Appalachian Film Festival marks 10 years in Huntington
HUNTINGTON — Michael Valentine laughs as he clicks off the greats who have played the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center.
“Bing Crosby, Louie Armstrong, Michael McDonald,” Valentine said starting to snicker, “And Trace Cherokee.”
This weekend at the 10th annual Appalachian Film Festival at the Keith-Albee, Cherokee — the mighty-mullet-and-mustache-sporting puppet — continues his climb back up from Culloden to country superstardom in the Brainwrap Productions film, “Trace Around Your Heart,” with Sasha Colette on Friday night, then on Saturday night bringing out his band, The Stenders, to rock out on stage at the film fest.
The oddly-refreshing, locally-crafted musical love story of Cherokee (voiced and created in part by Valentine) is just one of more than two dozen films that will be showing as the Appalachian Film Festival rolls two nights of films.
The Appy Film Fest culminates Saturday night with a special feature presentation of “Faces in the Mirror,” a music-filled feature film produced by Boyd Tinsley of the Dave Matthews Band.
Tinsley, who will be at Saturday night’s screening, wrote the dream-like film about the journey of grief after his life-long friend and bandmate LeRoi Moore died in 2008.
The film debuted last year at the Woodstock Film Fest, and has since shown at film fests around the country.
“Faces” will be followed by the awards ceremony on stage at the Keith, and the 10th anniversary weekend will be capped off with a raucous rockabilly show by Huntington’s own guitar-blasters, The Heptanes, who’ve just released a new CD, “Revelator.”
Set to run at 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 12 -13, the film fest will feature independent films from Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and plenty of locally-made films and short videos.
Friday there is a $5 suggested donation at door to support the Keith-Albee Theater Organ Project.
Saturday there is a $5 suggested donation to support the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center and the Fisher House for Veteran Families, Rockville, Md.
Film festival chairman, Chris Lusher, who organizes the fest with Sam. St. Clair and a handful of volunteers, said they’ve carved the ol’ marathon of a fest down to two rock-solid nights at the Keith packed with continuous blasts of micros and shorts, some live, local music and topped with hand-picked features to close out the nights.
At 9 p.m. Friday the feature film is Huntington filmmaker David Smith and Apartment 2B Productions, romantic comedy, “Ladybeard.” That film, which just screened at West Virginia Mountaineer Short Film Fest in Morgantown, tells the story of a small-town stand up comedian Andy, who has been assisting his lesbian best friend Michelle in hiding her sexual orientation from her parents by pretending to be her boyfriend.
With the explosion in the popularity of short film and the continued access to good, digital cameras, Lusher said they made the decision to only jury in micro and short competition films, booting the past marathon day-time sessions that were often poorly attended.
With film on two nights in the majestic movie palace, Lusher hopes they’ll be able to draw in large crowds to see not only films from six states, but more film than ever from the local area.
“It’s easily the most local that it has ever been,” Lusher said of the content. “It seems like almost everything that I would put on I would see Huntington.”
Competition films will be vying for more than $1,000 in prize money. That money, which includes $500 for best short and $300 for best micro, will be handed out Saturday night at the on-stage banquet. Winners will also receive an Appy, a hand-blown glass apple from the famous Blenko Glass in Milton.
Lusher said no matter the subject matter, they want the festival to be filled with relevant, contemporary film.
“I have a very strong belief in always keeping the culture relevant and keeping things contemporary and bringing new things into Huntington,” he said. “At the end of the day that is what it means to me. If we can help local filmmakers get exposure and get their works seen that is it for me. That we can get so many people to get their work shown in that venue too is pretty amazing in itself.”
While many of the films are local, Lusher said they provide a fuller, richer layer of stories about Huntington and the Tri-State.
At the Appy Film Fest, Patrick Mullen, whose day job is a TV producer, showcases two short films, “A Change is Going to Come,” about Portsmouth’s battle with prescription drugs, and “Oddney Strangerfield,” a short music video starring the Charleston hip hop artist, “B. Rude” and his band “Dinosaur Burps.”
