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    Fayetteville Observer, The (NC)

    February 8, 1991


    Section: Entertainment



    Dustin Hoffman's in town.

    And Fayetteville is hosting its first-ever North Carolina International Film and Video Festival.

    What's going on here? Fayetteville's neither Hollywood nor Cannes, but the movie cameras and film projectors will be rolling here over the next four days. It's big-time motion picture making at its best and the skimmed cream of the small scale independent filmmaking scene.

    Mr. Hoffman, a two-time Oscar winner, is scheduled to shoot a brief scene for the big-budgeted commercial movie "Billy Bathgate" today in the old Cumberland County Courthouse. And hundreds are expected for the festival, whose purpose is to spotlight independent filmmakers, those unrecognized artists who are constantly struggling for financial support to pay for their next project.

    The two unrelated projects are further examples of how North Carolina has become more involved in the filmmaking industry. The state ranks third in film development behind California and New York, according to the N.C. Department of Economic and Community Development.

    "Filmmaking is an expensive medium, and it takes a lot of money to make things happen," says independent filmmaker Andy Garrison, one of four scheduled festival speakers. "Sixty percent of what I do is trying to raise funds for each project."

    Mr. Garrison's first dramatic movie, "Fat Monroe," starring Ned Beatty and released last October, will be shown during a workshop portion of the event that strives to recognize exceptional visual work. New York Times film critic Vincent Canby called Mr. Garrison's 15-minute slice of backwoods Americana "a pint-sized classic" during its showing at the prestigious New York Times Film Festival.

    The screening of "Fat Monroe" and Mr. Garrison's lecture on the "Nuts and Bolts of Filmmaking" on Sunday morning should provide one of the many treats of the three-day N.C. International Film and Video Festival. The affair will feature 28 documentary, drama, experimental and animated films, deemed the best of more than 200 films and videos submitted for competition. Three workshops on filmmaking are also planned.

    Besides Mr. Garrison, scheduled speakers include acclaimed horror makeup artist Tom Savini; Susan Leonard, director of exhibitions for the South Carolina Arts Commission Media Arts Center; producer, director and film historian Tom Whiteside; and Alex Albright, an assistant professor of English at East Carolina University who will introduce an important North Carolina film saved from obscurity.

    A special Children's Series kicks off the festival from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Howard Johnson Plaza-Hotel symposium room on Cedar Creek Road. Admission is $2.

    Festival events will be held at Howard Johnson on Saturday and Sunday before moving on Monday to the board screening room at the Chesnutt Library on the Fayetteville State University campus. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday, and 9 a.m. to about 11:30 a.m. Monday.

    Jazzdango, the opening reception, will be held at The Arts Center, 301 Hay St., Saturday evening from 7:30 to midnight. The "lost" 1947 motion picture "Pitch a Boogie Woogie," filmed by this state's first motion picture company (Lord-Warner Pictures of Greenville), will be screened.

    A roundtable discussion on "Southern Media Opportunities and Needs" is set for Sunday at noon at Howard Johnson. "The Arts Council here is in the process of developing a media center that will provide access for regional filmmakers," says Libby Seymour, associate director of The Arts Council and project director of the festival.

    The Media Center, located in The Arts Center, has audio, video, film and photography equipment available for use, and Ms. Seymour says the center is looking to supplement that.

    Author Alex Haley, whose second book "Roots" became a phenomenon and made him a household name, is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Monday at Fayetteville State University's Seabrook Auditorium on Murchison Road. The ensuing 1977 television miniseries "Roots" drew over 130 million viewers, the largest program audience in TV history.

    Tickets are $10 for Mr. Haley's program and $15 for the 8:30 p.m. reception that follows, or $25 for both events. For more information, call 486-1474.

    The N.C. International Film and Video Festival has its roots in the N.C. Film Festival, which was held in 1974 and '75 in Chapel Hill before moving up Interstate 40 to Raleigh in 1976. According to Chapel Hill's Chris Potter, who helped organize the first two events, the festival was discontinued after 1977 when the N.C. Museum of Art temporarily shifted its focus from North Carolina art.

    The original festival was open only to North Carolina filmmakers, Mr. Potter says, recalling that about 100 entries were received the first year.

    The reorganized festival in Fayetteville has broadened its scope considerably, with one of its films coming from as far away as the Soviet Union. Sergey Mavrody's "Dangerous Planet," an honorable mention recipient in the field of animation, tells the story of a precarious journey of a tiny alien creature.

