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Cedar Rapids film festival brings Iowa’s independent spirit to big screens

Festival will be Friday and Saturday at Collins Road Theatres

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Diana Nollen  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:13 pm   ::  

CEDAR RAPIDS — A pizza guy gets caught in the middle of a casino heist on the Fourth of July in “The Wedge.”
Fireworks explode over Fairfax in “Fire in the Sky.” George Washington the Pirate and his lifelong best friend set off to start a rock band in “Arggh! A Pirate Story.” (To directly to the Cedar Rapids Film Festival event page) A French missionary in the 1800s carves out the foundations of the Catholic Church in the Upper Mississippi Valley in “Man of Deeds.” Award-winning words turn Iowa City into a literary mecca in “City of Literature.” Zombies roam the world — or at least the streets of West Branch — in “Collapse.” The field of cinema dreams runs the gamut from music videos to full-length documentaries and features in the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival. The event, now in its 12th year, will bring the work of current or former Iowans, films about Iowa or shot in Iowa to three screens this weekend at the Collins Road Theatre. Fifty films were submitted and 30 were accepted for the event, which offers juried and audience awards and is run by volunteers, in-kind donations and ticket sales. “The festival experience gives you a chance to see ideas on the screen that you wouldn’t get from mainstream Hollywood,” says festival director and co-founder Scott Chrisman, 32, of Alburnett. “And there are plenty of ideas that you couldn’t get financed for a massive thing, but are much more personal or ... put a different spin on things. “I think they capture the Heartland a lot better than your fabricated version would,” he says. “You get to see Iowa on the screen, whether it be in the script, in the topic or the actors themselves. Even if it’s a director who’s been gone for a while, that heart is still there. You’re still seeing the Iowa spirit on screen.” He says many of the indie filmmakers who have left the state to pursue their craft in California or elsewhere treat the Cedar Rapids festival as a homecoming. “You can show (your work) to your family and friends and your hometown folks who are happy to see you,” says Chrisman, who works in film as a creative services producer and editor at KCRG-TV9. What Cheer native Jason Bolinger, 37, now of Fairfield, can’t wait for his zombies to walk across the Collins Road screens in “Collapse.” It’s a high point for Bolinger and Mike Saunders, who were hired to direct the Iowa Film Production Services/StoryBench film. Bolinger and Saunders also have their own production company, Prescribed Films, which they founded in Ottumwa in 2000. They cater to comedy and horror, often combining the two, and they have three short films showing in the festival. But Bolinger is especially thrilled that “Collapse” — his “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to shoot a $1.7 million, big-budget film — is finally making its debut at 11:02 a.m. and 6:10 p.m. Saturday in Theatre 3 in the Collins Road multiplex. “To do something that big was great,” he says. He and his crew shot their 93-minute feature in October 2009, during the halcyon days of the Iowa film tax incentive boom. He says such undertakings are harder now, following the demise of the state program, but he and his partners are determined to keep making movies in Iowa, even if they can’t economically make it their full-time job. (The Cedar Rapids film festival takes places Friday and Saturday.) “We’ve been making movies for 12 years and we’ll keep making movies. That’s what we love to do,” he says. “By no means can you call it a hobby. It’s much more than that. We sell DVD copies of our movies and T-shirts. There’s just not much of an outlet for independents in Iowa, and that’s OK. Whatever we make, we roll back into the next movie.” Their other three festival entries are shorts, running from 3 to 8 minutes, shot in 2011 and 2012 in Ottumwa. Bolinger likes the quick turnaround of that format. “For us, to make a feature film takes a whole lot more commitment time-wise,” he says. “By doing shorts, we’re able to do it in a weekend. It’s a chance for us to keep working, keep making movies. That’s getting harder and harder to do with families and jobs. Plus, we can do more than two (in a year). “We have ideas all the time,” he says. “It’s an easier way to get those ideas out, get the creative juices flowing and actually do something with it. Features just take so much time.” Creative juices weren’t the only thing flowing when cameras were rolling on “Collapse.” So was the expertly crafted blood and gore for his “anti-zombie” flick, in which a farmer desperately tries to keep his family alive, taking brutal steps as he seeks supplies among a world crawling with the undead. Zombie movies have had a resurgence in recent years, but this is the first one for Bolinger and company, among the 30 films they’ve shot in the past 12 years. “They’re just cool,” he says of zombies. He had a small army of them invade West Branch. “If you count all the extras, we had about 200 to 250” involved in the production. “A small army versus our no-budget stuff where we have a crew of five to 10. It was quite a shock and a wonderful experience. “We took over the town for a month,” he says, calling the West Branch folks “amazing and so accommodating.” “They let us shut down Main Street for a few days and let us use their fire station for breakfast and lunch. Everyone was super helpful there.” After all the postproduction work, “Collapse” is ready for its close-up. “This is its first film festival, first public screening, first time anybody can come see it,” Bolinger says. “We have foreign distribution — it’s already been released in Germany, on Blu-ray and DVD. The last I heard, a domestic offer is on the table.” That’s the best a filmmaker can hope for — along with emotional outbursts in all the right places. “It’s always great to get to show your movie,” Bolinger says. “We make it for ourselves, for sure. Making movies is the creative outlet we love. I’ll never forget the first time we saw our first scary movie in a theater. People screamed and jumped when they were supposed to. It was just awesome.”

Other area film festivals

LUNAFEST: Iowa City 7 p.m. April 21, 2012, Bijou Theater, Iowa Memorial Union; $7 plus suggested donation of $5 to $15; silent auction, 6:45 p.m.; traveling film festival/fundraiser; features short films by, about and for women; proceeds to Breast Cancer Fund and local causes; See more on this event here.

Iowa City Documentary Film Festival

The Iowa City Documentary Film Festival, an international festival run and organized by University of Iowa students, will take place Thursday through Saturday at the Bijou Cinema located in the Iowa Memorial Union, 125 N. Madison St. Hardacre Film Festival Aug. 3 and 4, 2012, Hardacre Theatre, 112 E. Fifth St., Tipton; features independent films from shorts to feature length and documentaries; $8 per session, $20 all-festival pass; hardacrefilmfestival.com Landlocked Film Festival Oct. 25 to 28, 2012, Englert Theatre and other downtown Iowa City sites; features independent movies from around the world; llff.org

 

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