Film Festival returns

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11521283734581.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘After a one-year hiatus, the Rock River Independent Film Festival made its return to Rockford June 23-25 at Kerasotes Theatre’s North Towne Cinemas.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115212841530348.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Patrons arrive at North Towne Cinemas.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115212844231465.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Festival-goers review a program featuring information about the 18 featured films, 10 of which were entered by local filmmakers.’);

After a one-year hiatus, the Rock River Independent Film Fest returned June 23-25, having graduated to its largest venue yet at North Towne Cinemas.

Forty-six films from around the world were submitted for consideration by a four-person jury.

Festival Director Ron Lipski said: “We look at qualities like editing, acting, script, story, cinematographer…from every angle possible. It has to be entertaining and interesting.”

Of the 18 selected to be shown at this year’s festival, 10 were entered by local filmmakers.

So is there any local talent? You’d better believe it. Lipski’s own film, Creatin’ Cretins, proved his command of both shooting and writing. Clearly, much consideration was given to lighting as well.

Jay Bauman’s 9-minute black and white Pork Pork was wonderfully absurd, with great use of sound, clever editing and good fun! Bauman even tried his hand at animation in his 1-minute short Rotten Honeymoon, which further proved his comedic ability.

Dream On Silly Dreamer spotlighted the seemingly dying artform of hand-drawn animation. Filmmaker Dan Lund, who attended Harlem High School, had the foresight to document the end of an era when he and 1,300 other Disney animators lost their jobs to computers in 2002. This bittersweet picture was delightfully punctuated with Disney-esque music and animation. Dream On Silly Dreamer can be found on

During a question-and-answer session following the screening, Lund’s father Ron assured aspiring artists that “There’s a lot of people from Rockford who’ve been very successful in the film business.”

Although the Rock River Independent Film Fest did not feel competitive in spirit, there were some awards. Local filmmaker Brian Ekdale took home Best of the Fest honors for 10 Days In Malawi. The 51-minute documentary chronicled a group of Americans facing the daunting task of administering health care to villages in AIDS-ravaged Africa. Ekdale’s prize included a $1,700 software package donated by AVID. Malawi was technically sound, heartbreaking and inspirational.

Fielding questions from an audience, Ekdale told attendees the following: “A lot of times, you see pictures of Africa and it induces guilt. I don’t think guilt is a very productive emotion. I wanted to find a way to induce compassion for my audience rather than guilt. I tried to provide a more balanced view. Sure, there’s all sorts of terrible things happening in Africa, but there’s all sorts of joy there, too.”

Paul Lee’s The Offering took home first runner-up in the competition. This 10-minute dramatic short provided gorgeous cinematography and a poignant story told entirely without dialogue.

Second runner-up was awarded to Auteur by Bill Palmer of Oak Lawn. The 22-year old said he feels that “Fests like ‘Rock River’ let us share our work at a real venue with a real audience. As a beginning filmmaker, if you can’t do that, it’s hard to gauge your progress and make improvements to your craft,” he said. Palmer’s reflexive celebration of grassroots filmmaking was a real crowd-pleaser, eliciting chuckles from the audience and understanding nods from other filmmakers.

While talking with many of these indie artists, it became clear that not having a Hollywood budget can be beneficial.

“You’re forced to come up with creative solutions to problems that other people would just throw money and computer graphics at,” Palmer said. “Still, this is easy to say when you’ve never worked with real money. I’ll take it if you’ve got it,” joked Palmer.

Rockford native Jack Young echoed that sentiment.

“We’re not a studio,” Young said. “We don’t have the millions of dollars to get every single thing right, unfortunately.”

Young produced the feature-length romantic comedy Love Wine. Lead actors Tara Goudreau and Robert Andrew were spectacular and absolutely essential in selling Young’s touching story. All things considered, this is a very marketable picture, with gorgeous scenery, romance, humor and depth. Quite simply, Love Wine is sweet! If you’d like to taste it for yourself, visit, Customflix or Netflix.

Young shot in Canada, where he could get the most “bang for the buck.” Although made on a noticeably higher budget than most at the RRIFF, he stressed the importance of making every dollar count. One of the ways he achieved this was by working with actors not in the Screen Actors Guild. SAG threatened to close his set down for using non-union cast members.

“Let’s say this movie made 50 bucks…I would have to pay the SAG actress like 500,” said Kerry Devine. “Even though I didn’t even make 500, I would have to pay her her full salary if I’d made a dime.”

Devine’s entry, Newsbiz, is a well-done dramatic short featuring some great camera movement and surprisingly decent acting on a modest $2,000 budget. During its 15-minute duration, Newsbiz was able to hook the audience with a somewhat voyeuristic look at conflict erupting in a place few see: the TV newsroom.

“Other movies like Broadcast News and Network don’t appeal to me at all,” Devine said. “They focus on the people that are on-camera…The real story is in the newsroom.”

A former Promotions Producer for a Rockford television station, Devine credits his news background for the picture’s realism.

“Not only was it essential, just from my own experience, but it also lent me the specific character traits of the people in the film,” Devine said.

Not surprisingly, the movie featured a couple familiar faces from Rockford news.

The success of events such as the RRIFF depend on the continued support and participation of the community. During the June 22 kickoff party at Castaways, Lipski emphasized that: “You’ve gotta run out and find sponsors, people to donate goods, services or money, start throwing concerts and fund-raisers. … In a way, it’s very reflective of how some of these movies got made. They go through the same kind of process.”

For more about the festival and filmmakers, visit

From the July 5-11, 2006, issue

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