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100 Words Film Fest: Future Arrives Via Short Film

by John Schacht

November 3, 2015

Photos: (top) A scene from Water Bedouin, an official entry this year from Turkey; (middle) Red Ribbon, an official entry from Italy; (bottom) Music composer Fred Story and Queens University student Austin Huddy in this year's mentoring program.

We live in a world of 140-character Twitter narratives, six-second Vines and 10-minute Ted Talks. Seen in that light, a film festival that limits its creators to 100 words seems less like an outlier than a logical next step for filmmakers in the digital revolution. And, in just its second year, there are hints that Charlotte’s 100 Words Film Festival may be part of—if not quite heralding—a new revolution in cinema.

The sample size is small, but in just two years the 100 Words Film Festival has more than doubled the amount of entries received and expanded screenings from one day to two (screenings are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at McGlohon Theatre; tickets available here). Filmmakers from nine foreign countries sent their work in for judging this year—compared to five foreign entries last year—and national submissions stretched from New York to California. A film class at Ohio State University held their own 100 Words competition after their instructor had a film in last year’s festival, and a Memphis arts organization that works with inner city middle school students asked to do the same.

These are all indisputable signs of health for the young festival, but for Scott Galloway of locally based Susie Films, the festival’s founder, they’re also a harbinger of future trends already here.

“That’s the other thing that’s exciting about short-form work in the world that we live in,” says the 47-year-old Galloway, who’s produced over 800 programs for networks ranging from ABC to HGTV, “there are significant cultural shifts that help us.”

Galloway’s idea may have begun as a way to focus student filmmakers on what he perceived as their chief weakness—storytelling—but it’s also positioned perfectly to take full advantage of today’s rapidly changing media landscape. Galloway remembers when short films were the bastard child of film festivals, and recalls his first Sundance festival in the mid-90s where shorts were “shown in the run-down theatre down the street around the corner that nobody went to.” Now, he notes, they’re just as likely to open or close film festivals, and “part of that popularity is due to the fact that you have all these platforms to show them.”

He cites the example of Drew Barnett, a North Carolina School of the Arts student whose film—Say No More, depicting the Charlotte Rescue Mission’s works—won the top student prize at last year’s festival. That pairing of a student filmmaker with a non-profit is part of the Festival’s purview and meant to benefit both.

“Drew then has his own film which is his own kind of calling card,” Galloway explains, warming to the topic of multi-platforming, “the School of the Arts has a student who’s made a film that’s won an award at a film festival that they can use it for their purposes, and the Charlotte Rescue Mission can use the film for their purposes—and so that one film manifests itself in many different ways.”

And like many events in this bold new frontier, the reverberations can extend far beyond what one initially foresees. With on-line hosts like YouTube and Vimeo linking through social media like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, the heavy lifting of film distribution turns into mere mouse-clicks or screen-swipes. Spreading the word isn’t just easier, it can be limitless.

And before you know it, your modest Charlotte film festival is receiving submissions from the United Arab Emirates, Canada, France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Syria, Italy and Turkey. (Filmmakers from the last two will be traveling to Charlotte for the screenings, and are part of Charlotte Viewpoint’s latest Conversations series on Saturday from 5-7 p.m. at the Dunhill Hotel; more info here.) That’s in large part thanks to Withoutabox.com, a digital submissions site used by film festivals around the world. But it’s also due to the ease with which information crosses old borders.

Take the case of Andrea Marcovicchio, whose film Red Ribbon made it past the initial cut and into the screenings. Marcovicchio’s 5-minute film chronicles how his small Italian hometown, Verbania, honors the partisans who fought against the Axis powers in WWII, including Italy’s fascist leader Benito Mussolini.  Galloway and the 100 Words staff loved the film, and when Marcovicchio was notified that his film was in, he expressed interest in coming. The logistics proved a bit knottier—Galloway speaks as much Italian as the filmmaker does English; virtually none—until a UNC Charlotte Italian professor was enlisted and, with the help of Skype, of course, the obstacles were brushed aside.

“It became clear he wanted to come to America and watch American audiences see his film,” Galloway says. “We were incredibly honored and thankful.”

Water Bedouins, by Turkish filmmaker Yavuz Pullukcu, offers another example of the power that today’s insta-media yields. It was one of the first films the 100 Words staff received this year, and highlights the lives of desert Bedouins in Western Iraq who travel from watering hole to watering hole, and whose culture is threatened by damns. More than just an expose of these nomads’ ages-old customs, the filmmaker had another goal in mind reflecting more current events.

“He indicated that he really hoped we might take his film because it was really important to him that American audiences see a different side of Iraq, away from the war,” Galloway says.

As a means of communicating nuanced history or untold stories like Red Ribbon or Water Bedouins, few mediums are as effective as film. And at the core of the 100 Words Film Festival’s official selections, you’ll find the art of storytelling essential to the process. Galloway’s initial goal with the festival was to improve that communication. Too many students, he says, are technically adept at filmmaking, but lacking in the art of story-telling.

(It doesn’t always come easy to veteran filmmakers either, Galloway says, noting that some entries didn’t make the cut because of technical difficulties, while others “are so obtuse we’re not even sure what’s trying to be conveyed.” Still others exceed or don’t reach the strictly enforced 100-word limit—“they might be talented filmmakers, but they’re poor mathematicians.”)

Galloway initially proposed the 100-word limit as a means to help young filmmakers focus on a solid narrative, rather than trying to tackle a traditional three-act full-length. In the first year, potential student filmmakers were identified by local colleges and universities— UNC Charlotte, Queens, Central Piedmont Community College, Davidson and North Carolina School of the Arts participate—and are then paired with local charities in their communities. With help from a grant from the Reemprise Fund, the festival this year has added a mentoring program through which student filmmakers work with production managers, writer/directors, editors, graphics animators and music composers.

“We believe this is also a win-win,” Galloway says, noting that there are five student films in this year’s screenings, up from three at the inaugural festival. “The students gained valuable real world experience and their films were at even higher quality.”

Galloway isn't coy about his hopes for the festival’s future, which might including possible franchising. But for now he’s been intrigued by things like the Memphis Crosstown Arts program, which brought the concept of 100-word films to inner city kids. Writing to Galloway after their event, Nat Akin, the group's director of outreach and education, said,

"This was the first-ever middle-school film workshop we’ve done, and all of the kids involved—regardless of their level of comfort and experience with filmmaking—were able to fully immerse themselves in the experience because of the unique, finite, approachable format your concept offered.

"What was beautiful about the limits of the format is that each kid had the confidence to tell the story he or she wanted to, and all the other participants helped to produce each other’s film. It was the kind of truly collaborative experience we value highly. One of the high school students who came asked if we could please do a fall workshop for 100 word films for them."

Perhaps, Galloway says, that’s a blueprint for a broader, nation-wide program.

“Who knows? You might even have regionals, and the winning films at the regionals get to play at the Super Bowl in Charlotte—that is an idea that we’re considering.”

Whether that particular concept pans out or not, Galloway knows that the short film is here to stay—especially in an increasingly speedy, digitized world where a film can be accessed through a link and watched on a phone. “That’s just how people communicate,” he says.

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Tags: film, shorts, 100 Words Film Festival, Reemprise, Andrea Marcovicchio, Yavuz Pullukcu, Ted Talks, Vine, Twitter, Charlotte Rescue Misison, Vimeo,

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