There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such thing as a free movie — or two or three.
The third annual New Art Film Festival kicks off on Friday, April 20 from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. at the Art Theater in downtown Champaign. NAFF is an annual festival showcasing independent cinema produced by area filmmakers in Urbana-Champaign and downstate Illinois. The event is free of charge and open to the public.
NAFF is presented by C-U Confidential, sponsored by the Champaign-Urbana Film Society, and is a component of the Boneyard Arts Festival organized by the 40 North 88 West arts council.
The film lineup won’t disappoint even the most selective of moviegoers. The festival will feature a variety of material, including documentaries, music videos, comedies, faux industrials, heavy dramas, and thought-provoking science-fiction.
NAFF, which is a one-day event, is divided into four general movie themes: comedies and tragedies, pop culture, drama, and science fiction and will progress by category in time increments at 5, 7, 9 and 11 p.m., respectively.
Sandford Hess, operator at the Art Theater, said he hopes NAFF will heighten awareness in the arts community. "Just as it’s important to support local businesses, it's important to encourage and recognize local artists," he said. "That's what Boneyard is all about. Filmmakers spend many hours toiling away on their work and it's great for it to reach an audience.”
Jason Pankoke, festival programmer, said he hopes this year’s festival will draw as many people as last year, which garnered somewhere between 300 to 500 attendees. “We were just flattered and relieved that so many people came out for the NAFF.”
Pankoke said there is no exact science to the film selection process. “For me, this is what keeps the process invigorating — that sense of potential discovery,” he said.
In fact, several short films showing this year came from filmmakers in Carbondale and Charleston that Pankoke and NAFF organizers were unaware of — until recently. One Charleston filmmaker, Braden Boe, saw a NAFF submission reminder on Facebook and sent in his films. “We did not know about him until his entries were dropped off at the Art,” Pankoke said. “It's amazing how it all comes together sometimes.”
While the filmmaking process varies from director to director, the amount of time and energy invested in each piece does not.
For example, director David Gracon spent a total of 500 hours editing his film, Walls of Sound: A Look Inside the House of Records, a documentary that chronicles the current state of the independent music industry.
Gracon said he plans to make a few more minor edits after getting feedback from the screening. “It's a very tiring process. Once I get going, I don’t stop until it’s done,” he said. “I simply started putting the footage into sequences, and chiseled away. It took about three straight months to edit this. Seven days a week.”
Boe, a self-proclaimed history buff, said he wanted his short film A War for II to look like combat footage from World War II. He used black and white Super 8mm to achieve a gritty, visceral look.
“I hoped to present a war movie that depicted both sides just being human beings, caught in the gears of war,” he said. “It is a sort of reverse Saving Private Ryan where the hero is trying to save the enemy.”
However, the process didn’t come without some battle wounds of his own. “I broke my collar bone making this film,” Boe said. “I was in a three-car accident making this film. I could have easily quit and never finished, but I stuck with it.”
NAFF is the fifth festival where Boe has showed the film, which won an award at the Wild Rose Film Festival in Des Moines, Iowa.
Hess said the festival grew out of a small film showing that took place on a television set in a coffee shop during Boneyard in 2009. “I knew that I could help this effort by providing a place for films to be seen in the right context — in a theater, with an audience,” he said. “I hope they realize that simply being there as an audience member has a huge impact on the artists.”
Many of the films feature cast and crew members from the area. The wacky sci-fi comedy Once Upon a Time in 1973 features C-U locals Jonathan Harden, Thomas Nicol, Stephanie Swearingen, and Matt Fear.
Director Chris Lukeman said he is preparing to shoot a third short film in the series later this summer, which will lead up to a feature length project the following summer. “We’re trying out a lot of different pacing and tone choices to get a feel for our story,” he said.
Other films, though, utilize resources from across the country. The entire cast and crew of Finding Virginia, for example, came from Decatur, Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, Chicago, St. Louis, and New York.
Finding Virginia is an indie film directed by Thomas C. Card, a NYC photographer who is from Decatur and decided to shoot a film on location there. The piece, which makes its downstate debut at NAFF, is based on the true story of a single mother and her captor.
Hess said he has high hopes for the event. “I hope that attendees are surprised and impressed at the quality of films that are produced right here.”
For the full schedule of films and updates, check out the event page on Facebook.
Photos by Tim Meyer from the film Once Upon a Time in 1973.