Roll film, West Chester
● By J. Chambless
By Meredith Haas
There was something so special about the 15th annual West Chester Film Festival, that it seemed the series of short films I saw began to take flight from the screen and burrow beautiful memories into my mind.
I was seated among other film enthusiasts, and we were joined together in an immersion of artistic expression, made so by the work of local and international filmmakers. I should have understood, before taking my seat, that these films were not going to be anything like the CGI, two-hour movies I was used to. These were pieces from short filmmakers from everywhere and every genre, the majority of whom work far from the Hollywood movie-making industry, who toil in obscurity in an effort to create magic in 30 minutes or less.
Held this year during the last weekend of April at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center Bravo
Mainstage Theater, the West Chester Film Festival has become a place where filmmakers can gather, share their ideas, and collectively, hold audiences transfixed to what becomes, for everyone, an immersive experience. This year, 60 films were shown.
“We get to really interact with the filmmakers,” said Victoria Flickinger, the festival's sponsorship coordinator. “We’re known as a filmmaker-friendly festival.”
Films in this year's festival ranged from the Oscar- nominated films Marguerite, Skin and Animal Behaviour to Good Mourning, which starred filmmaker Jack McCafferty, who also wrote, directed and edited the film. Good Mourning is about a young man who must fulfill his best friend's dying wish to throw him the best funeral ever. Full of booze, stories and heartfelt goodbyes, it's a hilarious send-off to a life lived to the fullest.
“The entire time in college we were watching a lot of short films and they were all sad,” McCafferty said. “We wanted to go back to a Shakespearean way of creating a funny moment that leads into a sad one. I wanted to do something that might blow up in our faces. One thing that stands out to us is the casket. First we had to actually get one, so we found a guy who had a casket for a coffee table.”
McCafferty also discussed the cinematic origins that influenced his film.
“The type of humor involved is not laughing at them but with them,” he said. “The humor in the funeral also comes from how my family celebrates funerals. Our family's funerals are celebrations and roasts of that person who passed.”
Maryland-based filmmakers Karen and Brian Pennington screened their short horror film, The Legend of Upper Melinda Witch. It was creative leap from their first submission to the festival four years ago, when they screened a comedy that ended up earning an award in that genre.
“It’s good to see the recognition of the value of having people travel to the festival,” Brian said. “West Chester goes above and beyond to make you feel welcome, and everyone makes an effort to interact with us.”
“We’re hoping to recruit some filmmakers so they can contribute to the anthology and [work with us] to produce a feature length film back home in Frederick, Maryland,” Karen said.
As the weekend proceeded into the many blocks of films, I learned that planning for the following year's festival begins one year in advance, when volunteers and a 10-member panel of judges choose the final roster of films from more than 200 submissions.
“We watch the films on our laptops, judging their quality, acting, lighting, sound, theme and
other categories, until February,” said Anne Skillman, volunteer coordinator. “We end up
only showing about 60 films, and some of them are eventually nominated or Oscars!”
“Our mandate is that every block of films we screen has variety,” said festival president Carroll Quigley. “I enjoy having an eclectic and well-rounded amount of blocks. To remain successful, we began to screen what we call 'pop-up' films last year.”
In workshops, at meet-and-greets and during informal networking in the theater's reception area, filmmakers mingled with other filmmakers, and for many, it was their first introduction to film festivals.
“I study in New York, and this is my first festival showcasing my fine art in film,” said Sam Lewis, whose seven-and-a-half-minute documentary The Slab was screened at the festival. “I created a story, but it was a very vulnerable moment for me, the meaning was to do something different.”
I met everyone on opening night: filmmakers, new and experienced; their family members and friends; festival volunteers. As opening night of the West Chester Film Festival continued, I gained a newfound appreciation for the short film. They are diverse. There is little time wasted in bringing their narrative and their emotions to the surface. Very often, they are pulled from the hardest, funniest and most real of stories, and when they all come together under one roof – such as they do every year at the West Chester Film Festival – they tell a very large and beautiful story, one short film at a time.
To learn more about the West Chester Film Festival, visit www.westchesterfilmfestival.com.
West Chester Film Festival Award Winners
Best Drama Skin
Best Comedy Chuchotage
Best Documentary My Dead Dad's Porno Tapes
Best Animated Film One Small Step
Best Student Film Everything's Fine
Best Experimental/Art Film Short Wave
Best Female Filmmaker Late Afternoon
Best Pennsylvania Filmmaker Justin Geller, for Thought it Would Be a Good Story
H. Paul Fitzpatrick People's Choice Award Marguerite