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Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2007 01:40 am

Real to real

The sixth annual Route 66 Film Festival

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Untitled Document Linda McElroy never had popcorn at the movies. Growing up on a family farm near Edinburg, movies, for McElroy, meant that she and her four younger siblings had picked a field of corn or cleared a field of beans fast enough to earn the prize their dad dangled as incentive — a Saturday evening trip into town to see a film. “We didn’t have a TV, and this was our only pay,” McElroy says. Expensive concession-stand treats were out of the question. They usually saw some shoot-’em-up flick. Her dad loved war movies, Westerns, and anything involving John Wayne. The Saturday night when they saw Little Women still sticks in McElroy’s mind. “I remember that very vividly, because it was unusual,” she says. Even without candy or popcorn or much variety in her celluloid diet, McElroy grew to love movies. She dabbled in acting and became a schoolteacher specializing in drama and English. She maintained her habit of going to the movies at least once a week. Then she saw a notice in a weekly newspaper announcing that the Reel to Real Club at Lincoln Land Community College was showing movies on Sunday afternoons — “foreign films, arty films,” she recalls. There, club members were recruiting volunteers to help launch a film festival. McElroy signed up. “Next thing you know, I was deep into it,” she says.
At the inaugural festival, in 2002, McElroy found herself composing brochures, coordinating workshops, chauffeuring around filmmakers and a Chicago movie critic on his first visit to a drive-in. With an ambitious two-weekend schedule that relied on formerly famous actors as the main draw, the festival was only a partial success. “We had celebrities and stuff, but we didn’t have any audience,” McElroy says. The Reel to Real Club decided not to try hosting the festival again, but some of its members encouraged McElroy to take it over, telling her that there were funds left over from the original $10,000 grant. She agreed — and then discovered that the balance was $23. No matter; she’s been running the festival ever since.
The 28 films featured at this year’s Route 66 Film Festival include several good ol’ mysteries, a few horror movies, some documentaries, some “experimental animation,” and some lighthearted comedies. Some, such as Lee Buchenau’s drama “Pieces of the Sun” fall into the category McElroy calls “arty;” others, like “Super-Anon” (about a support group for families of superheroes), were crafted for laughs. Some of the filmmakers, such as Guggenheim Fellowship- and Peabody Award-winner Eric Patrick, have prestigious prizes and international festivals on their rОsumОs; others, among them Springfieldian Shannon Mathesis, who lists 12 years’ employment at Family Video as her moviemaking inspiration (she has a featured short comedy about a jogger on the Lost Bridge Trail), have more modest biographies. The films range from just a mere four minutes long to feature length. McElroy says there’s one thing all these films share: entertainment value. “All of our films bear watching more than once,” she says. She has done so herself, screening each of the 41 entries for 18 members of the festival committee.
That’s the guiding principle used to choose movies for the festival — McElroy and her committee don’t hamstring the roster with rules like if you offer an award, you have to give it. The award for a historic or Lincoln-related film isn’t being given out this year, because no film deserved it. “There wasn’t anything that was appropriate that we wanted to show,” she says.
Certain films, being shown just for fun, were excluded from the competition because (this being Springfield) the filmmakers were simply too close to McElroy. She put “Zombie Movie” in which she has a one-line speaking role — in the “audience choice” comedy competition so that its chance to win an award is out of her hands. Another film by the same filmmaker, Brandon Clayton of Taylorville, was made elsewhere and was therefore eligible for competition. The committee voted to name it Best Comedy. McElroy even has her own film in the festival lineup — a 12-minute mystery called “The Perfect Mark,” inspired by her mother’s experience with a con artist.

Perhaps the biggest news this year is the introduction of refreshments. McElroy — whose formative film experiences were served И la carte, without the side of candy and soda pop — has contracted the Hoogland caterers to provide beer, wine, soft drinks, and snacks. Unlike last year’s hectic pace, this year’s schedule allows dinner breaks long enough for film buffs to actually get something to eat.
McElroy, retired from a state job, has learned a whole new set of skills since the festival directorship landed in her lap. She has attended the Telluride festivals (both the official fest and the indie fest) and learned how to solicit applicants for Route 66. Beginning next year, the festival will be listed in MovieMaker magazine’s festival directory — a step that could multiply the number of entries.
McElroy’s obsession with film now goes even deeper. She has learned how to light a set and how to hold a boom mic. She wrote, directed, and edited “The Perfect Mark.” Now associated with 747 Productions, she’s working on several other projects. Her father — the man who inspired her film obsession — made a few films himself, though nothing that she would ever show at the festival. He bought a video camera and taped everything that moved (weddings, parties, family vacations) and some things that didn’t. For example, McElroy says, her dad made a two-hour video of the Grand Canyon.
“And, ya know, there wasn’t a whole lot of action there,” she says. Her father’s epic documentary featuring a pair of deer who wandered into the yard wasn’t much better. “They were just standing there, like deer do, eating a little bit,” she says. “The only action was when my dad accidentally dropped the camera.”
He died the year before the festival was established, never knowing that the seed he had planted with all those Saturday-night trips into town for movies had grown into such an avocation for his daughter. “He would’ve loved it,” she says.
Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
All films are less than 30 minutes long unless otherwise noted. Tickets are $5 per session, or $30 for the entire event. All films are screened at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, 420 S. Sixth St.

