For its ninth year in a row, local filmmakers and film fanatics will be gathering at the Art Theater to attend the New Art Film Festival (NAFF). The festival showcases narrative and documentary short films created by local film producers in the Champaign-Urbana area and beyond.
The program director of NAFF, Jason Pankoke, describes the festival as a grassroots event that is not governed by trends, commercialism or major sponsorships.
“It is primarily interested in giving its audience a snapshot of the media storytelling being done by creatives in their own neighborhoods,” Pankoke said. “NAFF gives shape to what a ‘local film scene’ can look like in Champaign-Urbana and provides a dedicated space where the voices of local filmmakers can be heard through their work.”
Unlike previous years, NAFF will be held on a weeknight. It is also set to be their shortest running festival in its nine years, clocking in at about three hours long. The festival will be featuring 19 shorts all ranging in style and subject.
“I try to work as many different creators and voices into a program as I can because variety and diversity are key for an audience member to receive a well-rounded experience that a festival like this can provide,” Pankoke said. “We then hope this forum will inspire area talent of all disciplines to get involved with future film projects and the current group of film creators to keep creating.”
For some filmmakers, it will be the first time they will see their work on the big screen. Before the NAFF, Max Pitchkites had only received rejection letters for his movie, “Swan Song.” It was until one morning when he woke up to an acceptance email for this movie to be played at the film festival. “I was thrilled to find that I was accepted into my first film festival ever, and I am honored that NAFF has rescued this little passion project from a lonely existence on a dark shelf,” Pitchkites said.
The movie follows a mentally unstable violinist who is about to perform for the last time before moving on to a professional career in music. For director Paul Brooks, it will not be his first time seeing his work being played at a film festival. He first started working on short films with his friends in Normal, Ill, and now resides in Los Angeles as a video producer.
“Having my work shown at this festival means a lot to me because it’s a nice way for me to stay connected to the central Illinois filmmaking scene,” Brooks said. His lighthearted short, “Projections” was shot in a day without a script. It will be the second year in a row his work will be shown at the NAFF.
Program director Pankoke chooses which films make the cut for the festival. “I look for quality in the storytelling as well as technical proficiency, aesthetic prowess, and unique or offbeat methods used to get the idea across,” Pankoke said. “Sometimes I will put in a rough, ‘not ready for prime time’ film if I think it has some merit and shows promise that overshadows the visible edges.”
Director Colin Price has lived in Champaign his entire life and has previously attended the NAFF as a spectator.
“I was pleasantly surprised at the vast assortment of genres and styles that were celebrated and knowing that most of the shorts were shot here in town was inspiring, to say the least,” Price said.
Price hopes to show through his work that filmmakers can still make good films despite having limited resources.
“One of my primary goals with all of my projects is to show what you can do for next to no money,” Price said. “The most important thing is to tell a good story. I hope, with all of my films, that they can be learning tools for other filmmakers with limited means.”
A teaser trailer for his upcoming comic book fan film “What’s in the Cards” will be played at this year’s festival.
Nic Morse, director of “Still” and co-founder of the Champaign-Urbana production company Protagonist Pizza Productions, sees the festival as an opportunity to meet other local directors.
“I think it’s just a great way to celebrate local film and a chance to catch up and meet other directors and moviemakers in town and beyond,” Morse said. “I always look forward to discussing films afterward and finding out what’s next in line for my friends and their work.”
Morse’s heartwarming film follows an ex-marine meeting a wandering writer and sharing a beautiful dream together. He said has had his work shown in festivals previously, but has mainly focused on sharing his work with friends and family.
Kaitlin Southworth has been making documentaries for the past eight years as part of the University of Illinois Big Ten Network Campus Programming. She produced the short documentary “Illinois Artists: Endalyn Taylor” which follows story and lessons of Endalyn Taylor, a professor of dance at UIUC.
Southworth sees the festival as an opportunity to get feedback on her work. “People who haven’t seen your work before can see things differently,” she said. “When someone can talk to you after the festival about something that struck them about the film that you didn’t see before, it not only improves your current work as a filmmaker but more importantly it improves you as a storyteller.”
The festival also provides a place for filmmakers to gather and get a better sense of the local filmmaking community.
“This festival is important because you see firsthand that our film community is alive and well,” Southworth said. “Giving a home to show these pieces allows the artists and attending community members a chance to see what work has been done recently and encouraging more to get involved.”
Brooks can attest to how local film festivals can inspire aspiring filmmakers to start making films. “I started making movies because of local film festivals and local screenings,” Brooks said. “So I think these type of events are essential to cultivating new, young talent and showing aspiring filmmakers that creating art is important.”
Director and Associate Professor of Media Studies at Eastern Illinois University, David Gracon believes film festivals are important in fostering local filmmaking communities. “We can all sit around in our isolated cubicles watching Netflix and YouTube, but I still love the idea of place, and gathering in a theater and watching films together as a group or collective,” Gracon said. “This helps to form and foster a local filmmaking community that only really works through face to face interaction.”
His short documentary, “Street Tapes — Media Literacy in Ivano-Frankivsk” aims to present social problems and issues with ordinary citizens in the city center of Ukraine and to have a discussion about it. It was made alongside his students at Precarpathian National University in Ukraine when he taught media literacy there this past year.
Price also believes the festival is important because it provides an unrestricted outlet for filmmakers to showcase their work. “There aren’t as many opportunities for many filmmakers in parts of our country,” Price said. “Festivals like the NAFF are crucial in giving local writers, directors, actors and more a chance to show what they can do and what is possible when you don’t have the restrictions that come with studios and ratings boards. It gives us a voice.”
The festival is celebrating its ninth year on Oct. 29 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Art Theater in downtown Champaign. Admission is free. The first block of films is recommended for ages 13 and up. The second block of films starting at 8:45 p.m. is recommended for ages 17 and up.