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‘Con’ games for local filmmakers, and an untold story of American history

by Mark Burger

The Con is on! This weekend marks the 2011 ConCarolinas festival, taking place at the Charlotte Hilton University Place (8629 JM Keynes Drive, Charlotte).

ConCarolinas began with a two-day “prequel” in 2002 before becoming a three-day festival the next year. Devoted to science-fiction, horror and all things fantastic, the event features special guests, panel discussions, events, dealers, screenings and much more.

This year’s selection of short films boasts some from right here in the Piedmont Triad, proving (once again) that the independent film movement is alive and thriving in our own backyard.

Louis Bekoe’s short film “A Killer Christmas Carol” is one of the films on this year’s roster. When asked if the film will become a holiday perennial for all ages, its maker laughed. “I don’t know about the whole family,” he said, “but it’s fun and it’s very exciting to be selected.”

“Witches Three,” a lighthearted and selfexplanatory romp, features Laurel Clabaugh, Stephanie Bradle and Rachel Carter as a trio of mischievous spell-casters whose witchery always tends to get a little out of hand.

Filmmaker Mike Beane, a lifelong fantasy aficionado and sometime filmmaker (he jokingly refers to himself as “the Ed Wood of Kernersville”), decided on a whim to submit “Witches Three” to the festival. It was his first submission to any film festival, and much to his surprise it was accepted.

“I’m completely blown away to be included in this festival, alongside short films made by people a hell of a lot better than I am,” laughed Beane. “ConCarolinas is a really cool event and I’m very proud to be a part of it.”

Truth in disclosure: Mike Beane is a good friend, and I appear as an extra in “Witches Three” — although (fortunately) it’s not a speaking role.

In addition to Louis Bekoe and Mike Beane, this year’s ConCarolina guests include awardwinning author and historian Harry Turtledove (Wereblood, Werenight, Guns of the South); actor John Billingsley (“True Blood,” “The Nine,” “24”) and his wife, actress Bonita Friedericy (Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief, “The Nine,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer); cult icon and “Scream Queen” Brinke Stevens (Head Case, The Ritual, Teenage Exorcist and dozens more); Leila “Keela” McMichael and her husband Andy “Katkith” Fairbanks, musical performers whose “Klingon Karaoke” has become popular on the convention circuit; gaming wiz Jamie Chambers (Key of Destiny, Towers of High Sorcery); singer/songwriter Carla Ulbrich; makeup and effects guru Conor McCullagh (“The Vampire Diaries”); actress Addy Miller (AMC’s “The Walking Dead”); actress Emilie Ullerup (“Battlestar: Galactica,” “Sanctuary); paranormal expert Shawn Sellers; and many others.

ConCarolinas 2011 will run 3 p.m. to midnight Friday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday. Admission prices are as follows: $40 (full weekend pass), $15 (Friday pass), $25 (Saturday pass) and $15 (Sunday pass). Children 12 and under are admitted free with a paying adult. Evening passes are $10 (Friday or Saturday).

For a full schedule of events, visit the official website: www.concarolinas.org.

The Greensboro Historical Museum (130 Summit Ave., Greensboro) will present a special screening of writer/director Jonathan Gruber’s new documentary Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray on Tuesday, June 14.

Narrated by Oscar-nominated filmmaker John Milius (The Wind and the Lion, Red Dawn, co-screenwriter of Apocalypse Now), this film examines a little-known aspect to the Civil War: that Jews were expelled from Union Armycontrolled territory in Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee by the direct order of no less than Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (later, of course, to become president of the United States).

As a result of this heinous edict, Jews were basically denied a good portion of their rights. How they struggled to deal with such oppression at a time when the nation was embroiled in its bloodiest conflict forms the backbone of the film, which uses period photographs, rare historical documents, letters, artifacts and interviews with historians and descendants to gain a better understanding of this fascinating (and fearful) period of American history. Indeed, Jews fought on both sides of the Civil War.

The film also features Sam Waterston as the voice of Abraham Lincoln.

The screening is being presented in conjunction with the Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina’s traveling exhibition Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina and Through Collector’s Eyes: Treasures of the Civil War, a comprehensive collection of Confederate longarms representing every one of the Confederacy’s armories from the Civil War.

Following the screening, there will be a question-and-answer session with the film’s co-producer and co-writer, Robert Marcus.

Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $6. For more information, call 336.373.2043 or visit the museum’s official website: greensborohistory.org.

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