Last night's Olympia Awesome Film Festival, the first ever, showcased the talents of twenty filmmakers from all over the U.S., with 24 low-budget short films in 5 hours--sci-fi, action-adventure, music videos, slasher parodies, documentaries, mockumentaries.
The festival's producers and attendees clearly loved all things cinema, bringing great energy to the evening. The event's sponsors also played a huge role in the festival's success, giving away hundreds of dollars in gift certificates, from pub fare to oil changes. (I'm not even mad that I didn't win one.)
The Subjectively Chosen Highlights
The audience favorite, Daniel Klockenkemper's Deathwalker, shot on Super 8 stock for an especially Carpenteresque look, had some of the best moments of visual humor. Apparently a foldable walker + a shotgun = comedy gold. (Couldn't find it on YouTube, sorry.) Accepting his award, Klockenkemper noted that the short was ten years in the making. Here's hoping the sequel comes out a little faster.
For its composition and overall excellence, the judges chose--and chose well--Never Been Used, a simple premise neatly executed, short and sweet. Unsurprisingly, it was 1st runner up at the Seattle 24 Hour Film Race in 2010.
Documentaries deserved their own award, but since there wasn't one, I'd pick Hamilton: Town at the Tipping Point, a thought-provoking look at "FEMA welfare."
The animation Asteraceae and the mockumentary (at least, I think it's a mockumentary) Rats also entertained.
The two biggest "WTF" moments* were the slasher Waffle, perhaps the festival's riskiest entry, and My Brother's Dog Helen, a documentary that, in a few painful and surprisingly poignant minutes, deconstructs notions of family and forgiveness.
The Suggestion Box
The following suggestions are offered in love, as I'd really like to see the festival become an Olympia tradition.
Speed it up a bit. The festival started close to six, and wasn't over until 11:00. A good chunk of the audience left early, missing out on the final raffle and the prize announcements, probably because that's a lot of seat time (in a fairly stuffy venue, which, to be fair, wasn't the organizers' first choice). Cut a few films (see below), shorten up the breaks, and count votes while the raffle's going.
Quality over quantity.
A small festival, starting out, is in a tricky spot. You want to attract a wide variety of talents, and you want to attract and retain an audience. You want your films to be good, but you don't want to be so picky that you entirely shut out amateur auteurs.
Limiting to one film per director might help--did we really need two "instructional" films, Let's Shoplift and Save and Hot Wiring Made Easy, where the joke and the execution were nearly identical?
Also, to keep quality high while simultaneously building buzz, why not include your potential audience in the selection process? Choose, say, five flicks you're not sure will make the cut, put 'em on the website, and let the Internet vote for their faves. The top choice makes it into the festival, while the other four at least get some exposure, without slowing down the action. Everybody wins.
The order matters.
Selection and arrangement are critical. The festival had great variety in tone and style, but ended, I thought, on a bit of an anticlimax, an actioner with great production values (and lots of fight sequences) but a thin storyline--and only Part 2 of a 3-part series.
It's small, but important: if this is a film festival, let's have film-quality popcorn. Butter it up.
The Olympia Awesome Film Festival has great potential. I hope there's another next year--and I hope to see you there.
*And I should point out that this is meant as a term of endearment.