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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Starkville's Magnolia Film Fest draws international crowd

Cinemimi[Saturday, February 19, 2011]Tim Pratt/Dispatch Staff Magnolia Independent Film Festival participants, from left, Gustavius Smith, Alenka Slavinec, Patricia Chica, Yaya Rey and Nicolas Dumesnil pose with festival organizer Connor Guyton, far right, Thursday night at Old Venice Pizza Co. After a gathering at Old Venice, the festival began at Hollywood Premier Cinema and will continue through tonight and Saturday. / Tim Pratt

The 14th annual Magnolia Independent Film Festival kicked off in Starkville Thursday and attracted filmmakers from all over the world.

Austria and Slovenia were represented, along with Canada, France and the Bahamas, but a handful of hometown filmmakers also are competing in this year's event.

Starkville's Johnson Thomasson wrote, directed and produced a 17-minute short film titled "Blood Feud," which tells the fictional story of a family who gets pulled into an ongoing drug war along the Mexico border. "Blood Feud" will be screened Saturday as part of a block of films beginning 2 p.m. at Hollywood Premier Cinema.

Thomasson, a 23-year-old Mississippi State University graduate, last entered the Magnolia festival in 2008 with a zombie film called "Dust to Dust."

"It feels good to be back," he said Thursday during a pre-festival social held by the Greater Starkville Development Partnership at Old Venice Pizza Co. "I'm excited to see the other films and to get a chance to hang out with the other filmmakers. It's really interesting and you learn a lot. I think it's great we have something like this going on in Starkville."

Throughout the three-day event, which resumes at 7 p.m. today and continues Saturday with sessions at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., organizers will show 32 films, from shorts to features to trailers to documentaries.

"We're excited about the number and the quality of films we have this year," festival organizer Joe Evans said. "I think this is the best year we've ever had and I'm not just saying that. We have great quality and quantity."

"It's a very good group," fellow organizer Connor Guyton added.

Among other Golden Triangle residents involved in the festival is West Point's Michael Williams, who wrote, directed and produced a 13-minute short film titled "Lukos." Filmed in one 16-hour shoot, "Lukos" is a drama set in a small town "with a bit of a horror twist," Williams said. The film is scheduled for a 7 p.m. showing Saturday.

Festivities Thursday began at Old Venice with a meet-and-greet among filmmakers and movie fans, which coincided with the Greater Starkville Development Partnership's Business After Hours program. The crowd then left Old Venice and descended on Hollywood Premier Cinema for a half-dozen short films and trailers, plus a feature-length documentary on surrogate mothers in India.

A short, Czech-language film called "Zlata Rybka," which translates to "The Goldfish," opened the festival. The film told the story of a man, his pet goldfish and two cunning cats, and was directed by Jacob Mendel, a filmmaker at the University of Michigan.

The second film, a Spanish short called "Los Gritones," or "The Screamers," showed a couple sharing their true feelings as they hollered off an overpass. The film was directed by Spain's Roberto Perez Toledo.

A comedy called "4 Pictures" was the third film of the night and told the story of a woman who grows jealous of an online relationship between her husband and roommate. It was directed by Mike Madigan.

The festival also features animated films. A student film by Russian animator Karina Gazizova called "Sharfik" shows a family under siege in World War II Leningrad.

The fifth film of the festival, "I'm Afraid I am Hitler," told the story of a man who is haunted by his past and begins to believe he is former Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

After a short film called "Run Granny Run," a comedy about a footrace between two senior citizens who are vying for a seat on a lakeside bench, Magnolia organizers showed a feature length documentary called "Made in India" about the country's growing surrogate mother population and one American couple's struggles to have a child.

The festival resumes with 10 films tonight, while the remaining 15 films will be shown during the two sessions Saturday.

A panel of judges will give awards for best narrative feature, best short narrative, best feature documentary, best short documentary, best student film, best homegrown, best director, best cinematography, and the Elena Zastawnik Award for Best Written Film and the Ron Tibbet Award for Excellence in Film.

Two-time Magnolia winner Patricia Chica is back this year, but this time she's serving as a judge.

"I'm looking for a good story," Chica said when asked what she considers when judging films. "If you have a good story, the directing, the acting, everything else, it all seems to fall in place. So what I'm looking for is good writing, because if you don't have a good story, it doesn't matter what else you do ..."

Chica said she has recommended the Magnolia Film Festival to her fellow filmmakers while at international festivals all over the world. Many of the international entries at this year's event can be attributed to Chica's advocacy.

"Starkville is becoming the new hub for international filmmakers," Chica said. "Here, they treat you like royalty and everybody knows that, so people want to keep coming back."


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