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Appalachian Film Festival wraps up with awards banquet

Feb. 27, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Under the twinkling lights of the majestic Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center, the ninth annual Appalachian Film Festival wrapped up its three-day event Saturday with a full 12 hours of film as well as the awards banquet.

Held on stage at the Keith-Albee and catered by Bon Appetit, the coveted Appy Awards, the hand-blown Blenko Glass-made awards, were handed out along with thousands of dollars in cash prizes to indie filmmakers from around the 13-state Appalachian region.

Sam St. Clair of the Huntington Regional Film Commission emceed the event with festival chairman Chris Lusher. They said local judges had screened 115 or so films to shave it down to the 25 flicks that rolled the past three days in Huntington, first at Black Sheep Burrito and Brews and then two days at the Keith-Albee.

Saturday's film buffet included Mary Brown's rare 1937 Flood video footage, brought to life with live accompaniment by Lexington, Ky., resident Dean McCleese on the Keith's mighty Wurtlizer organ.

At Saturday night's banquet, top prizes of $1,000 were given for documentary and feature film. There were also cash prizes for student film, shorts and micro film.

St. Clair encouraged the filmmakers to be proud of their awards and let it inspire them to greater goals. He said Appalachian filmmakers should be proud of their craft and that everyone should work together to try to get more people interested in seeing local films.

While the banquet was sold out, a crowd of about 125 came to the noncompetition screening of Harry Thomason's indie film, "The Last Ride," which starred Henry Thomas, Jesse James and Fred Thompson.

"With costs down and creativity up, we are at a great period for film," St. Clair said. "Now, how do we bring film back into the community, and how do we get indie film out of the living room and into these beautiful halls? If we can get people out, it can truly be an education and a statement of all the drive that you all carried in these films. Let's keep at it and keep the spirit."

Asheville, N.C., residents Bruno Sarafin and his partner Harrison Topp won first place feature film for "If I Had Wings to Fly."

"I think we probably win the award for the most films watched," Sarafin said with a laugh. "Our butts were always in those seats."

Second place Feature Film went to Louisville, Ky., resident Scooter Downey for his thriller, "It's in the Blood."

Third place Feature Film went to Sarah Elizabeth Timmins and her team from Maneta, Va., (Smith Mountain Lake) for their film, "Lake Effects," a heart-warming film starring Jane Seymour. It is getting picked up by the Hallmark Channel.

Timmins said making the film in Appalachia ripples beyond just telling the story of the film, but also showcasing the beautiful mountains of Southwest Virginia.

"We kept all the locations by their real names, so that we can draw in not only tourism into the area but also filmmakers down there to see the area," Timmins said. She dedicated the Appy to one of the film's writers, Scott Winters, who passed away.

In Documentary films, Ripley, W.Va., resident Bob Wilkinson won Best Documentary for "Romeo Must Hang," a documentary about the sensational murder immortalized in the classic Hollywood film, "Night of the Hunter," starring Robert Mitchum.

Second place documentary went to Phil Valentine of Brentwood, Tenn., for his film, "An Inconsistent Truth," a film investigating global warming.

"I am just honored as anybody here to be a finalist," Valentine said. "I've never been here before, but I will be back."

Louisville, Ky., resident Nolan Cubero won Best Micro for his film "Cliffstarter."

The Young Filmmaker Award went to Ian McCullough of Clarksville, Tenn., for his film, "A Dead Dog Like Me."

Rob Underhill of Raleigh, N.C., won first place Short Film for his film "Wolf Call," a film about the Emmett Till story.

Kenova native country artist and Marshall University graduate Tony Ramey received a special Appy appreciation award for bringing in the L.A.-made indie film, "The Last Ride." It is set for a limited screen release as well as pay-per-view release in June.

Ramey penned the title track of the movie with fellow songwriters Jeff Silvey and the film's music supervisor, Benjy Gaither (Bill Gaither's son). That song will be on a Curb Records-released soundtrack also to be released this summer.

At the Keith, Ramey sang "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," which is sung in the film by Michael English. He also sang the title cut off his new indie release, "Once Again."

After traveling around the country singing with the film, Ramey said he's in awe of the true grit of indie filmmakers.

"I thought I had a tough job as a independent music artist, but I am amazed at how indie filmmakers are able to pull off their vision and to tell the story they want to convey," Ramey said. "It's a great honor to be among you all and to see you all moving forward in your careers."

St. Clair and Lusher both said the Film Commission needs more judges and more audience members as the Film Fest gears up for its 10th annual festival next year.