Elgin rolls out red carpet for seventh annual Short Film Festival

  • Mike Toomey

    Mike Toomey

  • Elgin Short Film Festival finalists walk the red carpet as they enter the Hemmens at a previous festival.

    Elgin Short Film Festival finalists walk the red carpet as they enter the Hemmens at a previous festival. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • "Chasm," directed by Joel Benjamin, is one of the finalists in the Elgin Short Film Festival.

    "Chasm," directed by Joel Benjamin, is one of the finalists in the Elgin Short Film Festival. COURTESY OF ELGIN SHORT FILM FESTIVAL

  • "Animal Landscape," directed by Shelley Dodson, is one of the finalists in the Elgin Short Film Festival.

    "Animal Landscape," directed by Shelley Dodson, is one of the finalists in the Elgin Short Film Festival. COURTESY OF ELGIN SHORT FILM FESTIVAL

  • "Speed Dating," directed by Meghann Artes, is one of the finalists in the Elgin Short Film Festival.

    "Speed Dating," directed by Meghann Artes, is one of the finalists in the Elgin Short Film Festival. COURTESY OF ELGIN SHORT FILM FESTIVAL

  • The cast and director of "Una Mujer Sin Precio (1961)," directed by Alaric Rocha.

    The cast and director of "Una Mujer Sin Precio (1961)," directed by Alaric Rocha. COURTESY OF ELGIN SHORT FILM FESTIVAL

 
By Jamie Greco
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted9/23/2015 3:02 PM

Limos. Red carpet. Celebrity interviews. None of these are usually associated with Elgin, but you'll find them at the seventh annual Elgin Short Film Festival, which takes place at the Hemmens on Saturday, Sept. 26.

The festival will feature six short films, one of which will take home $1,000 and a trophy from R.S. Owens, the same company that makes the Oscars.

 

"It came about as way to bring people downtown to the Hemmens," said Joe Vassallo, co-chairman, along with Rich Jacobs, of the event.

Although most of the entries are derived from a site called Film Freeway, which connects filmmakers and film festivals, some filmmakers respond to newspaper articles and word-of-mouth, according to Vassallo.

The criteria are simple. "Films are 20 minutes or less, including credits," Vassallo said. "They have to be fairly family-friendly -- we don't want nudity and a lot of swearing. We like to be able to have people bring their kids."

This year professional and semiprofessional filmmakers submitted their short subjects from all over the world, including Canada, France, Spain, China, New Zealand, and the U.S.

Once the submissions arrive, they are divided into live action and animation from which six selections are made, three from each genre.

"We have a selection committee of roughly 10 people who watch all the films," said Vassallo. "They go through a rubric: story line, production value, sound, editing, and original music, and we pick the top three from each category."

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Chosen participants receive a letter of congratulation and an invitation to attend the ceremony.

One of this year's finalists, Alaric Rocha's film, "Una Mujer Sin Preico 1961," (A Priceless Woman 1961), is actually a segment of a future full-length feature. The movie will be a faux documentary about a fictional Mexican horror director named Juan Francisco Moctevuma II.

"We're making five films under this director's name," said Rocha, a native of Rockford who now lives in Chicago,

The film was Rocha's father's idea.

"My father is of Mexican descent and he was interested in the B-movies he grew up watching in the '60s and '70s," Rocha said. "He said it would be really neat to see a movie about a washed-up Mexican horror director. I liked the idea, but I wanted to do it authentically so I started doing research on the cinema."

Rocha taught in Mexico for a year, shooting a segment of the feature while he was there. He also studied the history of Mexican horror cinema.

"I made sure this character's life really fit into the Mexican cinema history," he said. "The idea is to show how a director, this director, puts his own life into his films, so when you see this film and the others, you can see that he was making a movie because this was going on his life. He was going through this and that."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

On the night of the festival, Rocha and other entrants will dine at Danny's Pizza in Elgin and then head to the Hemmens in a limousine where a red carpet will be rolled out. Local reporter Jeff Myers and students from South Elgin's Beacon Academy will interview entrants on their way inside.

"We like to bring them a little flavor of Hollywood," said Vassallo.

Mike Toomey of the WGN Morning Show will serve as master of ceremonies for the event.

Six judges will vote on the short films. Cari Callis, an associate professor of cinema art and science and Mehmaz Saeedvafa who is an award-winning Iranian-American filmmaker and professor of cinema arts and science are from Columbia College in Chicago.

Also serving as judges are Darlene Hulin of the Elgin Cultural Arts Commission; Raul Esparza, the associate director of the Illinois Film Office; Sean Hargadon, the artistic director and co-founder of Janus Theater; and Reddy Wilson, a U-46 speech and drama educator.

Audience members will also have a hand in choosing the top prizewinner when they vote by paper ballot during an intermission following the screening of the movies. Their ballots will choose the People's Choice Award and count as one judge's vote.

Along with the possibility of a $1,000 prize and the trophy, filmmakers have the added benefit of sharing their work with a sizable audience.

"A lot of people who get their films shown in Elgin have trouble getting their films seen because it's a short film and not a full-length feature," Vassallo said. "It (usually) gets shown in smaller backrooms and you might have 20 people looking at your film."

In that respect the Elgin Short Film Festival benefits both the city and the filmmakers.

"It's grown and it's always changing," Vassallo said. "Our biggest total audience was about 750."

Organizers encourage movie buffs to attend the festival. Tickets are $7. For details, visit cityofelgin.org.

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