Finger Lakes Film Festival honors documentaries, animation and more

The festival, held in Geneva, N.Y., was held for its fifth year in 2012.

Gila National Forest Service/AP
A gila trout, a species of trout, is shown underwater. Geneva, N.Y. is often referred to as the lake trout capital of the world.

In the past five years, the city of Geneva, New York, has emerged from decades of post-industrial limbo and embraced its status as a college town. Establishments like The Red Dove Tavern, Opus, Joe’s Hots (which was the subject of a documentary in this year’s festival), Finger Lakes Gifts & Lounge, Stomping Grounds, and Microclimate have reanimated a previously soporific (and sometimes ominous) downtown. Many of the owners of these establishments are not lifelong residents, but outsiders who have ended up in Geneva for one reason or another. Others grew up in Geneva and/or the surrounding areas, moved away, and then returned to take advantage of the wide open spaces and low property value. They are passionate about the natural beauty of the area and the opportunities Geneva represents.

On the more arts end of this development is Headless Sullivan, an alternative/experimental theater group; Geneva 13, a ‘zine devoted to documenting the peculiarities of the city; The Cracker Factory, an arts space that exhibits the work of artists and hosts the Finger Lakes Film Festival, an annual showcase of short films held every November. While not particularly oriented toward the independent film community, the Finger Lakes Film Festival is perhaps the only film event in Western New York that not only acknowledges but cultivates a DIY Film Culture. Like a lot of people involved with the exhibition of independent film these days, the organizers of the Finger Lakes Film Festival are motivated by nothing except a passion for showcasing locally-oriented short films.

I’ve been meaning to write about the FLXFF for a few years now. In 2009, I had a film in the festival, Strong Enough for a Man. For the last couple of years, I’ve been hard at work on my own feature, which has kept me from submitting material to the 2010, 2011, and the 2012 festivals. In the past, the festival was spread over the course of three nights: two nights of screenings, and an awards show. This year, everything was presented in one evening, in part, because the festival received fewer submissions than it has in past years. Nonetheless, organizers Kevin Dunn and Michelle Eades seemed very pleased with the turnout. “There are way more people than we expected!” Dunn announced at the start of the program.

The festival is divided into three age categories: K-12, College, and General, and divided five genre categories: Narrative, Experimental, Animation, Documentary, and Music Video. There are only two prerequisites as far as entering the films: the filmmaker must have resided in the Finger Lakes Region at one point in their life, and the film must be less than 20 minutes in length. The evening was broken into two parts: six films in the first part, five films in the second part. At the end of the evening, the audience voted on the People’s Choice, which was tallied as the other awards were handed out. Each filmmaker was handed a trophy that was designed by Brandon & Amy Phillips, owners of Miles & May and The Cracker Factory.

Each year, there are some films that are worthy of being entered into larger festivals, and this year was no exception. Among the standouts (in this writer’s opinion) of this year’s festival were Raymond McCarthy-Bergeron’s Here Inside You, a montage of city scenes and interpretive dances, and Christar Kei Yan Wan’s The Puzzled, a multi-screen presentation of a man trying to communicate with his girlfriend, which won the grand prize. Also impressive was More Than A Restaurant, a short documentary about Joe’s Hots and owner Joe Malone’s contributions to the city of Geneva; Alex Aronson’s very funny Extreme Home Makeover: Manhattan Edition; and 14-year-old Ali Augustine’s Just Get Up, a stop-motion animation short made with a doll named Peyton that won the People’s Choice Award. Returning with films this year were past award winners Matias Shimada with New Exposures, winner of the Narrative Film Award; Noah Pitifer and his film The Secret; and Max Messie with two films, Mistakes Made and Sunset Swimming.

If there’s anything I wish was at this festival, it’s the one thing I wish they had every year: a Q&A session at the end of the screenings. A Q&A session would give people a chance to learn how these movies got made, and what motivated the filmmakers to make them. Otherwise, a great program as always, and I am looking forward to next year’s festival. Hopefully I’ll have something to show.

Here is a complete list of this year’s winners:

Erin Scherer blogs at the Film Panel Notetaker.

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