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Shorts in the Spirit

by Angela Lindsay

July 4,2005

Before the house lights went down in the Booth Playhouse at Founders Hall, I knew that this was not going to be any ordinary movie-going experience. But it wasn’t the absence of popcorn or teenagers hanging out in the lobby that made the environment different.  There was an aura of excitement surrounding the spectators who had gathered to take in the cinematic contributions of six independent filmmakers at the Shorts in the Spirit film showcase. More like family than strangers, they seemed to know they were about to experience a unique slice of Charlotte’s expanding arts scene.

Shorts in the Spirit is the brainchild of Dennis Darrell, a Northern transplant and former student of short film at Temple University. “Arriving in Charlotte in 2001, I couldn’t find the short film screenings I had gotten use to, so I started my own,” he says of the birth of the series. Darrell and crew regularly produce events dedicated to showcasing the work of local and national independent black filmmakers. The popular Shorts in the Spirit series, so named because the event used to be held in Spirit Square, is currently in is fourth installment—a testament to the loyal following it is building in this community.

The film industry in general is nothing knew to Charlotte. For years, the Queen City and its surrounding areas have been fertile breeding ground for Hollywood filmmakers looking to capitalize on our versatile and economical shooting locations. If you ask residents about Charlotte’s film industry, blank stares aside, they will probably recall the likes of Eddie, Shallow Hall, The Patriot, and The Original Kings of Comedy—all box office blockbusters that were filmed in this area. Their independent counterparts, though quieter by comparison, render a different kind of impact.

No explosions. No computer animation. No big name stars. The films that were screened at Shorts in the Spirit were refreshingly devoid of these Hollywood elements. They did not need them. Instead, each film featured its own kind of special affect – a real story to tell.

From a modern day portrayal of the effects of female circumcision in Africa to a satirical take on the stereotype of African Americans’ love of fried chicken to a social commentary on the current prison system, they touched each member of audience in a way that big studios sometimes fail to do. Through these projects, the audience is able to escape the norm of the movie industry and delve into the norm of everyday life, experiencing stories that would otherwise never get told.

Says Darrell, “The goal in the end is to allow these talented black filmmakers a voice and venue to share their stories, their talents and their imaginations, and in that same brush stroke allow an audience the pleasure of these gifts and a chance to see balanced depictions of a community.”

Though Shorts in the Spirit focused on black independent films, their provocative themes and unapologetic honesty were such that any diverse audience could relate to them. And it was clear from the numerous times that cheers, sniffles, sighs, laughs, and claps arose during various scenes of the different films that the audience was doing just that.

The screening also offered an amenity not found at the local AMC theater – the ability to speak one-on-one with filmmakers. A question and answer period followed Shorts in the Spirit wherein the audience was able to meet a couple of the filmmakers and pick their brains. It wasn’t hard to get the discussion going. Good works of art will do that.

For any aspiring filmmaker that may have been in the audience, and from what I could tell there were several, having such events in Charlotte promotes inspiration and nullifies the need to trek to the saturated markets of New York or Los Angeles to hone and display their craft. They can do it right here at home.

The recent success of such independent-cum-big screen films like Hotel Rwanda and Sideways is enough to send any aspiring filmmaker scurrying back to the lab, attempting to churn out the next Oscar-worthy piece. And it was encouraging to think that perhaps one of them in the room that night might accomplish just that.

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