he said. “There’s nothing in the rules that say a film I was involved with couldn’t win … I suppose if someone complained we’d look into it, but that hasn’t happened.” (Cinema One was not in competition.)
Incidentally, Fox is hard at work on another Star Wars fan short to commemorate the opening of the next installment, The Last Jedi. Like Cinema One, it will be screened before The Last Jedi when it plays Marketplace Cinemas – and like Cinema One will be screened at next year’s MPCWS Short Film Gala.
Gore bears a passing resemblance to Zach Galifianakis, so much so that he’s occasionally been mistaken for the popular actor/comedian. “I’d rather be mistaken for someone I think is talented than someone who isn’t,” he quipped.
In Dan Sellers’ found-footage chiller Midnight Shift, Gore plays the pivotal role of a police officer – even though his face is never seen in the film. In The Last Airbnb, he plays the unflappable proprietor of a vaguely foreboding small-town bed-and-breakfast who, if he doesn’t have skeletons in his closet, has at least one body there.
Gore’s next project is based on Stephen King’s short story Beachworld, which appeared in the 1985 anthology Skeleton Crew.
The famed author has periodically granted rights to his stories to independent filmmakers, most famously to Frank Darabont, whose first film was the 30-minute short The Woman in the Room (1983), based on King’s short story. Darabont would go on to direct the feature versions of The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999), among the most acclaimed King stories ever brought to the screen.
When asked why he would make a film that precluded financial reward (as per the agreement with King), it’s yours truly who made the observation: “Because Stephen King films get attention,” to which Gore nodded and pointed in my direction: “What he said.”
There is, of course, an element of competition to the MPCWS Short Film Gala, but it pales next to the spirit of collaboration and celebration that the event is primarily designed for.
Filmmaker Ken Comito (Witching Hour) and his wife Melanie, co-founders of the Triad Film Collaborative and Brain Juice Productions (brainjuiceproductions.com), are tireless proponents of independent filmmaking in the region, doing their part to support and bring together local filmmakers, many of whom are friends – and some first encountered at previous galas.
“We either know them or have worked with them or if we don’t know them, we know of them and know someone they’ve worked with,” he said, “so there’s a nice circular environment. That’s the important thing.”
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2017, Mark Burger.