Local Festival Offers International Acclaim for Filmmakers

By J.R. McMillan, Board President, Columbus Film Council

Most dedicated film enthusiasts recognize Toronto, Cannes and Sundance as festival destinations offering a sneak peek of what’s next in international cinema. But as the major studios have grown to dominate these events, independent and emerging filmmakers increasingly rely on smaller, more diverse competitions for recognition and exhibition.

The Columbus International Film + Video Festival invites filmmakers, especially those whose artistic endeavors may be more creative than commercial, to its annual “Call for Entries”. As sponsor of the longest-running film festival in the country, the Columbus Film Council offers 14 competitive divisions — including an LGBT category, added in 2012.

Unlike invitational festivals, the CIF+VF is open to any filmmaker, and films are honored based on their sophistication and merit — not studio maneuvering or slick marketing. Every year, local juries with a balance of filmmaking experience and subject matter expertise, screen and select winners from each competitive division. With hundreds of documentary, narrative, animation and short subject entries, Columbus audiences have the unique opportunity to learn more about the world we share from cutting edge filmmakers.

With film becoming a more accessible art form, in both production and distribution costs, many LGBT-themed films have crossed over to the mainstream cinema. The closing film from last year’s inaugural LGBTFEST, a “festival within a festival” cosponsored with Stonewall Columbus, is a seminal example. “Blue is the Warmest Color”, a French feature by Tunisian-born director Abdelatif Kechiche, reveals the vulnerable and tumultuous romance of a young couple, and how friends and family react quite differently to their relationship.

“As indicated so powerfully by the film, we see the very ordinary lives of two ordinary women simply falling in love as worthy of cinematic examination and artistic expression beyond its ‘message’,” explained Lori Gum, Stonewall Columbus Program Coordinator and board member of the Columbus Film Council. “I believe that it marks a new era of films dealing with LGBT characters.”
Honest and emotionally complex portrayals of LGBT relationships have in recent years become common plot elements for festival entries, even prior to the creation of a distinct category, with top honors for films with LGBT themes extending beyond the division. Receiving the “Silver Chris”, the top award for each division, in Social Issues was “Hatch”, a short film from Austria directed by Christoph Kuschnig.

“Exploring a dark side of human nature, “Hatch” juxtaposes a straight, illegal immigrant couple faced with the agonizing gamble that making their lives better may involve giving up their newborn via an anonymous ‘hatch’, or government adoption portal, and half of an affluent gay male couple who steals the child from the hatch in order to circumvent the bureaucratic obstacles of their dream for establishing a family,” commented Robert Metzger, fellow board member of Columbus Film Council and a member of the Best of Festival jury. “The film is exquisitely shot, mostly at night, which emboldens the performances that create this compelling drama.”

Though billed as an international film festival, the CIF+VF often recognizes the works of local and regional filmmakers and their influence on the larger film industry. Through screenings, workshops and networking events throughout the year, the Columbus Film Council supports central Ohio’s diverse and dynamic filmmaking community. The annual festival offers audiences the opportunity to engage and understand a broad range of experiences and perspectives very different than their own — and for filmmakers to learn both the art and science of the filmmaking craft in the context of that audience.

“While distributing your video or film online has benefits for broad exposure and feedback, submitting your work to film festivals like the Columbus International Film + Video Festival is essential for the serious filmmaker,” explained Jordan Schmelzer, a local creative and industrial filmmaker. “The atmosphere is electric, and the audience is tangible. The CIF+VF offers an open and interactive environment for filmmakers and filmgoers that is truly unique — not to mention having a track record for showcasing powerful films that go on to meet great success. So for me, being able to mark my work with CIF+VF laurels is something of which I’m tremendously proud.”

The general entry deadline for this year’s festival for all divisions is July 1, 2014, with an extended deadline of July 15 for late submissions at a higher entry fee. Films entered online through WithoutABox.com will be accepted through July 31.

The annual festival is in November with events at multiple locations throughout Columbus. “Early Bird” events start in September.

Entries in the LGBT division must focus on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community or experience in a thoughtful and meaningful way. (Transgender filmmakers and subjects are encouraged.) Films may be any genre: narrative, documentary, experimental, feature length or shorts. Sponsorship by the Stonewall Columbus LGBTFEST also includes a travel award up to $1000 for winning filmmakers to attend the CIF+VF and a 50 percent discounted entry fee for all films submitted in the LGBT division. Qualifying entries must be submitted by an LGBT filmmaker, or have a primary LGBT character, content or focus.

The official “Call for Entries” for the 2014 Columbus International Film + Video Festival with complete guidelines for all divisions are available on the Columbus Film Council’s website at www.columbusfilmcouncil.org.