    A panel of film industry experts and the film festival staff selected 105 films from the 200 films and videos submitted for the festival contest. These finalists, with running times ranging from 2 minutes to feature-length 2-hour-plus, were screened by the judges last weekend. "The quality was exceptional, especially in the category of documentary," Ms. Leonard says.

    Ms. Leonard, director of exhibitions for the South Carolina Arts Commission Media Arts Center, says the films were evaluated according to their respective categories, which included animation, documentary, drama, experimental and special award series.

    "When you are judging festival or a fellowship (work), you are looking for something that stands out because it goes beyond the normal approach. Independent film became notable because it is not a traditional approach to storytelling or just the whole idea of reality. It goes beyond what we normally see in commercial theaters," Ms. Leonard says.

    "There aren't that many different stories in film and video, period. What becomes different is the way they are told or the believability. It really doesn't have to do with the money as far as believability. Something can have a multimillion dollar budget, but it doesn't touch you because there are flaws."

    It's only appropriate that this state host such a festival. North Carolina is the No. 1 state in terms of film industry growth, with $2.3 billion in total earnings from moviemaking activity since the state film office was established in 1980. That includes a record $426 million in commercial production revenue since 1990.

    "It's a real important venue for independent filmmakers," Mr. Garrison says of this weekend's festival. "It's a place for their work to be seen. That's how we get the work distributed. It's also how we get legitimized."

    First-place winners in the festival's major series are: Deborah Lefkowitz of Cambridge, Mass., for "Intervals of Silence" in the field of documentary; Edgar A. Barens of New York City for "Honey and Salt" in drama; Robert Russett of Lafayette, La., for "Frankenstein: Phases of Interpretation" in experimental; and Chicago's Caroline Leaf for "The Street" in animation.

    Of note among the four special categories recognized by the festival, Durham's Nancy Kalow won the N.C. Filmmaker Award for her 30-minute video "Sadobabies." This film, which is based in San Francisco, reveals the life and culture of young runaways.

    "We were looking for works that went beyond the traditional statements about social conditions," Ms. Leonard says. "It has more depth to it than the normal documentary you see on television."

    Of the films reviewed by the judges, 10 were the work of North Carolina filmmakers. That included "Dear Phil," the story of an isolated Southern housewife searching for some meaning in her life. Based on a short story by North Carolina short story writer Lee Smith, it won second place in the drama series.

    ECU's Mr. Albright is featured speaker during Saturday's opening reception, when "Pitch A Boogie Woogie" will be shown. This 25-minute movie features an all-black cast and was originally intended for black theaters across the nation. "Pitch" experienced distribution problems, however, and only played in about a dozen movie houses in the Carolinas in 1947 and '48.

    "It's kind of an innocent film. It's a real fine example of early North Carolina cinema. It's not fine in the sense of filmmaking, but you have to understand what you're seeing. It's one of the very earliest films made in the country for black audiences," says Mr. Albright of the movie that was directed and produced by two white brothers from Washington, N.C.

    "Pitch A Boogie Woogie" is a backstage musical that starred local Greenville men Tom Foreman and Herman Forbes. Four flammable nitrate prints of the movie were abandoned in the Roxy Theater in Greenville. They were brought to Mr. Albright's attention and later transferred to safety film with a restored sound track.

    Six of the musicians who played on the film's sound track as the Rhythm Vets - at the time students at N.C. A&T University - will reunite and play at the festival's opening reception. Native North Carolinian and renowned jazz saxophonist Lou Donaldson made his recording debut in the movie, Mr. Albright says.

    The festival, which awarded over $1,500 in cash and certificates, is supported by the Arts Council with a grant from the Grassroots Program of the N.C. Arts Council and the Society for the Preservation of Vaudeville and Variety Arts.


    Excluding meals and hotel accomodations, cost for the entire festival is $20. Admission to all 28 film screenings of the five major festival categories is $10, or $2 per category, and $10 for all three workshops and the reception. Admission to the reception only is $3. For more information, call 323-1776.


    Caption: (1) William Johnston In The Film "Fat Monroe". (2) A Scene From Robert Russett's Experimental Film "Frankenstein: Phases Of Interpretation." (3) A Promotional Poster From The "Lost" 1947 Film "Pitch A Boogie Woogie."

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