YP Quincy’s Big Dam Film Festival

Last Saturday marked YP Quincy’s 7th annual Big Dam Film Festival, arguably the best one yet.

I’m taking a brief reprieve from my standard film review to look back at what makes the BDFF such a unique event. A combination of efforts from local filmmakers and a diverse collection of short films seemed to resonate with the audience – especially this year. The art of the short film is much different from your standard Hollywood film. More liberties – and risks – can be taken in a short film, yet there are challenges abound with a scant 5-15 minute window to craft a gripping narrative.

The short film lends itself perfectly to the film festival setting. A short is not long enough to stand on its own as an evening’s source of entertainment, but can be a key part of a larger collection of films meant to inspire, provoke thought and curiosity, and generally entertain an audience. A good festival should provide entertainment, cultural enrichment, and a social atmosphere. It’s a process to organize, but essentially breaks down to putting a group of curious film enthusiasts in a room, showing some quality films, and providing a forum for them to discuss. The script — as they might say in Hollywood — writes itself.

There were two themes that occurred organically among this year’s film selections. A powerful use of sound and a creative lack of dialogue. The film that won Best of Show this year is “Signs” from director Patrick Hughes. The film shows the unique beginnings of a romantic relationship between two strangers in a sterile, corporate landscape. It does contain some dialogue, though none spoken between the two main characters. Hughes does a great job building anticipation and even works in a twist towards the end. “Signs” can be seen at SIGNS.

Last year’s Best in Show winner Pardis Parker (“Afghan”) submitted another film this year, “The Dance.” Described as a silent film, “The Dance” has zero dialogue, relying on the soundtrack and the acting of Parker and Evany Rosen to drive the narrative. I loved the unique office setting splashed with pastel colors that echoes the seemingly endless optimism of Alex, the film’s protagonist. “The Dance” received third place in the Best of Show voting this year.

“Table 7” is a brilliant concept that relies heavily on dialogue. Deep underneath a Chinese restaurant is a group of individuals that listen in on conversations occurring above them in order to create the perfect fortune to slip into the cookies. “Table 7” probably offers the most impressive set design of all the BDFF entries and filmmaker Marko Slavnic does a brilliant job of juxtaposing the two unique locations. There’s a classic “Aha!” moment towards the end when you finally realize what’s happening. You can view “Table 7” at Table 7 — short film.

The evening also featured a Q&A with local Filmmakers Chris & Victoria Kelley of Table 16 Productions. The Kelley’s are putting the finishing touches on their second feature-length film, “Villainy for the Lonely” and premiered a teaser clip from the film at the festival. During the Q&A they discussed the importance of local filmmakers, the DSLR camera movement in independent filmmaking, and some of the motivations behind one of the characters in the upcoming film. To see a trailer for “Villainy for the Lonely” or to learn more about the film, visit www.table16.com. The Kelley’s also entered “Double Back” – a creative music video shot in downtown Quincy that also lacks dialogue and leaves you with more questions than answers.

I had the pleasure of premiering my latest short film “Die Insel” at this year’s festival. The film documents a 1974 noetic science experiment in Crivitz, Wisconsin that went horribly wrong. Part of the film was shot at Quincy’s Quinsippi Island, and I had fun uncovering the creepier parts of the island. Afterwards a few people asked me if the film’s events really happened. Part of the fun of filmmaking is creating verisimilitude where your audience isn’t quite sure what to think. I’ll let you decide for yourself — you can view “Die Insel” at http://youtu.be/oEsh3NsuwHs.

If you missed out on this year’s Big Dam Film Festival, I highly suggest you make plans now to attend next year. While the Internet is a fantastic place to find some terrific short films, there’s nothing like seeing them on the big screen. You also can’t duplicate the social setting, and The State Room is a fantastic venue for the evening, given its former life as a theatre. If you did attend this year’s festival and have suggestions for next year’s event, you can find them on Facebook. Local filmmakers are always encouraged to submit to the festival, which is meant to celebrate local talent as much as filmmakers around the world.

Travis Yates