A veteran hip hop producer who has a YouTube video channel, Mr.Mike304, Crawford has filmed dozens of short videos documenting his hometown of Huntington, the good, the bad, the ugly from local bands of all flavors to restaurants to “No Colored Allowed,” a short doc about dress codes and bar restrictions that he feels discriminates against African-Americans.
At this year’s Appy, they’ll be screening, at 6:42 p.m. Friday, a micro, “O Say Can’t You See,” that features Crawford and fellow U.S. Army veteran Kevin Zhea, telling the story of a soldier in song.
Bill Whittenburg, 74, of Huntington, has more than a passing interest in the Appalachian Film Festival this year.
Whittenburg, a still burly boxer who fought 32 professional fights from Europe to New York City to Africa back in the 1960s and early 1970s, is the star of Eli Scarr’s documentary, “Mr. Cool Willie.”
Whittenburg, who’s worked at the historic B’nai Sholom Congregation on Huntington’s Southside for the past six years, said he was grateful that Scarr, a Kentucky resident whose aunt and uncle go there to church, took time to tell his story from meeting Miles Davis to boxing around the globe.
“If somebody would have said I would be in a movie showing at the Keith-Albee I never would have believed it,” said Whittenburg.
Blessed with a drive-in movie-sized screen placed in the heart of a 1920s-built grand movie palace, the film fest organizers have always tried to make the feature presentation worthy of the building itself.
In recent years, Lusher helped lure in edgy filmmaker Harmony Korrine’s “Trashhumpers” and in 2011, a week before the Oscars, the Appy scored a rare showing of the edgy feature film, “Winter’s Bone,” which launched the career of then Oscar-nominated and now Oscar-winning Louisville actress, Jennifer Lawrence (”Hunger Games”) and which was nominated for four Oscars including “Best Picture” in 2011.
“You get ‘Trashhumpers’ one year and ‘Winter’s Bone’ the next and then you’re like where do we go from here?” Lusher said. “Those first two years I was involved the way things happened couldn’t have been more perfect. It was kind of like riding a roller coaster backwards — you’re on a total high then you start thinking well, ‘Where do I go now?’ And think that there’s no more rabbits in the hat that I can pull out but I can try.”
Lusher said the fest is so soaked in music, from the North Carolina documentary to so many shorts, it is the perfect ending to top out the 10th anniversary edition with an explorative, music-filled piece that examines grief by DMB’s Boyd Tinsley that will make people think and reflect.
“It’s esoteric and atmospheric and it has a lot of moodiness to it and it is probably the film that I responded to the greatest this year,” Lusher said. “Usually when you go to a movie you are waiting for a narrative and you need to be told the story so they almost spoon feed everything to you and they take the narrative and almost beat you over the head with it. For some people that’s great and they want that.”
Appalachian Film Fest schedule
Here’s the full schedule and film synopsis for the Appalachian Film Festival, that is set for Friday and Saturday, April 12-13, at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center in downtown Huntington. The Keith’s organ will be playing in between films. On Friday, there is a $5 suggested donation at door to support the Keith Albee Theater Organ Project. On Saturday, there is a $5 suggested donation to support the Keith Albee Performing Arts Center and the Fisher House for Veteran Families, Rockville, Md.
Friday, April 12
5:15 p.m. — “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Short by Patrick Mullen (W.Va.). Using Sam Cooke’s original song as a backdrop, this song is really a poem of hope. Showing the contrast between the beauty of Portsmouth Ohio’s riverside to the more broken, pill polluted and depressed inner bowels of downtown. This song is a reminder that change is on the way.
5:22 p.m. — “Learning Is As Ordinary As Eating Rice At Home,” Short by Rhendi Greenwell (Tenn.). This film referenced the collision between the activity of a city and that found on the outskirts. The narration guides the viewer through the montage into a deeper contextual realm as if listening to the world as if for the first time.
