Black Earth Film Festival Premieres


By Mike Kroll

For a city our size Galesburg has a thriving community of artists and those who appreciate their work. The variety of art forms is really quite amazing when you get right down to it and this weekend it expands once again. The first (of what organizers hope to be an annual event) Black Earth Film Festival takes place this weekend at the Orpheum Theatre. This grand theater is no stranger to motion pictures but this festival celebrates the wonders of independent films by presenting 16 films over three days. The festival has been organized into four sessions: Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, Sunday afternoon.

The whole thing has been organized by a tight-knit committee of local film buffs under the auspices of the Galesburg Civic Art Center in cooperation with the Orpheum Theatre. The organizers solicited and screened independent films from across the country and Canada too resulting in an eclectic mix that they are confident will offer something for just about anyone. Three are feature length while most are an hour or less and the shortest barely three minutes. And just in case your thinking you'll just rent the DVD of your favorite festival film consider this: four of these films make their world premier in Galesburg this weekend!

This festival was purposefully scheduled to coincide with the Scenic Drive weekend. Organizers hope that the festival will offer drive-goers a uniquely different way to spend Friday and Saturday evening. The cost is amazingly reasonable. The festival pass is only $25 and gets you into all events. You can also pay a per session fee of $10 Friday and Saturday or a mere $5 on Sunday. Anyway you cut it that's a great bargain. Both passes and tickets are on sale at the Orpheum Theatre box office. If you haven't already decided to attend this festival let's rundown the weekend time line.

Friday night gets rolling at 7pm with Fuzzy Reality, a short student film by Hugh Anderson of Hofstra University in New York. One of the shortest films of the festival tells the story of a man seemingly stalked by an orange monster puppet. This is followed by the first of two films by a trio from Louisiana. Wild Kingdom is a 26 minute comedy that has already won an award at the Flint Film Festival this summer about a junior high student who goes to great lengths to avoid notice in the classroom.

The world premier of a feature-length comedy debuts at 8pm Friday night. Zach and Avery of Furgus tells the surreal story of two brothers who also happen to be roommates and aspiring novelists. The story covers a week in the brothers' lives as people and events conspire to tear the two apart. This film is by Sean Deviln of British Columbia and organizers who have already screened the film think it may be one of the best entries in the festival.

This is followed by an 18 minute short that may be the most controversial entry in the festival. Another student film by New York University student Jan Childress, Hotel Harbor View tells the story of a man convinced he is about to die at the hands of a hired killer who trails him to a seedy hotel. Our protagonist adopts a fatalistic view as we watch him numb him senses in the bar and posture with his gun before a mirror in his room. Of course this hotel wasn't chosen by accident as it turns out to be home to a prostitute of our "hero's" acquaintance. Prospective viewers are forewarned that this film includes just enough sex and violence to whet the appetites of HBO.

Friday evening concludes with a reception at McGillacuddys on Cherry Street. Festival patrons can get in to the reception for free others must pay a $5 cover charge. You get to see one of Galesburg's newest dining establishments while you mingle with other festival attendees including some of the filmmakers and their friends and family.

Session 2 begins at 1pm Saturday afternoon and is devoted to documentaries. At just over four hours this is the longest session of the festival but it also boasts two more world premiers and four of the most thought provoking films you are likely to see this year. The afternoon begins with Hip Hop Immortals: We Got Your Kids, a feature-length examination of the commercial and societal impacts of modern marketing to our kids. Hip Hop isn't just music, its big business and the target audience translates into big money for everyone from the artists themselves to the multitude of products they endorse, directly or indirectly.

Next up is a gritty film about the failures of America's social safety net. During the on-going presidential campaign we have heard about the two Americas-- well this film will convince you that even a minimum-wage level existence is still a far cry from the conditions some face in our country today. Ties on a Fence – Women in Downtown Los Angeles Speak Out tells the story of homeless women in Los Angeles' skid row district. Literally six blocks from glittering downtown LA can be found a huge and growing community of our societies lost souls for whom societies compassion has come up short. This world premier film helps put the grim economic realities of Galesburg into perspective, things could be a lot worse.

Twenty-five years ago an event occurred that pierced the carefully crafted image of nuclear power as the panacea of the future. The accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania triggered a reexamination of America's nuclear power industry but a quarter-century later this film asks questions large and small. What have we learned? What have re forgotten? And whatever happened to the people of Middletown, Pennsylvania? Containment: Life After Three Mile Island is a thought-provoking documentary making it's Illinois premier.

The Saturday afternoon session ends on a lighter note, literally. Another world premier that introduces viewers to Marvels of Mechanical Music. Today we have many forms of music available electronically but not to long ago even phonographs were a novelty. This documentary by Hayden Grooms tells some of the stories surrounding mechanical music making devices.

Saturday night's Session 3 just may be the most diverse group of films offered in the festival, four shorts and a feature-length comedy beginning at 7pm. First up our Louisiana trio present their second film, Wish. Have you ever made a wish over your birthday cake? This ten minute short tells the story of a little girl and the ramifications of a wish she makes on her father's birthday. Fault is the story of a wealthy boy who has had enough of his overbearing tennis instructor. The evening's second film shows a 12 year-old boy pushed beyond his limit as he attacks his tennis instructor in a fit of rage. The third short, Intangibles, is an appropriate follow up to Fault. A young executive enjoying the abundant fruits of corporate America develops a conscience over the plight of less fortunate. The film lays out his scheme to illicitly accumulate funds from his company for charitable good ends and the unanticipated consequences of his actions.

At 8pm Saturday a thought-provoking comedy about the negative consequences of modern eating habits, Muffin Man, is the featured film. A film created by a physician to highlight the consequences of our modern American diet and lifestyle. "Muffin Man is a 'Mockumentary' of the downfall of the human species due to our social excesses." Dr. Jessica Eisner (presumably no relation to Michael) uses humor to warn us of obesity becoming more the norm than the exception. The evening concludes with the world premier of a 24-minute comedy, One Track Mind, produced by two men from Bloomington. A middle-age couple whose harried life leaves little time for bedroom moments comes across such an opportunity only to discover a seemingly endless array of obstacles. A hilarious quest for a condom.

Sunday afternoon is "Galesburg Day" as two short and one really short films produced right here in Galesburg are featured. The first film, Glorious Age in Africa, was created by a classroom of fifth-grade students at Neilson School. Taken from a book of the same name this film presents three kingdoms of West Africa spanning a millennium. Galesburg Chainsaw Manicure is the shortest film of the festival at only three minutes. Celebrating our town's once abundant tree-line streets that have not fared well at the hands of tree trimmers from Illinois Power. The final film is Galesburg, Capital of the Burlington Railroad by William Franckey and Gary Granberg. Tracking the birth and development of railroads in Galesburg and western Illinois and their impact on this town as well as nationally. At nearly a hour in length this documentary celebrates Galesburg's rail history.

Three days of independent films topped off by the awarding of four prizes. As Sunday afternoon comes to a close the festival will award prizes for Best Comedy/Drama, Best Documentary, Best Short and the Festival's Choice Award. The the films were screened and judged by Daniel Green of Los Angeles. Green has been active in television production as well as films including ER, The Sopranos and The West Wing. He has also directed over 50 plays and helped produce many industrial films. The capstone of the festival will be an encore presentation of the winner of the Festival Choice award.

Organizers are already planning next year's festival so you don't want to miss out on this unique opportunity to sample the premier Black Earth Film Festival.