OWENSBORO, KY (5/24/12) – When one thinks of independent film festivals, it conjures names like Cannes, Sundance, or Telluride. As of last year, indie film lovers can add Owensboro to that list. Granted, the River City Festival of Films (TRCFF) is still in its infancy, but festival organizer and filmmaker, PJ Starks, has high hopes for what could develop into a major regional event for filmmakers and filmgoers alike. SurfKY News interviewed Starks in April to learn more about the artist and his work (click here for the full article).
In 2011, Starks was introduced to Tamara Coy, Visiting English Professor at Kentucky Wesleyan College. Coy, an Owensboro native, lived in England for 20 years before returning to the US and currently teaches Creative Writing, Literature, as well as a screenwriting class at KWC. She heard about Starks’ work through a mutual friend. The two became fast friends and decided to do an indie film series.
The series, which took place last autumn, was especially educational for Coy’s screenwriting students who were crafting their own works as well. “It was wonderful to showcase these indie films from script-to-screen, so to speak. It gave them a clear idea of the process as they were writing their scripts,” said Coy. Following the success of the series, Starks organized the first TRCFF.
Through Starks’ collaboration with Coy, this year’s event will take place at Kentucky Wesleyan’s Winchester Center on November 3, a major step up from 2011’s venue at Towne Suare Mall. Despite the mall’s limited space and facilities, the festival drew more than 1,000 visitors. Concerning the new venue at the Winchester Center, Coy said, “It has the library, Rogers Hall, and various places to eat in the cafeteria.” In fact, two eateries at the Winchester Center will be open for business during TRCFF, including Jazzman’s Café and Sub Connection.
“It’s a perfect venue for the public. They will have room to move around, and we’ll have the cafes open as well. It’s just a beautiful campus, and I hope that people will come and enjoy it as well as the movies. Hopefully, both the public as well as the students will come out to enjoy the festival. From my perspective, as an educator, I am really wanting to bring the festival for the students to enjoy.” Coy hopes that students will volunteer and get involved in tasks like setup, break-down, and running projectors.
“I’m very excited to bring the arts to Kentucky Wesleyan and to marry that with the educational component. It highlights Wesleyan’s growing commitment to the arts in the community. Tickets [for the films] are incredibly inexpensive, and all proceeds will go towards a charity; otherwise, just coming and wandering around the facility and seeing the vendors and the tables doesn’t cost anything.”
“We have films just pouring in, and we are starting to screen them. Hopefully, lots more will come in as well. They are setting a really high standard, and it’s amazing the talent that is out in our community . . . it shows the real skill involved. Anyone can do amazing things with a $100 million budget, but when you’re writing a short film, you really have to master your craft of constructing a good story.”
SurfKY News caught up with Starks as well to gain a more detailed vision of TRCFF.
Q&A with PJ Starks:
Casey Piscitelli: What is the festival (name, where, when, and why)?
PJ Starks: The River City Festival of Films 2012 is a daylong charity event used to highlight and celebrate the talents of local/regional filmmakers and artists alike. It gives local filmmakers a venue to screen their works to the public as well as those who have moved on to work in the industry a chance to screen their projects at home so their friends and families can experience their work on the big screen. It's a joint venture between my production company Verite Cinema in association with Kentucky Wesleyan College who is hosting the event in the Winchester Building on Saturday, November 3rd, 2012.
CP: What led you to want to create this in Owensboro?
PJ: In early 2011, I was pushing my latest project, a psychological drama called A Mind Beside Itself. I was contacted by someone who was putting on a festival in Russellville, Kentucky, asking me to submit the film. I thought it was great what they were doing in Russellville, but it struck a chord in me. Owensboro is the third largest city in the state, yet places smaller than us had film festivals. Where was our film festival? The fact that we're such an arts-rich community, yet we didn't have any venues to support local filmmaking didn't make sense to me. Already well into the whole indie filmmaking scene, I sat down with my wife Katrina and a friend, and we started the discussion of putting together an event.
