Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What makes the Super GR8 Film Festival Awesome!

What makes the Super GR8 Film Festival Awesome!
-by Rhonda Vigeant, Pro8mm

When you think about hubs for independent filmmaking, it is unlikely   Harrisonburg, Virginia would come to mind as a place where extraordinary film projects are being born by the dozens, but this is precisely what happens every fall when two local residents, AKA festival directors Paul Somers and Tim Estep announce that it is time again for the annual Super GR8 Film Festival.

The idea is to make a complete film on one 50-foot roll of Super 8 film with all the edits done in the camera. Filmmakers see their film for the first time on screening night, so the excitement and anticipation is intense, for not only the filmmaker, but the actors and audience as well.

While single roll super 8 film festivals have been around for a number of years, and have a popular following, what happens in Harrisonburg during October and November is a transformation of community rallying around the arts and creative process unlike anything I have ever seen or experienced before in my 30 years of working with the Super 8 medium. 

The awesomeness and uniqueness of Super GR8 is that the entire community gets involved with it.  As a small college town, home to James Madison University, as well as other near-by colleges, beautifully seated around a plethora of Civil War history, the sense of community in Harrisonburg extends well beyond the campus. The vibrant historic down town area is filled with unique non-commercial shopping, art galleries, hand made items and one of a kind eateries.  It is a very special place with very special people, and as one resident says, it is like “CHEERS” – a place where everyone really does know your name.

The elevated sense of community Paul and Tim have created with Super GR8 is a natural fit to a town that already has a sense of creative spirit and identity. A feeling of pride and cooperative, not competitive mindset touches every aspect of this amazingly successful festival, which has a tag line by the way “LIFE IS SUPER GR8”!

Super Gr8 entries are only solicited from local residents during an annual sign up night.  There are a coveted 48 spots, which are quickly spoken for every year.   24 films are made on Super 8 Tri-X Film, and 24 are made on Super 8 Color Negative. Each film type has its own screening night in the beautiful, historic down town Court Square Theatre.

The actors and crew are all local residents.  People in the community open up their homes and businesses to let the filmmakers use their locations.  Dozens of local businesses participate as sponsors.  Local artists design logos, t-shirts and posters for the publicity – which is prominently, displayed everywhere you go.  Innkeepers donate rooms to host festival judges and some of the invited out of town guests.  Even the amazing trophies (which are the only prizes) are amazingly hand crafted from “throw away” broken super 8 cameras, reels and super 8 projectors.  These in themselves are unique relics that rival the beauty of any cookie cutter Hollywood Emmy or Oscar! 

On the night prior to the screenings – the town is a buzz.  Everyone you meet knows about the festival, has either made a film, is in a film, crewed a film, wrote a music score for a film, or knows someone directly involved in some way. 

Paul and Tim prepare for the festival all year by looking for super 8 cameras that are in working condition.  A local camera shop fixes many, but Paul confesses he is learning more about the process himself so that all participants will have good working equipment.  Cameras are lent to anyone who needs one. You just stop by Tim or Paul’s’ house and check one out.  A majority of the people who enter the festival have never made a film before – or have only made one for a previous Super GR8 festival.  So the task falls on the shoulders of the festival directors to work with the newbie’s, sometimes for hours on end, teaching them how to use the camera, and always making themselves available, day or night to answer and questions.

The Festival was founded is 2010 with the first years films shot only on black and white film.  In 2011, Pro8mm was asked if they would like to jump on as a sponsor, so for the past two years, we have provided at cost both the black and white and color negative film, the processing and HD scanning. 

When we told Tim and Paul back in 2011 that we wanted to come to the festival, they were surprised but happy to have their efforts validated in this way.  This year, we returned again, and were asked to be judges.  When residents ask us why we have come all the way to Harrisonburg, Virginia from Burbank,CA, we tell them it is an extension of our love of super 8 and we want to be part of the love fest.  To be part of the magic created by this outrageously fun, grass roots Super 8 Spectacular, complete with after parties at local venues is for us, amazing!

So with our involvement, Super GR8 has added on a night before the festival where we present to the newbie’s and predominately non-filmmakers to help them to begin to understand some of the basic filmmaking process, and think where else they might want to use the medium in their life.

The amount of people giving time, effort and commitment that goes into not only the films, but also the sound tracks, the posters that each filmmaker made for their own film is immeasurable.   As the audience began to come in and settle in their seats, I looked around at the hundreds of people who attended this sold out event and it was extremely emotional for Phil and I on many levels. The house was packed. I thought to myself, when was the last time you could fill a room on a Tuesday night with 300 people who paid the price of admission to see something that is a complete unknown, just to support their friends, their community, and be part of something bigger than themselves?

Super 8 has been our life’s work for 30 years.  And here it is, the end of 2012. The future of film origination from where we sit in Hollywood is changing so fast.  And yet, as I looked around the room of predominately 20-30 something’s, it was clear to me that Super 8 has indeed come full circle and is going to have a new life, in the loving hands from where it came.  Some in the hands of aspiring filmmakers, but mostly in the hands of regular people. People who want to create art. People who want to collaborate, not compete.    People who are a bit counter culture, and thrive in that environment.

One event can change a community.  Two people, Paul Somers and Tim Estep through the Super GR8 Film Festival changed the way their community looks at themselves and as a result changed Harrisonburg in so many ways. Creating a sense of community is what most people want, but don’t always know how to create.  Yet, a 3 and a half-minute cartridge of 50 feet of Super 8 film had the power to move an entire town to have an abundant amount of  fun this fall and create an experience that is not just Super Gr8 but Super awesome!

As I felt the energy of the audience explode during the sold out two  screening nights, and found myself “all in” as both a judge and a “wannabe “Harrisonburg Groupie, I found myself wondering if everyone over at the multiplex down the road was having as much fun as we were. But I already knew the answer!

1 comment:

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