As the curator of Seattle's One Reel Film Festival, Warren Etheridge watched more than 1,600 short films this year. He can testify to the ease of modern filmmaking. His desk is littered with submissions from prospective filmmakers, a few even from Alaska.
"People inspired by the do-it-yourself spirit are often tempted to rush intro production," Etheridge said. "Video cameras make everyone believe that they're a filmmaker, which they may very well be. But there's nothing that can possibly make up for solid pre-production and solid scripts."
Etheridge and Andrew Blubaugh, the first-year coordinator of the 31-year-old Northwest Film Festival, will be in Juneau this weekend to lead a winter workshop for hopeful filmmakers and aspiring film critics.
The film lineup
8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, at Centennial Hall
"American Nutria" (Matt McCormick/Portland) - Brought to America from Argentina as a farmable, fur-bearing replacement for the dwindling beaver population, nutria have adapted in the wild and are now causing economic and environmental havoc.
"Fast Forward" (Melissa McGregor/Victoria) - Courtship, infidelity, deceit and redemption.
"Wrong Number Phone Message" (Bruce Alcock/Vancouver) - A rambunctious illustration of some cantankerous audio footage found in an answering machine.
"A Man And His Pants" (Christopher Tenzis/Portland) - Dissecting a pratfall evolves into the editor's rollicking drub solo.
"Transgenic Romance" (Morgan Currie/Portland) - Deadpan yet absurd voiceover describes a love affair between a rhesus monkey and a jellyfish, the two species whose genes were successfully spliced together by scientists in 2002.
"Blender Rotation Test 1-3" (Rob Tyler/Portland) - A surprisingly suspenseful journey into the turbulent world of frappe and puree.
"Three" (Nick Peterson/Portland) - A wordless, lyrical and touching portrait of a mother and daughter out on the town.
"Meridian Days" (Trevor Fife/Portland) - A gorgeously photographed, elegantly paced pleasure cruise with the filmmaker and the grandmother he gently observes and whose language he threatens to understand.
"Why The Anderson Children Didn't Come to Dinner" (Jamie Travis/North Vancouver) - Three 7-year-olds endure the culinary abuse of their morbid mother. You'll never look at brown eggs the same way.
"Entry" (Gaelen Hansen/Seattle) - From dance company 33 Fainting Spells comes this thorough examination of a single phrase of movement.
"49?" (Sherman Alexie, Eric Frith, Holly Taylor/Seattle) - Poet and filmmaker Alexie responded to a challenge from the Seattle International Film Festival to make a 5-minute film about music with this humorous look at a forgotten genre.
The festivities begin at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, with a screening of The Best of the 30th Annual Northwest Film Festival Tour (90 minutes) at Centennial Hall. Admission is pay-as-you-can. The week-long Northwest film festival is held every November in Portland and routinely draws more than 1,500 people. It showcases independent filmmaking in the Pacific Northwest and helped launch the career of Gus Van Sant, among others.
The rest of the workshop is free and open to the public at the University of Alaska Southeast. Space is limited, and anyone interested is encouraged to call 586-3440. Look elsewhere on this page for a complete list of workshop events.
Blubaugh will screen excerpts from the 31st tour from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, and will focus on films that were created with limited resources.
The Northwest Film Festival received approximately 370 submissions for this year's show.
"It's good that filmmakers are being more prolific," Blubaugh said. "But every film doesn't need to be made. Opera singers spend most of their early career doing breathing exercises. No one expects to be in an audience for the set. That analogy works pretty well for digital video. We seem to be getting a lot of films that aren't ready for festivals yet."
Blubaugh has been with the Northwest Film Festival for five years. Before that, he was a filmmaker and a volunteer for various independent cinema organizations. He will talk mostly about how film festivals work, while Etheridge will focus on constructing story and quality narratives.
