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10th-annual documentary-film festival

BY SAMANTHA GENTRY | APRIL 12, 2012 6:30 AM

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Saying that Richard Wiebe's Univeristy of Iowa course Microcinemas and DIY Distribution requires class participation is an understatement. Not only do the students have required assignments, but they are responsible for producing and hosting the Iowa City Documentary Film Festival every year.

The festival will feature films ranging from animation and narratives to more traditional documentaries. And this year, the students decided to include an element of art installations in the festival as well. One thing the pieces all have in common is commentary on what it means to document moments in time and space.

"We aren't interested in one kind," said Wiebe, the director of this years' festival. "We want to represent all the different things people can do with cameras and documentation."

The festival will begin at 7:30 p.m. today in Public Space One, 129 E. Washington St., and continue in the Bijou at 5 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday. Admission to all screenings is free.

Wiebe is a graduate student in the film studies Ph.D. program at the UI and teaches the students in charge of the festival.

"The class is great because it's not really a class, it's more like an internship or real work experience," he said. "There is a place for people to sort of have experience wherever their career paths are."

Student can select to work with different groups, such as publicity, hospitality, web design, and a programming team, all of which contribute to planning the festival. They also choose the films to include in the screenings.

"As we watched all the films, aside from liking them, we wanted to choose which ones represented the best of their kind in order to ensure that the quality of work we were showing was the highest of its caliber," Wiebe said.

10th-anniversary celebration

The festival has the reputation of showing films that push the envelope, Wiebe said. This year, he wanted to expand the concept of what it truly means to "document."

To be a documentary, filmmakers were not limited to producing films for the average movie screen. This weekend, some of the documentaries will be shown as what the class is calling an art installation.

For example, Lewis Colburn's installation titled "After the Architect Has Gone" will serve as the backdrop to Rob Todd's documentary "Master Plan" at 7:30 p.m. today in Public Space One. A comedy show by Paperback Rhino will follow.

Colburn will recreate the Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington in the space by using a modern design of the vintage brick row house in an effort to comment on modern architecture.

Jonathon Rattner and Laura Cechanowitz will also contribute to the new art element. Rattner's piece "For Issa" will be projected around the hospitality room of the Iowa House Hotel, and Cechanowitz's film "A Letter to You" will be featured on the walls of different buildings around the Iowa City area.

"I'm looking forward to Thursday through Saturday because it's a crazy thing we are trying to do," Wiebe said. "I'm excited for the festival as a work of art."

The filmmakers

UI senior Zander Stone is one of the two undergraduate students showing his work in the festival.

His piece, "Behind the Hidden Face," tells the story of a fictitious character named Mr. Puzz. The film comments on what people consider art and how anyone, including Mr. Puzz, can get famous through the many media outlets that exists today.

While filming his piece, Stone decided to use a webcam, Cannon DSLR camera, and his cell-phone camera to capture the different moments in the documentary.

"I chose to have those devices to demonstrate the availability to everyone and expose to everyone that they can all make a film," he said. "I think shooting through those media demonstrates mass culture and media."

Lori Felker, a filmmaker from Chicago, had a different experience while producing the films she will première at the festival. In both cases, she didn't originally intend to create documentaries.

One of the films she will show at the festival, "The Mennonite Federation," was produced with filmmaker Todd. As the two drove around Iowa, they stumbled upon the birthplace of a Star Trek character in Riverside and a religious village in Kalona. The two realized that there was a strange connection between the two locations, and they wanted to tell that story.

Felker's second film, "Across & Down," was created during a trip to Uganda. The richness of the culture at the primary school in the village she visited inspired her to create the film. Beyond video footage of the children at the school, she also collected crossword puzzles from the Uganda newspaper that she includes in the film.

"How I read them was how I was trying to make things fit into this new world [I was creating]," she said. "So I thought mixing [the crossword puzzles with the children] would be a fun exploration of perspective."

Eithan Orkibi, a filmmaker from Israel, will feature his piece "The Belgian Friend" in the festival.

Orkibi's film represents one of several international documentaries that will be fetured in the festival. Other countries include Canada, Belgium, Niger, Turkey, China, Spain, Iran, France, Austria, Germany, and India.

He said the festival interested him and thought that it was a perfect match for his work.

The documentary is a chronicles Orkibi's effort to find a lost friend.

"Although my friend is physically absent from the film, his character leads the plot," Orkibi said. "Because he isn't there to answer my questions, I must break his silence by turning the gaze inwards to myself."

Orkibi's film will be shown in French but will include English subtitles.

Unfortunately, he will not be able to attend the festival, but he thinks the program looks fascinating, and he is very curious to see the other films selected.

"I admire filmmakers who go out there and bring big stories on wars, social problems or political scandals," he said. "But I also believe that sometimes all you need is to convince yourself, and your audience, that you can give meaning to simple things. Things are basically meaningless until you show up, document them, and by doing that you give them meaning."


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