The Washington Post

Q&A with Chris Haley on the Utopia Film Festival

The seventh annual Utopia Film Festival starts at 10 a.m. Saturday. More than 40 films will be showcased during the two-day event held at venues in Greenbelt.

Filmmaker Chris Haley, who heads the project, spoke with The Root DC about the festival’s growth, the passion of filmmakers and Greenbelt’s history as one of the “utopia communities’ created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930’s as part of the New Deal.

How has the festival grown since it began?

Chris Haley: I don’t know if the initial thought of the film festival was that we’d be getting submissions from Italy, Mexico, Russia or China. The first year was much more nuts and bolts. It really was a start up project. Everything was hands on from getting submissions to developing relationship with venues. As you go through it, you realize the challenges and how complex it is to put on a festival.

Does a film need a huge budget or to gross millions at the box office to be considered successful?

A lot of the movies we have aren’t blockbusters. But whatever the topic is it means something to [the filmmaker]. It’s an expression of themselves. To whatever degree they want to reveal that expression, it is courageous. You are going to put a piece of your heart and soul on film for people to comment on. It’s a big rejection if people don’t like it. For a filmmaker, there’s that fear to some degree that they’re not liking me. They’re hoping it’ll get noticed by some big distribution company so that they can get a big deal.

What are some films that may interest moviegoers?

The Encounter. It’s primarily a movie about race relations. A young white woman and older black man are stuck in an elevator. At the beginning of this movie, the girl seems oblivious to anyone else. She’s all about her phone. She has issues with the man and the issues seem to be race based. This movie in a short succinct way addresses that issue.

At The End of Slavery. It’s narrated by Danny Glover. There’s the assumption that slavery ended in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation, but what this documentary shows is that unfortunately slavery exists around the world today. It is a matter of do we allow it to keep going on? Is there something that can be done about it. Are you going to do anything about it?

Colt Jackson: Enforcer. It’s a spoof on detective movies. Anyone who sees that will be surprised with how funny it is. A simple man who has grand ideas about what he’s doing.

Greenbelt seems like an unlikely place to host a film festival. Why was it chosen?

It’s because the people at Greenbelt Access Television had already been doing midnight showings for several years. Those one night events seemed to be pretty succesful. I don’t know how many years it was done, but there was a movement that we should have a festival here. Greenbelt was one of the utopia communities created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930’s as part of the New Deal. A community where a post office, theater and grocery store would be the center of town. That’s one reason why we say “Utopia Film Festival.”

Any final thoughts?

If you come to this festival try to allow your mind to be open. This could be the work of someone who could win an Academy Award years from now.

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