Dreams and celluloid for $100

By Jeff Kubik

So, you’re a video store clerk who finds himself dreaming about the silver screen, a struggling student with dreams of becoming the next Alfred Hitchcock. You’re a dreamer without a medium and you’ve been told since day one that the things which make you happy are fantasies you can’t possibly pursue.

Well, there are a few films I’d like you to see, made by people from all walks of life.

From engineers to students, they all share a passion for film that has brought them to the doors of the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers building in the Currie Barracks, submitting their works for an annual, independent extravaganza known as the $100 Film Festival.

For three days, beginning Fri., Mar. 18, the Alberta College of Art and Design will play host to 69 short works as well as a feature-length film. With 33 films by 28 local filmmakers, the $100 Film Festival offers an opportunity for exhibition and appreciation, a unique experience for both filmmakers and their new audiences. Puppetry will dance alongside abstracted, hand-painted frames while sadistic police officers take a much-needed vacation.

Independent film may be a great many things, but it will never be accused of being typical.

Twelve years ago, facing the increasing prevalence of video, the CSIF began asking its members for ways to encourage new members to join the society. One member, James Beattie Morison, suggested a festival whose entry requirement would be the cost of three rolls of Super 8 film–around $100. The idea resonated with the CSIF membership.

"When I first started making films with my father’s regular 8mm camera I was constrained by three minutes of film," recalls Morison. "I could do some editing but it wasn’t easy to do and that caused me to focus a lot more on getting something short. A few minutes of film, by the time you’ve bought it and processed it, can be 50, 60 dollars. At the $100 Film Festival you can make a three or four minute film for $100."

In the years since, the $100 Film Festival has been one of the most iconic events of the CSIF, despite being recently overshadowed by the larger and younger Calgary International Film Festival. Fiercely independent, the festival may lack some of the lustre of its larger counterpart but it is still a precious commodity, providing a venue for Calgary’s independent filmmakers. Changing and evolving, the festival represents a community of artists in constant flux.

"In a sense, I started a precedent when I had to back out of running the festival," recalls Morison, still a regular contributor to the festival. "There’s been at least a dozen different people leading at various points and probably over 100 people who are actively involved in organizing over different years, and each of them brought something new to the festival. There’s always been an openness, changing the direction of the festival every year as new people get involved, which is one way to keep the festival fresh and also to let it change with the times."

Creative minds are often forced to abandon their art in search of employment, but the festival is a reminder that film remains an accessible medium supported by a community of like-minded artists. For many would-be filmmakers the dream of creation is often lost in the gulf between career and passion. However, as Morison explains, entering the working world does not necessarily mean the end. Both the CSIF and the $100 Film Festival represent opportunities to collaborate and improve on work near and dear to your creative heart.

"Film was something I wanted to do and for many years I didn’t," he recalls. "I would think ‘I don’t have anything to say, I’m not a filmmaker, I’m an engineer.’

"But I’ve talked to a lot of other people, and this is a very common issue it seems for a lot of people. If they’re going to be a seriously artistic person, you inevitably have to deal with a period of self-doubt. ‘Do I have the right to say this?’ But if you’re not asking that question of yourself I don’t think you can be a true artist. I think questioning whether you should be doing it is a very good thing."

Audiences may find the prospect of delving into profoundly personal creations daunting, however. Without production values or radio-friendly soundtracks, these films are not the big screen epics audiences are accustomed to. And yet, there is something original, even beautiful, in seeing works "shot from the hip."

"You, as an individual, are typical of a lot of people in the world, so in dealing with your own emotions you’ll find that other people have the same feelings but maybe not the inclination or ability to turn it into a work of art," says Morison. "So they very much appreciate that, seeing a film that speaks to emotion and things like that. I’ve had that happen with almost all my films, people come to me after they’ve seen it and say ‘that’s exactly what I was thinking.’

"I was talking to a filmmaker in another city who was on a selection committee for films that people were supposing to make through the film co-op there and one guy basically submitted a M*A*S*H script. It wasn’t a bad plot, I guess, but it was a M*A*S*H script. If you’re going to do something like that I have to ask ‘why bother?’"

In the end, the $100 Film Festival is about the relationship between filmmaker and audience, giving shape to those creative impulses that drive the artists in our midst. While the increasing ease of digital photography and editing may one day render film nearly obsolete as a practical medium, there are still some who find beauty in the glossy, celluloid itself.

"I really like playing around with the actual film, having it my hands," says Morison sentimentally. "Having that feel for the physical medium, the physical material, is something I feel I need to have–though it may be that people without the experience I had won’t miss it."

The $100 Film Festival runs through Sat., Mar. 20 in the Stanford Perrott Theatre at the Alberta College of Art and Design. On Sun., Mar. 21, the “Best of the Fest” will screen at the CSIF’s main building, located in building J2 at the Currie Barracks. For more information, call 205-4747.

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