Despite the loss of tax incentives for film production in North Carolina, there remains a passionate contingent of filmmakers and film fans determined to prove that there is still a voice – and a place – for independent filmmaking in the Tar Heel State.
Zack Fox, the organizer of the Marketplace Cinemas Winston-Salem Short Film Gala, is one of them. The third annual gala will take place Sunday at the Marketplace Cinemas in Winston-Salem, and Fox notes with good humor that “you could say the third time’s the charm.”
A photographer and videographer based in Winston-Salem whose credits include Dan Sellers’ feature documentary Sammie the Comic Book Man, and the award-winning Civil War short Our War, Fox designed the annual gala as a showcase for filmmakers from North Carolina and the surrounding region. Initially, however, that wasn’t entirely clear to the filmmakers who submitted their films the first two years.
“Our first gala, we didn’t charge a dime for submissions and got over 670 from all over the globe – (but) by not charging, people simply didn’t read the rules regarding what our gala was about, and just submitted,” Fox recalls. “For the second gala we charged $1 for early admissions, $2.50 for on-time submissions, and $5 for late submissions – and still got over 300 films, again from all over the globe.”
It may have been flattering and encouraging for a new festival to receive so many submissions, but it was also overwhelming.
“This year we received 100 submissions – charging $2.50 for early admissions, $5 for on-time, and $7.50 for late,” Fox said. “But by increasing the prices by just a dollar, people actually started to read the rules and understand what our gala was. ‘John Doe’ from Vancouver didn’t enter because John Doe read the rules and realized he probably wouldn’t get in. We made it crystal clear that we wanted local or closely-filmed – South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia – films, and that’s what we got this year. By increasing the submission prices we got what we were looking for … and made our jobs easier! Our event is for the unsung talent of North Carolina.”
This year’s gala boasts 14 films, with 12 qualifying finalists. Of that dozen, eight were filmed in North Carolina. Filmmaker Carl T. Rogers, whose Edgar Allan Poe adaptation Annabel Lee was a previous gala first-place award winner, returns this year with his latest film, the Southern Gothic shocker Murky Water. Previous gala filmmakers Sellers and Andrew Huggins are back this year, Sellers with Midnight Shift and Huggins with There Could Be Nothing After This, and comedian Brian T. Shirley returns to screen Bengleton Socks, the pilot for his sketch-comedy series, and add some stand-up revelry to the proceedings.
“We’re very excited for Midnight Shift to be a part of Marketplace’s gala,” Sellers said. “This is Zack’s third year organizing this festival and it has become a great event for local filmmakers to get together, see each other’s films, and connect in person.”
Other shorts on the schedule include Wings (the debut of UNCSA School of Filmmaking student Aidan Millroy), The Last AirBnB, Geek Story, Brothers, Apart, Inside, For Love, and the aforementioned Our War. In addition, the Davie County Community Band will provide live musical accompaniment for the rare 1910 silent short Frankenstein, the very first screen adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic, produced by no less than Thomas Edison, which for decades was thought to be a lost film.
With anticipation growing for the latest Star Wars extravaganza – The Last Jedi – the gala will also present Fox’s own short Cinema One: A Popcorn Adventure, a Rogue One fan film produced by the Marketplace Cinemas staff, which was shown during the theater’s run of Star Wars: Rogue One earlier this year.
“The newest and most interesting thing I noticed this year judging the shorts is that North Carolina filmmakers mostly produce horror films,” Fox said. “I don’t exactly know why, but every year I’m amazed at how many horror shorts are made here. More and more horror each year, it seems!”
Another important aspect of the gala is to bring together independent filmmakers, to celebrate their accomplishments, encourage their talents, and perhaps foster new collaborations and friendships. Last year’s gala very nearly sold out, and Fox hopes that this year’s event will do even better, and next year’s event even better than this year’s.
“North Carolina filmmakers are still passionate and getting their movies made,” he said, “but it sadly shows more and more with each gala that the budgets and talent are simply going to Georgia, Los Angeles, etc … but we are lucky: We find the gems of North Carolina.”
“Zack is a talented and skilled filmmaker in his own right, so it’s very fitting he hosts the gala,” Sellers said. “I’ve met filmmakers at the first year’s festival that I’ve worked with since and are still friends with.
“I would like to encourage all film lovers to come to this festival, not just filmmakers,” he adds. “I would also very much like to encourage anyone who’s considering getting into filmmaking to come and meet with the filmmakers who will be on hand.”
The third annual MPCWS Short Film Social Gala will be held 6:30 pm Sunday at the Marketplace Cinemas, 2095 Peters Creek Parkway, Winston-Salem. Tickets are $2.50 (at the door) and $3 (in advance). Seating is limited. For advance tickets or more information, call 336.725.4646 or visit http://mpcws.com/. You can also find MPCWS on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MarketPlace250Cinemas/.