Darkened by black velvet curtains, the transformed into a screening room crowded with an eager audience Saturday, as the first got off to a lively start.
Attendees young and old filled the seats, sporting yellow wristbands that allowed them to come and go all day, as 46 films were shown in five separate screening sessions, which began at noon and lasted until 7 p.m. One award was presented at the close of each session.
The screenings were followed by a grand finale of awards, raffle prizes, a re-showing of winning films and a presentation of judge Marilyn Mulford’s feature-length documentary, The Archeology of Memory.
“We are thrilled—we are all thrilled!” FilmFest co-organizer Naomi Lucks Sigal said midway through the event, as she described the mood of the city's , the group that put the festival together.
Sigal, who has been credited as the committee member who first proposed the concept, said she has no particular background or experience with film, but “the idea just came to me—and then [Allen] and [Marchitiello] and Jack [Kenny] said, ‘Yeah, we can do that!’”
Filmmaker and student Jyoti Tuladhar was the first award-winner of the day, taking home the prize in the Youth category for his five-minute drama, A Precious Dream.
“It took me one day to film, and about two months to edit,” he said of the piece that he wrote, directed and acted in, adding that he does hope to be a professional filmmaker some day.
Several films from Albany youth were also clear crowd-pleasers, including the creative Watercolor by Connor Brown, the Blair-Witch-on-Albany-Hill-style Forest Run by Sam JN Gouldthorpe, and the semi-animated feel-good piece The Chair by Lucy Barthel, which ended up winning Best In Show (voted favorite by audience members) at the end of the evening.
The category Everything Albany had only two entrants, both shown during the second session, and the winner was Asif Haque’s seven-minute film Albany Bulb, which beat out , with its panoramic scenery, dynamic footage of artwork, and charismatic interviewees Osha Neumann, artist-activist, and Bulb resident “Crazy Steve” Courier.
Haque, a student at Ex’pression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville, was not on hand to receive his prize but received resounding applause.
The third session focused on animation, interspersed with several “tiny-movie” films (less than three minutes), and culminated with awards in both categories: Erik Oh’s Heart won in Animation, and won the Tiny-Movie prize with 44 Second Ode To A Newspaper. (Daniels had also been a nominee in the Albany category, with his piece on the .)
In between each session, MC Corbett Redford kept the energy high as he announced winners and raffled off prizes to audience members—particularly attendee who had purchased extra raffle tickets and went home with a big haul of loot, including a panda hat and SF Giants commuter mug.
Introducing Academy-Award nominee animator Geefwee Boedoe, Redford said, “Hey, I understand having a funny name!” with the self-deprecating humor that became trademark throughout the day.
The fourth session included short narratives and two tiny films, but focused on the Short Documentary category, featuring nominees Come To The Table and Independence In Sight. Independence In Sight followed several sight-impaired students at Hatlen Center, as they worked toward achieving their goals of living and traveling independently.
Also nominated in this category was Fix-It Clinic, a film about Albany’s own Paul Mui, a socially-minded MIT-trained engineer who leads groups in explorations and repairs of broken appliances.
But the Short Documentary Award was taken by Come To The Table, a feature from Berkeley’s King Middle School, made by Jason Jakaitis and Zoe Salnave; the film covered the history of the school’s Edible Schoolyard, started by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, and featured interviews with Waters as well as teacher Esther Cook and several students.
As the sun sank lower, the last screening session drew a packed house. This was a grouping of six films in the Short Narrative category, each in the neighborhood of 10 minutes long, and containing “mature content.”
While films like Cigarette Vigilante, I Said Silence, and G.A.P.H. contained humor and parody (and zombies!), some of the films in this session did include graphic violence and sex.
Nominees for Best Short Narrative were Ricochet In Reverse, a poetic backwards fantasy of the Columbine killings by slam poets Geoff Trenchard and Jamie DeWolf, and Tito, Alejandro Ramirez’s story of a disabled boy’s sexual abuse, which sent a small flurry of folks out the door as the screening ended.
The winner of the Short Narrative category was Ari Sigal’s I Love You, Houseplant, a fantasy of a young man’s attempt to stop his transformation into a tree.
“This was my first film in a festival,” said Ari Sigal, daughter of FilmFest organizer Naomi Lucks Sigal, “and I will definitely keep doing film!” She said the 10-minute piece had taken her about three months to make.
Corbett Redford wrapped up the awards by announcing the Best In Show award, selected by audience votes collected throughout the day, which went to The Chair – and then, the $500 Grand Prize was announced: Come To The Table producers Jason Jakaitis and Zoe Salnave were called back to the stage to accept it, amid great cheering from fans.
Judges for the event included organizer Jack Kenny, local filmmaker Les Blank, Girls Rock producer Shane King, and Archeology of Memory co-director and co-producer Marilyn Mulford, who took questions from the audience after the screening of her film.
Mulford had also been in attendance at the pre-festival gala dinner Friday night, where judges, filmmakers, actors and sponsors mingled and munched on comestibles from a selection of Albany restaurants, including , , , and . Lounge-level lighting, a selection of wines and a mellow duo of jazz musicians completed the scene.
A few attended in casual attire, but “Dr. Fix-It,” Paul Mui, was ready for the red carpet in a tuxedo, and effusive about the power of films to bring people together.
“You can watch our film, and many of these films, on YouTube,” he said of Fix-It Clinic, “but humans are social animals, and we need events like this to allow us to come together.”
His words were echoed onstage Saturday by producer Shane King, who spoke in conversation with Corbett Redford between screenings.
“Nowadays, the Internet, YouTube, makes media accessible to everyone,” he said. “But it’s the ‘curating’ that becomes more important – events like this that bring people together around quality films.”
And bring people together the inaugural Albany FilmFest certainly did: from beginning to end, the 180 seats were mostly full all day in the screening room—standing-room only at some points—and the lobby was buzzing with attendees coming in and out.
And, of course, the popcorn was popping all day long.
“Okay, ready to start planning next year’s festival?” Naomi Sigal joked with Jack Kenny and organizers Jeremy Allen and Anthony Marichitiello in the lobby.
“Well,” Kenny replied, “we do have a meeting on Monday, so we might as well begin!”
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