I had the pleasure this fall of being able to attempt a small socially-distanced film festival a day’s drive away from where I live. My aunt and uncle, who live in Southern Arkansas, invited me to attend their yearly film festival. I graciously accepted the invite and I’m glad I did!
Film festivals are an experience worth having. They’re exhausting, tedious, long-winded and filled with nuggets of brilliance that a discerning audience won’t find anywhere else in the world. Many of our greatest filmmakers started out shooting short films and feature-length movies for small festivals like this. You never know if you’re in the presence of the next Scorsese or Tarantino!
There were numerous films at the festival I very much enjoyed and others I found tedious. Some had nuggets of good ideas. Some were dumb as a rock but beautifully shot. Some of the local documentaries were surprising and intimate. Some of the comedies were quick-witted and cute enough that I would share them if they were on YouTube!
You sit through a lot of junk but the moments of brilliance are worth it! Sometimes things appear that you would just never expect. No moment in the year 2020 will beat my utter confusion when I was watching an obscure comedy short called Crazy, when suddenly Markiplier appears for a five-second on screen cameo and I was the only person in the audience to realize who he was…
The audience ate the bizarre comedy short up but I was transfixed in confusion at this unexpected appearance I couldn’t have possibly predicted!
Of course, my favorite moments of the festival were the moments when I genuinely connected with the film on-screen in a way I rarely do. As someone who consumes media constantly, you develop different relationships to art as a critic. You can discern the genuine article. Two films, in particular, hit me hard enough that I felt the need to talk to the filmmakers after their screenings. One of them was an excellent short film and the other one of them was a feature-length movie that I awarded the second-best film of 2020!
Both of the filmmakers I talked with were kind enough to follow up with me after the festival and agreed to interviews.
The first person I interviewed was writer/director Chad Hill!
Chad is the creator of Jankis Media and has written multiple screenplays for short films in his budding career as a filmmaker. His first short, Invitation, was produced for the Louisiana Film Prize!
Invitation immediately caught my attention for its subject matter. The dark comedic short tackles the topic of one’s crisis of faith and introduces us to a pastor nearing the end of his rope and no longer feeling the urge to help others with their belief. When a particularly grotesque and awkward alter call appears to him one Sunday morning, the pastor is challenged in a way that will require him to give the most he can to help this deeply troubled man in a moment of pain.
The short is a wonderful bit of dark comedy and an introspective look on the challenges of faith and mentorship necessary for a pastor.
For the second interview, I spoke with the film’s star, David Sullivan, and its director, Neils Muller.
Muller is a longtime Hollywood producer who pulled the project together, discovered Sullivan, and shot the film as an homage to his experience growing up in small-town America. I absolutely loved the film!
Smalltown Wisconsin is a deeply personal indie-drama about the life of an average man struggling to make life work as a working-class stiff in a backwater midwestern town. When his ex-wife threatens to take custody of his son away from him because of his alcoholism, Wayne decides to take his son on one final adventure across the state to stay in a grand hotel, see Lake Michigan, and attend a Brewers game. Unfortunately, his alcoholism and impulsiveness impede him every step of the way.
Smalltown Wisconsin is a deeply personal and painful bit of Americana and filmmaking that did an excellent job capturing the struggles and fears of life in some of the most run-down and forgotten places in the United States.