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The Panhandle Picture Show

Posted by Arlo on May 3, 2004 under Videos

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Last weekend, Boomstick Deodorant showed at the Panhandle Picture Show in Haines, Alaska. Boomstick had already premiered at a Juneau Underground Motion Picture Society show, but with essentially no acceptance policy on what they decide to show, I didn’t feel like it mattered much. The Panhandle Picture Show is an honest-to-goodness film festival – with judging forms and entry fees and everything! – and it marked the first “real” critique of any video project I’ve done.

How did it go? As well as I’d hoped, I suppose. Boomstick got laughs in all the right places and a good bit of applause at the end, and I have to say that, surprisingly, I think it played better in Haines than it did in Juneau. While I didn’t win any awards, at least I did get a bit of superfluous recognition each night when the show’s announcers asked the “film” makers who had traveled to the show to stand up for applause. Since it was only myself, two others from Juneau, and one person from Canada, those few seconds of people craning their necks to look made me feel like a bug on a microscope slide. I guess I’m not the kind of person who craves public recognition.

The show itself was remarkably long – spread out over two nights, there were about five hours of videos and films to wade through. Boomstick was by far one of the shortest entries (clocking in at less than 3 minutes) and it seemed out of place in a show full of films pushing the 20 minute limit. Overall, I still enjoyed myself… despite the ennui induced by so many self-indulgent, experimental videos.

Boomstick showning in the Chilkat Theater (20k image)Apparently, “experimental” is a label that is applied to any video that obviously means a lot to the person who created it and is utterly incomprehensible to others who watch it later. The worst of the lot were just random video images played over music. To make matters worse, most of them had a proliferation of digital video filters applied in an obvious effort to make them more visually interesting. Didn’t work. And come on, people, listen up: You can only watch the same imagery repeat so many times before your audience’s collective mind begins to turn to plans of discreetly escaping for a bathroom break.

The clincher was that the judges decided to award the “experimental” prize to Symbology, an eternal, rambling video that had the gall to intersperse text definitions of the words “symbology” and “narrative” into the video. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it takes far more talent to tell a story with video — something that actually uses narrative — than to create an artsy, visual overload. Call me crazy, but I don’t think filmmakers should be awarded for the latter.

Speaking of awards, I would also like to take exception with the Panhandle Picture Show in their decision to award the top two spots to films by the same director. Bruno Coppola (almost certainly of the filmmaking Coppola family) submitted at least three films, two of which won 1st and 2nd place. Okay, yeah, I can at least see why the judges scored them so highly (hell, they’re listed on the Internet Movie Database), but by giving him two awards, they robbed one from someone else. Some other deserving filmmaker (not me, by the way) lost out on a cash award and a feather in their cap because a very talented filmmaker was able to pay the $15 entry fee more than once. Heck, with rules like that, I’m surprised Mr. Coppola didn’t send in 30 of his short films in order to create his own festival. Oh, well. Perhaps the Panhandle Picture Show organizers will realize this on their own and will create a single-entry policy for next year’s show.

I’m sounding rather bitter, aren’t I? I guess that might be because my friend, Mike, had his Doctrine entry rejected. With 35 of 48 entries selected for showing, it bothers me that Mr. Coppola’s extra entries quite probably bumped him out of the festival. The Panhandle Picture Show’s mission statement (The Panhandle Picture Show is an open-category festival/contest that accepts short films and videos of 20 minutes in length or less from filmmakers in Alaska and beyond (anywhere in the world). Preference is given to work completed since 2002. Emerging, but serious, filmmakers are highly encouraged to submit.) seems to lean in Mike’s favor, but the results say otherwise.

And yes, I’m a little biased towards Doctrine because I’m in it and I think it’s funny and well done. But one of the festival’s shorts, Attack of the Sexy Zombies, was thematically similar and, in my opinion, had lesser production values. Why it was chosen, and not Doctrine, I can’t understand.

Perhaps it was only the judges. Ever since I submitted Boomstick to the festival last December, I’ve been eagerly anticipating a peek at its completed judging forms. The results were… less than I expected. While I’m not altogether dissatisfied with the final, averaged score (6.599975 out of 10), most of the judges had little more than a numerical value assigned to each criteria. The most perplexing was the judge that scored me very low in comparison to the others (all 3’s and 5’s compared to mostly 7’s through 10’s!) If they want to encourage “emerging, but serious, filmmakers…,” perhaps they could take a few extra moments to pencil in some constructive criticism!

Let me tip the scales back the other way, though, because there are a lot of good things to say about the Panhandle Picture Show. The organizers were very gracious (offering us two rides to the ferry terminal for an ungodly 7am departure) and seemed to be genuinely interested in getting decent exposure for the filmmakers. Also, having Boomstick shown alongside other entries from Haines and Juneau, let alone the continental U.S., Canada, and England, was quite gratifying. And while whoever picked the playing order of the films was off their rocker (the first night started off with two outstanding shorts, followed by two and half hours of forgettable boredom), there were some memorable, even inspirational videos selected. Yes, some of it was agonizing, but the fact that my friends and I sat through all five hours speaks to a successful show. The Panhandle Picture Show is only in their fourth year and I think they’re trying to find their niche, experimenting with different formats – they’ll only get better with time.

Besides all that, it was my friends (and wife!) that made the trip up to Haines completely worthwhile. Mike and Amelia, the Nells, and Joe (having a web site wasn’t a requirement to going on the trip, it just worked out that way) all took time off from work and paid good money to go up to Haines with me just to see Boomstick play in front of another audience. Despite rainy and cold weather, exorbitant cab fares, and a distinct lack of sleep, we managed to make our own fun out of waffles, superballs, and killer hammers.