The next scenes
The Black Box Film Festival focuses on local filmmakers
LIKE a long movie with a disappointing end, we watched the Reno Film Festival for 12 years, hoping for survival, until at last it dissolved just nine months ago. But wait, there's a plot twist. The final scene of Reno's filmmakers has not been written. Just when all seemed to be lost, an unlikely character rides in, facing a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to revive Reno's damsel of cinematography in distress.
Alon Bar goes by the name “Vision,” and his vision is called the Black Box Film Festival. He’s an Israeli who came here less than six months ago.
We met on a windy day as he was unloading donations for Circle of Life Thrift and Gift on Fifth Street. We walked in a room with black walls and red plush theater chairs for the interview. His eyes were wide, hair big, face furry, clothes colorful and loose. He took a deep breath, nodded and described his dream coming true.
“The opening night at 7 o’clock, we are going to have an art gallery with seven artists,” he says. “At 8, we will start the show, and it’s going to be like a TV show. I am going to be the host, like Oprah Winfrey. We are going to have films. After each film, we will have questions and answers from the audience. After that, we will have a poem reading, more film, more questions, inspirational speakers, a stand-up comedian, more films, more poems and more inspirational speakers and all of them 100 percent local artists.”
Not one night, not two nights, but 12 action-packed weekend nights in April that will leave the attendees brains “flying, flying and thinking about themselves and what is going to be their art project and how they are going to grow in life. It is going to be extremely inspirational,” he says.
Sundays the performances will be for kids with sponsorship by a local theater group, “Art on Earth.” The children will perform on stage, and the films and comedy will be kid- friendly. It’s $10 per night, or $30 for all 12 days. All proceeds will benefit the Circle of Life hospice.
Vision is not to be confused with the award-winning Israeli-American filmmaker Alon Bar, known for the screenplay Under Arrest. But Vision is trying to make his mark. He thought up this project just three months ago while sitting in an empty room in the back of Circle of Life Thrift Store.
“There was nothing here,” he says. “And I saw this film festival happening.”
The theater space was launched earlier this year when it hosted the play 6:01 a.m.: A Working Class Opera.
“I have so many people involved in this project so far,” he says. “About 50 filmmakers, visual artists, inspirational speakers and a stand-up comedian.”
One of the filmmakers, Jason Onorad created Fate in a Coffee Shop. The 20-minute film is the story of a boy and girl who mutually decide to split up because the girl is going for a dream job in a big city and they know long-distance relationships don’t work at their age.
“The film explores how the start of something that is important to somebody can be the end of something that is important to them as well,” says Onorad.LOCAL CLOSE-UP
With this grand vision for a new film festival in one hand, it might be wise to reach for a little perspective with the other hand: How can this new festival work when similar efforts have struggled and failed?
Well, Onorad has an example. He says he submitted a film to the Reno Film Festival in the wrong category, “And they just kicked it out without even watching it,” he said, adding that he thinks the festival failed because there weren’t enough local submissions.
“Almost every year, just to fill the gap, they would just get the shorts that had been up for an Oscar,” he said. “You can go on YouTube and see that.”
Going ’locals only’ isn’t the only way the Black Box Film Festival is offering something special. Onorad says the Reno Film Festival tried to get celebrity judges. Black Box is making the viewers the judge.
Most film festivals have an entry fee too. Black Box doesn’t. Vision says he is also applying for a grant from Burners Without Borders to offer a filmmaker award.
Black Box has evolved already, tweaking the inspirational message even before the festival has started. Local filmmaker Kaleb Temple didn’t expect any of his films to get in. “My films, even the funny ones, have a fair amount of pessimism,” Temple said. “They aren’t necessarily the happiest and go getting. Some of them end on a kind of bummer note.”
But all of them, Slumber, Welcome Home, Absolved and Burgled, got in.
“Even though not everyone has the money for budgets, people want to work with you,” says Temple, adding that he has worked on 60 projects here over just five years. “Not everyone is just turning stuff away because they need to pay their bills. People are hungry for projects.”
Black Box is far from the only film event here. The Holland Project has a three-minute film competition in its fifth year that takes films from high school students. Temple is one of the judges.
“I think people are still really making the effort to bring film making as an art medium and exposing it to Reno,” he says, adding that the snow-capped mountains to the “gnarly” desert make great filmmaking terrain and businesses are really open to helping here. But there is another invisible film-driving force. Reno’s niche is gritty American story-lines, driven like a stake in our mentality.
Writer and director Valerie Bischoff knows it first hand.
“When I was growing up in Reno, my goal was to get out of there as fast as possible,” she says. When she left, she found that New York and Los Angeles were full of filmmakers, but they were missing something. “I realized that I came from a place that has a very do-it-yourself attitude. It is kind of like the first settlers who try to build a community in the middle of the desert. I find that intriguing and it is really inspiring.”
Her film Massacre Creek will be featured at Black Box. It’s a horror film about a woman stranded in the desert with a mysterious stranger, who happens to have a family that’s part of a psycho cult. Another film of hers, Veterans, is about a woman who works at a brothel and everything changes for her once she meets a veteran who is a client.
“I feel like the community in Reno is the ’next level,’ and every artist I meet in Reno is the next level,” says Vision. “There are many artists that are doing the most inspired art that I have ever seen, and I have traveled a lot. So, I see this project as giving back to them.”
Black Box might be part of Reno’s latest plot twist in film, but it won’t be the final scene.