SATURDAY

12 p.m. Audience Choice Comedies (short films)
Super-Anon About a support group for families of superheroes.

The Punching Dummy — Job helping women vent anger leads to dummy meeting his special someone.
I Just Want to Eat My Sandwich  Woman interrupted by co-workers who won’t let her take a bite.
Audition  Actor with big ego finds murder and mayhem. Filmmaker Sam Holdren will attend the festival.
Zombie Movie  Featuring 80 extras from nearby Taylorville, this film was made by Taylorville native Brandon Clayton.
1:45 p.m. Documentaries and Experimental Film
Whistle While You Work Best Documentary — Made by Ryan Claypool and Austin Smythe, of Marshall, Ill., this film illustrates connection between capitalism and the plight of the working class.
Behind Forgotten Eyes — Korean women forced into prostitution during World War II and their clients tell their stories through interviews and animation.
Startle Pattern — Experimental animation from Eric Patrick, recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Peabody award, now on leave from his post as an assistant professor in Northwestern University’s Radio/TV/Film program. Patrick, whose films have won awards at festivals around the world, plans to attend the Route 66 Film Festival.
4 p.m. Audience Choice Dramas
Pardon Me Springfield native Daric Gates now lives in Los Angeles where he has worked as a production assistant on television series “Las Vegas” and “Crossing Jordan” as well as several hit movies. Gates plans to be present for this screening of his film, which follows one of Richard Nixon’s hatchet men as he attempts a sea escape during the summer of 1974.
Letting Go — This short, about how a little boy’s decision to give up his “blankie” is harder on his dad than himself, helped get filmmaker Dan Masucci, of Scotia, NY, into the top 1 percent of applicants for the Fox Television series “On the Lot,” and earned spots on film festival rosters across the country, including the Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival. Both Masucci and his son (the film’s star) will attend the Route 66 screening.

Adia An African girl, sold into marriage at age 14, meets her true love at her husband’s home. Filmmaker Francis Polo grew up in Nigeria, moved to the U.S. at age 14, started acting at age 14 (his first role was in a Pepsi commercial), and quickly became interested in directing. He graduated with honors from Columbia College in Chicago, where he majored in film and video. He plans to attend this screening of his film.
Draggage A stranger offers help and a chance for redemption to a man running from his past. This film is one of three at the fest from John Mossman, who teaches in the film department at Columbia University. Mossman is also coordinator of the Independent Feature Project (IFP)-Chicago, which includes a mentorship program for students at Chicago Vocational Career Academy. Mossman plans to be in attendance.

Rutherford County — Three men running contraband from Miami to New York encounter locals who change their lives forever.

Pieces of the Sun — A young man meets the girl of his dreams, but cannot distinguish between his own fantasies and reality. Filmmaker Lee Buchenau, a student at Webster University in St. Louis, plans to attend this screening.
8 p.m. Best Feature and Best Horror film
A Garota (The Kid) — Filmmaker Fernando Pinheiro, of Brazil, used animation to make a poetic commentary on poverty and child labor.
Barrymore’s Dream — Best Feature — A man who believes his dreams predict the future tries to solve a murder and becomes a suspect. It’s the eleventh film of Robert Alaniz, a native of Blue Island, Ill., who wrote this story in high school, made it into a low-budget movie in 1982, and recently re-made it with a much bigger budget.
Malasuenos Best Horror Film — Car trouble strands three friends in a ghost town.
SUNDAY

12 p.m. Diversity Films
A Cry from Iran  This documentary was made by Joseph and Andre Hovsepian, whose father, Haik Hovsepian, was martyred 22 years ago in Iran for his Christian beliefs.
Susan Hero A woman looking for a doctor to clone her dead child steals cash and heads across country with an illegal immigrant.

2:30 p.m. Comedies
Heavy — A short film by Springfieldian Shannon Matheis.
Budd — A feature-length movie about a high school teacher who has a “meltdown.” Filmmaker Russ Cring, of Hendersonville, Tenn., plans to attend this screening.
4:30 p.m. Award winners
The Last Stain — Best Student Film — This movie, written and directed by students at Chicago Vocational Career Academy, won a national Emmy for technical achievement. The students’ mentor, John Mossman, will be in attendance.
P.U.R.E. — Best Science Fiction Film — A young boy discovers a natural phenomenon that threatens to destroy the world.
Twilight of Youth — Best Drama — An arrogant stockbroker who despises the elderly is stricken by a mysterious virus, which causes him to age.
Six Degrees of Stardom (or How Ronald Reagan Remembers the Life of Brandon Clayton) — Best Comedy — An experimental documentary about the dangers of ego and time travel by the same young filmmaker who made Zombie Movie.
Son of Roni — Best Sequel — A hitman tries to protect his son by pretending to be a pizza deliveryman in this film made by former Springfieldian Greg Brookens, whose brother Matt, is also a filmmaker. The brothers are also members of the “electro nerd punk” band Dr. Killbot. Greg plans to attend the film festival.
The Eyes Have It — Best Film Noir — A “Jonathan Splain” murder mystery from New York filmmaker Steven Addair.

Jell-Ohh Lady — Best of Fest — Another film from Mossman, this comedy about a housewife won the Audience Favorite award at the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival.
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