INDEPENDENT TAKES: Cape Fear Indie Film Fest turns 18, features diverse screenings

Movie buffs have a special treat in store for them this weekend, as downtown will explode with film screenings of all shapes and sizes. The occasion? It’s the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival’s 18th birthday celebration. With a staggering 48 films on display—local, national and international—something can appeal to anyone, no matter their interests. In addition to films, there will be actor panels, a closing awards ceremony, and an ‘80s prom party afterward to ring in the festival’s passage into adulthood, so to speak.

In covering the festivities, encore was fortunate to speak with three filmmakers participating in very different cinematic scopes…

TD FOR RACIAL inclusion: Movie still from ‘Almost Cured,’ which featured the first racially integrated football team in Brevard, NC, filmed by Tom Dierolf
TD FOR RACIAL INCLUSION: Movie still from ‘Almost Cured,’ which featured the first racially integrated football team in Brevard, NC, filmed by Tom Dierolf

THURSDAY, JUNE 14, 7:30 P.M.

Tom Dierolf represents Thursday night’s North Carolina Shorts block with his documentary “Almost Cured.” Dierolf, who has worked extensively in rural community development, combines his love of history, anthropology and photography in his coverage of a high-school football team in 1960s Brevard, North Carolina, as it breaks ground by being the first racially-integrated football team in the United States. The story is told by first-hand recollections from the Brevard community, not the least of which are players themselves who describe the risks and rewards of dismantling segregation.

encore (e): Can you share any examples of the work you’ve done in rural community development that prepared you to research and document the Brevard football team’s groundbreaking racial integration?

Tom Dierolf (TD): I think my professional work in rural community development in Appalachia and South East Asia has heightened my sensibilities to issues of social injustice and inequity that divide people among class and racial/ethnic lines. [An] experience I had living in SE Asia all those years is that I learned what it was to wake up every day knowing that I was white. That never happened during my first 22 years, but beginning in Malaysia, every person that I encountered would let me know in some overt/covert way that they were aware that I was different. Because my skin was white, I was more often treated as an oddity, but in a somewhat positive yet annoying way.  But I also had my fair share of negative attention, including the use of derogatory names. So especially in my younger years overseas, I spent a lot of time dealing with my whiteness. I was constantly thinking about how I could get people to treat me like everyone else.

e: One of the football players on Brevard’s team, Lloyd Fisher, provides the title of the documentary by claiming that with the second touchdown of the first game, the crowd was almost cured of racism. Do you have any feelings as to whether or not our society is moving further towards this same sense of being cured of racism?

TD: The way I like to describe the movie is Brevard can take one hand and pat itself on the back, but it needs to hold out the other hand and show that it is ready to do some work, because a lot of work is still needed. I think [Fisher] mentioning the crowd being “almost cured” is tongue-in-cheek. Yes, they had move closed to being cured, but they were still a long way away from being cured. Today, I think we are a little bit closer than we were in 1963, but we are still a long way away. Sometimes, I read about how at least we are now acting more respectful when we face each other, and that the major challenges are related to structural racism. Yes, I agree, but it really saddens me when I still hear very degrading and overt comments being made in public related to the color of one’s skin—and by youth in many cases!

We are not just dealing with structural racism. It makes me wonder: What have we really made progress in?

FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 5:30 P.M.

Michelle Iannantuono participates in one of Friday’s three horror blocks with a screening of “Livescream.” Inspired by the recent popularity of livestreaming video games, Iannantuono re-imagines the gaming experience by placing a streamer and viewers in mortal danger as the gameplay manifests in murder. Iannantuono captured the essence of livestreaming and programmed nine video games from scratch to create unique sinister environments that cite existing indie-horror games throughout her film.

encore (e): Your work tends to focus on psychological horror emerging from technological concepts. What attracts you to these ideas?

Michelle Iannantuono (MI): I do tend more towards psychological horror—it’s this idea of things that you can’t explain being creepy. “Devil’s Advocate” was about a recording of the devil’s voice and its effect on a woman. Usually you think you’re afraid of visuals, but in this case it’s sounds you have to be afraid of. In “Livescream” the thing you’re afraid of is a video game, which is typically used for entertainment, fun and joy. Now it’s turned into something that’s causing horror. There’s a lot of horror that requires suspension of disbelief, where you have to think outside of reality, but everything I do is really grounded in reality. I don’t want to make people suspend their disbelief too hard.

e: The gaming element of “Livescream” features video games that you made and programmed specifically for this film. Can you elaborate on this aspect of your work?

MI: I didn’t really have any prior video game programming experience, but Unreal Engine is a very easy program to get to use. I first encountered it last year when I was thinking of working on a Machinima project. I was going to import all these assets into Unreal and use these video game assets to create a web series, but it was too much work and I took a different route with it. When I came up with the idea of “Livescream,” which comes from watching a lot of Youtube gamers, Markiplier, Achievement Hunter, and all these other guys, I thought back to that. I know how to use Unreal, and I could build these games. I made sure everything I did was custom because it had to fit the script. It had to fit the timing and the game that it was homaging in the first place, so I ended up building plain geometry-based sets and throwing in textures and props, dressing those sets with the assets that I had and populating them with enemies. And that did require some programming, especially to get the enemy characters to behave in the way I wanted them to behave.

e: Do you cite existing games when you were working on “Livescream”?