CP: How did you get hooked up with KWC?
PJ: Several months before the festival took place, I was contacted by Tamara Coy at KWC to present my film A Mind Beside Itself to her screenwriting class. I'm huge on supporting other filmmakers and helping them promote their work. It's one of our initiatives at Verite Cinema. I had been sitting on an idea for a film series that I wanted to put on at a local or regional college; however, it worked out. This became my opportunity, and I pitched the idea about The Indie Film Series. It was a three consecutive week series that would screen one indie film a week and follow up with a Q&A with the filmmakers. This would be the educational component, as another intiative we have at VC is continued education through the arts. Tamara loved the idea, pitched it to the powers that be at KWC, and it took place for three weeks in September of 2011. In a move that some said was stupid, I used the series as a prelude to the festival by choosing three festival selections. Thankfully, it didn't blow up in my face and hopefully was one of the reasons we had such a great turn out at year-one of the film festival. The Indie Film Series, like the festival, went over great, so we're working on another series that will take place in fall of 2012. This too will work as a festival booster. I can only hope that we have equal success. Either way, it made it an easy pitch when the time came and only made sense to hold year-two of TRCFF at KWC. To those who helped pull this off, Tamara and Rich Borowski in particular, I cannot thank enough for the support. It tells me that we're on the forefront of something truly progressive for the community when a reputable organization like KWC stands behind your project. It's truly a great feeling.
CP: Talk a bit about the format of the festival?
PJ: First and foremost, the event is a film festival. Obviously, you can expect a lot of great indie entertainment. Second, the festival is a charity event. We choose a deserving organization with a noble and worthwhile cause. All the proceeds from the screenings are given over to the charity group when the event concludes. Last year, our venue was pretty intimate at Towne Square Mall, and we only had two areas: An events floor that held all the filmmakers and artist booths and then a main screening room. This also limited the amount of content available, which kinda sucked. But hey, it was year one and we wanted to keep it homegrown. This year our venue has grown in spades! We have an events floor and two screening rooms. One is upstairs and the other is downstairs and connects to the events floor. Because of the additional screening room, we're opening up the event to screen feature films. So, our content has nearly doubled this year, which is really exciting. Last year, if a filmmaker was available, we held Q&A's after their films. Once again, they were very short due to time constraints and space. This year, we'll have a room specifically set aside for Q&A's with the filmmakers, leaving enough time to actually ask them questions. Also, through our educational initiatives and with the help of KWC, we're going to be putting on some workshops, seminars, and master classes. Right now, these are still in the works. I'll have more information at a later time. We will be showing all the short films in hour-long blocks, and the features will hold their own since, typically, their run-time is around 80 minutes. Each block will be $4 and, if you are a student with an ID to prove it, you get in for $2. That gives you the option to see multiple films for cheaper than you can ever see at a larger theater chain. Plus, most of them will be local, and you're supporting a local charity. It's a win-win for everyone involved.
CP: What people can expect when they walk in the doors?
PJ: When you enter the event, you'll walk into the events floor. This will hold all the vendors, artist booths, and filmmakers promoting themselves and their projects. It's a great way to meet the filmmakers and artists face to face, to ask them all about the process of making independent films, and, if you're interested, how you can become involved. We'll also have video loops playing trailers, music videos, behind-the-scenes footage, and more at various areas around the room. The first screening room will play all the shorts we've chosen for the festival, and, if you make your way upstairs to the second screen, you'll find the feature films. One of the biggest additions we have in year two is concessions. There will be food and drinks available as well as a coffee bar. We got a lot of questions last year about "why no popcorn?" This year you can have popcorn, a hot dog, and a mocha frap if you want. I'm pretty excited about that, and it has nothing to do with my weight.
For more information on the River City Festival of Films, click here to view the festival's news release, which contains news and contact information for event organizers. Also, you can learn more about and “like” TRCFF on Facebook by clicking here, or Starks' production compnay Verite Cimnema by clicking here.
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