An article in last week's Extra incorrectly identified the first film festival held in Annapolis. It was the Annapolis Reel Cinema Festival, which was held in February. (Published 11/13/03)
Sean Murphy and David Butler were beyond worrying at the first screening of their feature film "Replay" at the Annapolis Film Festival last weekend.
Not that they didn't have a lot on the line. They had spent six figures -- they refused to specify exactly how much -- to make the film about two detectives unraveling an attempted jewelry heist by watching the crime on hidden cameras. Murphy and Butlerhad lured Michael Buscemi, the somewhat lesser-known brother of actor Steve Buscemi, to play one of the detectives. They also had spent a vast amount of time and effort putting the production together.
"I wasn't that nervous," said Butler, an Annapolis resident and the film's producer. "It's done at this point. All I can do is hope they like it."
The organizers of the first film festival in Annapolis felt the same mix of resignation and excitement. After more than a year of planning, their efforts turned the city into a miniature Cannes for three days as a few hundred film buffs, directors, producers, actors and film industry professionals flooded local theaters for the showing of 69 independent feature-length films, shorts, documentaries and short documentaries. Visitors and locals also attended workshops and forums about subjects such as how to market movies to distributors and how to make digital video look like real film.
Joseph Guerrieri, a University of Southern California film school student who has shown his work at several film festivals, found the festival and workshops useful, particularly because his graduate thesis, "The Jackalope," a movie he described as "a romantic fairy tale," won the festival's Blue Heron award for best short film.
"It's really impressive to think of what they pulled off," Guerrieri said of the festival. "I've been to festivals that have run for decades and they haven't run this smoothly."
Rik Swartzwelder, director of "The Least of These," a short film about "scrambled eggs, prostitution and redemption" that's set in a Laurel diner, said the festival "helps you feel that you're not alone, that you're struggling and surviving in a community."
"We're very happy," said Maria Triandos, one of the head organizers of the festival. Triandos works for Asteros Filmworks, a local video and film production group that took the lead in creating the Annapolis event and gaining the support of the mayor and the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, where many of the events were held.
"For our first year we did very well," Triandos said. She said she hopes to expand the festival next year by adding another day and showing 10 more films.
Others were pleased as well.
Murphy and Butler, who attended the low-key awards ceremony at the end of the festival Sunday, said that even if they didn't win any awards, the event would be a good chance to get feedback on their work and to make contacts in the industry. Its small size and low profile, compared with the Sundance and Toronto film festivals, also meant filmmakers not working with enormous budgets or big-name actors got a fair chance.
"One of the reasons it's good is that they're not all highfalutin yet," said Murphy, of Baltimore.
Many of the smaller festivals in the country, Murphy said, simply send representatives to the more prestigious festivals and then decide which of the better films to show at their own events -- a way of hedging their bets and assuring a crowd for every movie.
But in Annapolis, the organizers watched all of the more than 200 submissions and chose the 69 to be screened after long debates. Some of the movies -- such as "Return to Kandahar," a sequel to the successful independent film "Kandahar," released in 2001 -- were obvious picks, but many of the films had never been shown before.
So the makers of "Replay" were happy to make it onto the screen.
"It's pretty cool to get our movie in this festival," Butler said.
"It's a groundbreaking movie, I must say," chuckled Murphy, the co-writer of "Replay," which he described as "sort of a cross between 'Memento' and 'Mystery Science Theater 3000.' " The detectives in the film are never shown on camera; the audience only hears their voices, often dryly poking fun at the proceedings, as they watch the security camera footage.
Though "Replay" might have been groundbreaking, it didn't win any awards Sunday night. The feature category award went to "BachelorMan," a comedy about a die-hard bachelor who falls in love with a phone sex operator. "Prison Lullabies," a film about four women who raise their newborn babies in prison, won the Blue Heron in the documentary category, and "Flyfishing," another romantic comedy feature, won in the overall category.
Murphy and Butler took the loss well and said they hope that next year there can be an audience choice award. After all, their film nearly sold out when it was screened, and the audience members saw the humor in it, laughing when they were supposed to.
"It was a real charge to be outside a box office and have people say, 'I want two for 'Replay,' '" Murphy said.
Butler added the ultimate relief: "Nobody got up and walked out."