MI: It’s hard to untangle this movie from gaming culture and the Unreal culture. Every level was based on something and represents a very different type of horror game. It’s the “Dante’s Inferno” of indie-horror games. There was no creative choice in “Livescream” that was made that wasn’t an homage to a famous gamer, existing game or gaming studio. All nine games were inspired by something. We’ve got Five Nights at Freddy’s, there’s a level for P.T., levels for Slender, Alien Isolation, Amnesia…

Funny enough, the first level was based on VANISH, Wolfenstein 3D, and other old maze-games. I like the first level a lot because after watching a lot of indie-horror games, I feel like the brick-walled, concrete floor maze with a monster in it is the “Smoke on the Water” for Unreal Engine developers. It’s everybody’s first game, so I wanted to make an homage to that, too.

—James McCrea

SATURDAY, JUNE 16, 12:30 p.m.

Last year’s bombshell of GenX being found in the Cape Fear River has snowballed into the realization that Chemours’ Fayetteville Works facility had been dumping chemicals into our drinking water source for more than 30 years. But GenX was only the tip of the iceberg. When the story broke in June 2017 (read page 8 for John Wolfe’s recount of the past year in dealing with the toxic issue), Robert Cummins of Robert Cummins Film picked up his camera. Last July he decided to bring awareness to the issue. “I thought this was the best way I could help,” he says.

encore spoke with the filmmaker about his short flick to debut at CFIFF.

encore (e): Tell us about the people featured in the short—how are each of their thoughts and perspectives adding to the understanding of the story?

Robert Cummins (RC): Dr. [Detlef] Knappe is a professor at NC State. He was concerned with the water. He discovered GenX.

Kemp [Burdette] is the [Cape Fear River Watch] RiverKeeper and Dr. [Larry] Cahoon is a local professor at UNCW. They have a lot of knowledge on the current situation and have been actively informing the public at different events. I think Dr. Cahoon is an advisory to the [Cape Fear Public Utility Authority] CFPUA now.
Woody White is a county commissioner and a lawyer. He was at the closed-door meeting with Chemours and gives a legal perspective on everything.

Mike Brown and Jennifer Adams are with the CFPUA. They outline what the CFPUA went through and give their perspective.

e: Tell us how many hours you had to wade through? What are the plans to expand it into a feature?

RC: We probably have a quarter of what we would need for a feature film. This story has a lot of twists and turns. The short film just scratches the surface and is a good introduction to GenX. My friends were helping me for free so a short film was always our goal. Currently, we are applying for grants and trying to acquire funding for a feature film. I think it’s a national problem, and we could use GenX as a thesis for a broader message. A feature film would allow us to make some bolder statements and go more in depth with those twists and turns.

Right now I am focused on expanding the documentary. I am also involved in a film collective called “Dogma Cape Fear.” We make fun 1-minute films for Instagram. My entire crew came from Dogma. Anyone is invited to attend meetings and be involved (@Dogma_Cape_Fear).

e: It seems hard to believe anyone wouldn’t know about our water crisis. Are there people unaware of dangerous chemicals in our waterways?

RC: I get what you’re saying, but I think it’s important to keep it relevant. The film is a way to keep the conversation going. We know now we can’t just expect our laws and regulatory agencies to take care of things. We have to be informed and active in promoting clean drinking water. This short film is a good outline on how everything unfolded and is a good resource for those who were aware but not reading every single article on GenX. Perhaps the most important thing that gets overlooked is the fact that GenX is not the only harmful chemical in our water. I fear when GenX is not an issue anymore, the other chemicals will get forgotten.

e: Ultimately, who is the target audience? What do you hope audiences take away?

RC: I think our film is unique because it has two messages. One is eye opening and the other is hopeful. It explains the importance of being informed and the repercussions of what can happen when corrupt corporations aren’t held accountable. It also has a hopeful message. Every one of us has the power to change things. Collectively, we are even stronger. Dr. Knappe is a private citizen and without his persistence we wouldn’t even know about GenX. We wouldn’t be having this interview.

e: Aside from being shown at CFIFF, how will the film be used and by whom?

RC: We are so grateful the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival is showing our film. It’s such a great event. We do plan to showcase the film at events raising awareness on GenX and I will keep you updated with that. However, I would encourage everyone to participate in CFIFF. We need to support our local filmmakers. We have so many talented artists who live here and if you have never been to a film festival you should experience it. It is such a welcoming atmosphere. It’s just a great time.

—Shannon Rae Gentry

Cape Fear Independent Film Festival
June 22-24, 2018
Tickets: $10-$60
Hannah Block USO/Community Arts Center • 120 S. 2nd St.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s