5:35 p.m. — “Restitution,” Short by Justin Miller (Ga.). Architect and workaholic Preston Sanders struggles to reconcile with his wife Susan after the recent death of their oldest child. Their relationship is further strained when Preston discovers that his wife has resorted to an unconventional coping mechanism: cloning their youngest son.
6 p.m. — ”Hickory High Lift” Short by Ian Nolte (W.Va.). A chronic underachiever hits upon a scheme to support his accustomed lifestyle.
6:17 p.m. — “Think Twice” Micro by Angela Varney (W.Va.). Suicide prevention video.
6:28 p.m. — “Brothers,” Short by Benjamin Whiting (Penn.).
6:42 p.m. — “O Say Can’t You See,” Micro by Michael Crawford (W.Va.). Our soldiers die every day, whether it be on our own soil, or abroad. Huntington natives Kevin Zhea and Michael Crawford, both of whom are U.S. Army veterans, tell this story in song. The film gives a glimpse of the sadness a woman feels when her soldier husband is killed in combat.
6:55 p.m. — “Weirdo,” Short by Charlie Haggard, Dustin Mills (W.Va.). Four friends embark on a journey for truth when one of them begins to exhibit abnormal behavior. Tension rises as Fitz, Charles, and Todd discover just how big of a weirdo Simon really is while driving full-speed through the blur that lies between friendship and reality.
7:20 p.m. — ROTFL, Micro by Tara Nicole Azarian (N.C.). PSA short on cyberbullying
7:30 p.m. — “Dance With My Father” Short by Joanna Terry (W.Va.). An award-winning short drama that centers on Kareem Watson, a mentally and terminally ill Vet, who tries to rebuild his relationship with his estranged daughter, Simone, so he can walk her down the aisle before it’s too late.
7:45 p.m. — “Trace Around Your Heart,” Short by Ian Nolte (W.Va.). Trace Cherokee has grown comfortable living in obscurity as a country music has-been. But when his former song-writing partner, Sasha Colette, asks him to reunite for a one-night performance, he finally has to confront his crippling stage terrors with the help of his friends Seth Martin and Chappy.
8:37 p.m. — “Oddney Strangerfield,” Short by Patrick Mullen (W.Va.). Colorful music video by local favorites hip hop group, Dinosaur Burps, of Charleston.
9 p.m. — “Ladybeard,” Feature by David Smith (W.Va.). For a year, small town stand up comedian Andy has been assisting his lesbian best friend. Michelle in hiding her sexual orientation from her parents by pretending to be her boyfriend.
Saturday, April 13
5 p.m. — Wurlitzer Organ Performance by Dean McCleese (Ky.).
5:30 p.m. — “Over Home: Songs from Madison County,” Documentary by Joe Cornelius, Kim Dryden (N.C.). A documentary that explores the life of Sheila Kay Adams, a ballad singer from western North Carolina.Sheila’s family’s musical heritage, rooted in traditional Appalachian life, has sustained her, giving her strength to face the loss of that culture, the death of her husband, and the emotional trauma that followed.
6:15 p.m. — Marshall University College of Fine Arts Student Films, Micro films by various students
7 p.m. — Mr. Cool Willie, a documentary by Eli Scarr (Ky.).
7:30 p.m. — Trace Cherokee & the Stenders (live in concert)
8:30 p.m. — “Faces In The Mirror,” Feature by Boyd Tinsley (Va.). This story is about Ben Fisher, a young man who returns home to bury his father. On the day of his father’s funeral, Ben goes on a dream-like odyssey where he’s led, portal by portal, to fantastical places with somewhat mystifying people who all seem to be guiding him. An experience of music, visuals and emotion. It’s like a dream produced by Tinsley, who is the fiddler in the Dave Matthews Band.
9:50 p.m. — Awards Ceremony on stage at the Keith
10:15 p.m. — The Heptanes (live performance by Huntington rockabilly artists).
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