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Eleventh-Annual Iowa City Documentary Film Festival challenges convention

BY AUDREY DWYER | APRIL 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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When words and photos can no longer tell a story, filmmakers navigate to the obscure corners of reality to reveal the world in a new light.

“What I realize about being a photojournalist, and now doing [filmmaking], was feeling like a kid picking up rocks to see what’s underneath,” said John Richard, a freelance photographer and filmmaker for Bocce Ball Multimedia Studio. “I think it is important for people to be surprised by real life.”

The 11th-Annual Iowa City Documentary Film Festival will confront audiences with new ways to experience reality by challenging conventional modes of thinking about art, documentation, and nonfiction.

The University of Iowa Cinema and Comparative Literature Department will present this unique festival run entirely by students from today through April 14 in the Bijou.

Students in the FVP: Microcinemas & DIY Distribution class, centered on the nature and practice of producing film festivals, have watched and analyzed films from the beginning of the semester for this event.

“We chose the films based on what affected us the most,” said Austin Kakert, a student in the Mircocinemas class. “First, the film had to make sense to me; a lot of them worked with my emotions. We discovered that we tried to choose films that kind of went away from traditional, conventional films you would associate with documentaries.”

Following the criteria of the class mission statement, “We seek to create a diverse program that covers a broad range of form, modes, and styles, from conventional documentary to experimental nonfiction and new genres,” students watched, analyzed, interpreted, and selected the most compelling short films for the festival.

The festival will bring films from all around the world to explore the boundaries of documentary and nonfiction filmmaking by using different forms of film and video. Thirty-nine short films, each 30 minutes or shorter, will participate in the competition screening. The number of films depends on the overall amount of time planned for the program; this year, the festival allotted approximately six hours.

Highlights include Competitive Shows, Juror Shows, and an evening of traveling documentary work courtesy of the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar. Two notable jurors, Cathy Lee Crane and Ernst Karel, will evaluate the films and present awards to the filmmakers on the last day of the festival.

UI film lecturer Jason Livingston, who helped oversee the students’ organization of the festival, said the short films will range in styles from broadcasting to more artistic documentaries.

“It’s hard to see documentary shorts, even with the Internet out there, which we think makes things more accessible,” he said. “With this festival, we are able to present a selected arrangement of those short documentaries and a way for people to learn about the world around them. These films raise questions in relation to human beings — nothing could be more important. It’s art.”

Challenging the conventions of documentary filmmaking, one individual finds astonishing stories about ordinary people in Iowa.

“My role now, for whatever reason, is to be able to find my way into the lives of people who allow me to tell their story and in situations that others wouldn’t be able to get into,” Richard said.

In the short film “The Reluctant Apocalypticist,” Richard catapults the reader into the life of David Heffner. Audiences get a glimpse of an American survivalist mentality through homesteader Heffner, who prepares for the end of time with chickens, pygmy goats, ducks, bees, a Japanese quail, and more.

Livingston said the film event allows people to learn beyond the confines of classrooms and pushes them to look at the world around them.

“Film is an important way people connect and understand each other, whether a film is about something happening here or somewhere else,” Richard said. “I would rather make a difference in a few people’s lives rather than make a difference with a lot of people. I hope to get the response from the audience that they are surprised or delighted with things they took for granted.”

>> Click here to view John Richard's film The Apocalyptic Apiarist.


When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Public Space One, 129 E. Washington
What: Opening Reception at 7 p.m. and “Flaherty On the Road: The Environment Which Surrounds Us”

When: Friday
Where: Bijou
What: “Juror Show: Cathy Lee Crane” at 5 p.m.
“Competitive Show 1” at 8:15 p.m.
“Competitive Show 2” at 9:45 p.m.
“Competitive Show 3” at 11:30 p.m.

When: Saturday
Where: Bijou
What: “Competitive Show 4” at 1:15 p.m.
“Competitive Show 5” at 3 p.m.
“Juror Show: Ernst Karel” at 5 p.m.
“Competitive Show 6” at 8 p.m.
Awards announced at 11 p.m.


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