"My emphasis is on the fact that you can make good films no matter where you are," Blubaugh said. "I'll be showing some films with extremely limited resources with the hopes that some Alaska filmmakers will take the cue and we'll get some good material."
The 31st Northwest Film Festival included Juneau filmmaker Joel Bennett's "Kaktovik Nights," a short film about a whale rendering on Sept. 10, 2001, in a tiny village east of Prudhoe Bay.
"It was something that I had never seen before," Blubaugh said. "It was imagery that was completely unfamiliar to me. It was well-edited, and short; it was just long enough to take my interest and keep my attention. And, despite the subject matter being somewhat disturbing, it was also very beautiful."
Etheridge is known in the Northwest for The Warren Report, thewarrenreport.com, an online journal about new films, filmmaking and film issues. He watches films in press screenings and previews hundreds of films a year. He's blown away by what he sees about five times a year. The last time was during a national screening of "The Assassination of Richard Nixon," a film with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts due out in January.
All events at UAS unless otherwise noted.
Friday, Dec. 3
8-10 p.m. - Best of NW Film Festival, at Centennial Hall, and introductory comments by Warren Etheridge and Andrew Blubaugh, pay as you can.
Saturday, Dec. 4
10-11 a.m. - Introductions of instructors and participants. Participant expectations and instructors' overview.
11 a.m.-12 p.m. - Essentials of Successful Films. When viewing thousands of short films submitted to their festivals, what elements set apart the films selected from those passed over?
12-1:00 p.m. - Lunch.
1-3 p.m. - Such a Character: Filmmaking is storytelling. This session will focus on creating compelling characters, whose internal and external conflicts both resonate with and elevate our understanding of the human condition.
3-3:30 p.m. - Break.
3:30-5:30 p.m. - Viewing of local films and discussion. As time permits, also viewing of particularly stellar examples selected by Etheridge and Blubaugh.
7:30-10 p.m. - Dinner with instructors and any interested members of the creative community at the home of Joel Bennett and Louisa Stoughton ($20 per person to defray meal costs, reservations required by Nov. 29. Call 586-3440.)
Sunday, Dec. 5
10-11 a.m. - Where are we at? Where do we want to go? Instructors and participants discuss the progress of the workshop and reiterate their expectations and plans for the day.
11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. - View local work and discuss.
12:30-1:30 p.m. - Lunch.
1:30-4:30 p.m. -Presenter's Choice.
4:30-5:30 p.m. - Final questions and answers. Requests for "homework."
"It was very unusual storytelling for Hollywood," he said.
Etheridge grew up thinking he wanted to be a filmmaker and set off down that road. He quickly realized he hated making movies.
Instead, he gravitated to theater. In New York City between 1986 and 1996, he wrote or directed roughly 40 shows for off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway. He wanted to make more money, so he spent a brief stint working in television. It was "as soul-sucking an experience as I could imagine," he said, and soon he moved to Seattle with a fashion designer friend.
In Seattle, he began working for the Seattle International Film Festival and was invited to produce a short film.
"I went on the set the first day, and within two hours I realized I really do hate it," he said. "The wonderful thing about theater as a writer or director is you have tremendous control over the project and sort of immediate gratification. Film is all about very delayed gratification and having to work with many other people."
Etheridge decided that he still wanted to work with the medium, and that one of his talents was sharing great films with audiences and trying to help people make their own good movies. Regionally, his report has attracted filmgoers and aspiring filmmakers. Nationally, it's spread through the industry and is read by award-winning filmmakers everywhere.
"The tagline on the site says, 'Smarter audiences make better movies,' and in my idealistic, somewhat psychotic take on things, I truly believe that audiences can make or change the quality of films by learning more about them and demanding higher quality. I think it's slowly but surely working on some levels. I'm really more interested in everybody else's opinion, because I think that's the exciting thing. Can you spark people to watch things and make their judgments and discover the beauty of film on their own?"
Korry Keeker can be reached at email@example.com.