Think globally, screen locally
The Sacramento International Film and Music Festival nurtures homegrown talent with worldly inspiration
Seven is a good age for a cultural festival— no longer a stumbling toddler from which to keep sharp objects away, nor yet the sullen, contrary adolescent, ungrateful for all you’ve given it. In the case of the Sacramento International Film and Music Festival, which brings a bevy of independent features, documentaries, shorts, music videos and live performances to the Crest Theatre this weekend, seven is the age of really fun to be with.
It also may be the age at which a young fest starts fielding questions about what it wants to be when it grows up. Is it for showcasing the achievements of far-flung talent or for fostering local talent? Is it for movies or for music? Well, there’s no need to swear any oaths just yet—nor, really, for questioners to worry. Chief among the Film and Music Festival’s many charms is precocity. Already, it can multitask.
Festival founder Nathan Schemel, for instance, has figured out how to be gracious and tenacious at once. “I would call people in our second year,” he recalled recently, “and they would not call back and slam the door in my face or whatever. Now they see we’re not going away. It’s gratifying to me to see more support.”
“There are the grants from the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission but also industry support on a wider level than before,” said Tony Sheppard, who—with Schemel and Laurie Pederson—co-directs the fest. “You won’t just be seeing local names like Dimple and assorted restaurants; you’ll also see Intel, Sony, JVC, Final Draft and maybe even a couple more.”
And presumably, you’ll also be seeing films. It’s hard to convey the breadth of this year’s feature fare, but it’s safe to say the movies run a stylistic gamut: from former Low Flying Owl Mike Bruce’s Sergio Leone-influenced hipster-rock spaghetti Western The Legend of God’s Gun to E.R. Nelson’s offbeat adventure comedy Pirates of the Great Salt Lake; Solo Avital’s More than 1,000 Words, an attentive documentary on acclaimed Israeli photographer Ziv Koren; and Rick Stevenson’s Expiration Date, about an almost-25-year-old man whose father and grandfather both were killed on their 25th birthdays in similar freak accidents.
Shorts, sprinkled throughout the fest, span an equally eclectic range. Arthur Crenshaw’s The Sandman’s Garden documents a self-taught artist who makes sculpture from found objects in the Birmingham Museum of Art’s sculpture garden. Local moviemaker John Jimenez’s Run 4 It: The Making Of, is a farce about moviemaking itself, whose publicity materials contain the warning “PLEASE PEE BEFORE VIEWING. Comedy has never been so funny.”
Alternatively, Student Days, on Thursday and Friday, allow a new venue for short student films from throughout the country. “It provides an additional six hours of programming opportunity for students to have their work screened,” Sheppard said, “which is longer than some entire festivals.”
Through such forward-looking and optimistic experiments, this festival mitigates any growing pains by sticking to what Schemel declared as its core priorities: “showing great films from around the world and giving local filmmakers something to aspire to.” He knows those goals needn’t be mutually exclusive, but it’s always nice to be reminded. Consider Beyond Eyruv, a documentary about a young New York Hasid reaching beyond the confines of his orthodox community. It’s the first feature documentary by Sacramento native John Mounier, a Jesuit High School graduate who studied English and journalism at Sacramento City College before transferring to New York University’s film school.
“It’s a really interesting movie,” Schemel said. “I didn’t even realize the guy’s from Sacramento. He’s like, ‘Oh great, my mom can see it.’ I said, ‘Your mom lives here?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m from there!’”
Of the feedback he’s had from the still-local creative community, Schemel said, “I always get e-mails telling me, ‘Hey, thanks for helping me do something.’” In addition to increasing registration on the radar of creative media-maker types elsewhere, Schemel and company now enjoy the very special privilege of lighting annual fires under local-talent asses.
On that front, the Film and Music Festival offers what its Web site describes as “unique homegrown film production experiments,” which sounds like a kind of mad science and often is. In the 10x10 Filmmaker Challenge, local moviemaking teams get 10 days to make 10-minute films with a common, pre-ordained theme. Sac Music Seen, a festival centerpiece, brings filmmakers together with musicians for collaboration on original music videos (Saturday’s Sac Music Seen exhibition also will include live music from Compadre, Headrush and Rock the Light). In the Capital Film Arts Alliance’s new Creative Interpretations program, teams make varied shorts from a single, contest-vetted piece of dialogue. With the added bonus of cash prizes thanks to support from the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, Creative Interpretations challenged camera-slingers to dramatize the following exchange, by local playwright Mary Beth Barber, for the big screen:
“Give me a dollar.”
“I don’t have any change.”
“I didn’t ask for change. Give me a dollar.”
“I gave you a dollar.”
“I live here.”
“It’s like a bad country-western song.”
“I said shut up!”
“You don’t have to resort to violence.”
“Are you just going to sit there?”
“I don’t know if it’s safe yet.”
“You could leave.”
“I think you should leave.”
“Why don’t you leave?”
“I live here.”
The exercise yielded a dozen short films (including one, Ditching, directed by Barber), ranging widely in interpretation—and in length, from 90 seconds to 30 minutes.
“We pretty much walk and talk like a film festival with a hint of music,” Schemel said. “I’d like to expand the music side a little bit more. Do more shows around the city, get more bands involved and have it be under our umbrella. The people are playing anyway—it’s a matter of seeing how we can promote them.”
“Besides,” he continued, “we’ve kinda cannibalized local filmmaking. We really didn’t have that many Sacramento feature submissions [this year].” With a laugh, Schemel added that next year, “we might want to pull back on one of the local programs to give them a little room to breathe.”
Of course, some may prefer to practice their craft breathlessly. “I’ve definitely wanted to take a try at a music video for a while, but it wouldn’t have happened without the festival,” said longtime filmmaker and Sac Music Seen newbie Bart Stevens, who contributed one of the program’s 20 videos this year. “I’ve approached a few local bands in the past, and we talked about the possibility, but nothing ever got off the ground. The festival set me up with a band that had submitted their music, so the band was just as motivated to get this made as I was.”
The band is Necro Beach, whose debut EP, Art Imitates Death, is due for release in August and will include Stevens’ video for “Blue Grave (she’d rather be).” That exposure, coupled with the video’s big-screen festival premiere, he said, “is about all you can ask for” from a first-time effort.
“I really dig the way it’s all-inclusive,” Necro Beach singer and guitarist Jesse Lee recalled of his own inaugural Sac Music Seen experience. “This band is really new, and it’s been a really cool opportunity learning how a video production works.”
Notwithstanding occasional and inevitable creative differences (read: ego wars), Sac Music Seen has established a track record among local filmmakers and musicians as a win-win proposition. “When you get creative people together, you always worry that there’ll be a meltdown,” Schemel said. But, by and large, “people tend to be pretty good to each other.”“The whole film community is burgeoning here,” said Jason Bortz, a Capital Film Arts Alliance member who’s been variously involved with festival fare over the years and acted in several of this year’s local productions. “I think finally people are coming to the realization that we need to be unified. And Nate has taken a very grassroots approach. He’s very straightforward.”
“We’re gonna try to move to a 10-day event next year,” Schemel continued. “We need to expand the dates. Five days? We’re squished. There’s nothing else we can squeeze into our schedule.”
As Lee put it, “With enough of the right people involved, this thing could skyrocket. I commend these folks for simply making it work more than once! The fact that this is the seventh annual festival speaks to the tenacity, passion and dedication of the folks involved. I’m just damn lucky to be a small part of this thing.”