Fabulous Weekend at the First MIX International Short Film Festival

Last weekend saw the inauguration of the first Moving Image Xchange International Short Film Festival (The Mix). My short screenplay, Sister Secrets, was one of 12 finalist screenplays, so I decided to attend. The festival screened 39 short films at the lovely Byrd Theatre in Richmond, VA.

In addition to a shorts competition, the festival also had a screenplay competition. The festival hasn't listed the screenplay finalists on their website, though they are listed in the printed program, so I'm going to make up for that oversite by listing them here, just as they appear in the printed program:

Sister Secrets by Alison McMahan

A Difference of 25 Cents by Sundae Jahant-Osborn (Top three screenplay Award Winner)

No Cigarettes in Space by Sunday Jahant-Osborn

Sacrifice the Virgin by John Harris

Pass Cactus by Kay Poiro

Cupcake Kids by Donna Lisa

Accounting by Neil Valentine

The Bradbury Effect by Chris Dell'Anno

Copenhagen by Tyler Kent

Worms at Ten Paces by Kathleen Gardiner (Top Three Screenplay Award Winner)

Red Light, Green Light by Jeffrey Kraynak (Grand Prize Winner)

Magic of the Star by J.B. Mathel (Top Three Screenplay Award Winner)


Of the eleven writers represented, only three of us were able to attend the festival. Kathleen Gardiner, from Michigan, came with her son, a storyboard artist. Kathleen had an amazing tale to tell: she was working on her first ever screenplay, a war film. Before she completed the feature she decided that a comic sequence from the feature script would make a good stand-alone short. She sent that in to the MIX. But she had never submitted to a festival before, so when she got the email telling her she was finalist she was taken by surprise. Even more surprised to win! 

I didn't get to read Kathleen's script, but I did get to read Jeffrey Kraynak's, the Grand Prize winner with Red Light, Green Light. It's a dramatic version of Harry Met Sally: two friends who really should be lovers but don't realize it until it's almost too late. The script has distinctive visuals and a complex storytelling pattern, with standout elements of color (usually red or green) on black and white footage. 


Complex storytelling was a theme at the festival, as the Best of Festival Award went to Ghost of Old Highways (16 minutes) – “A man pursued by an invading army hunts down previous versions of himself amidst the purgatory of a fractured consciousness. The experiential short film is driven by an original score from the artist Lovett, whose song of the same name inspired the script from director Dan Bush. Shot on location deep in the North Carolina mountains, the surreal narrative is set against the distorted dreamscape of the Civil War, a time when this country had turned against itself and into its own worst enemy.” Ghost of Old Highways is a very modern hommage to An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge, which started out as a story by Ambrose Bierce and was made famous as an independent short that was later broadcast as part of the Twilight Zone Series. Dan Bush's hommage started out as a music video for "Ghost of Old Highways," the song by  Lovett, then grew into a stand-alone film. 

Jeffrey was paired with a director who submitted a short to the festival,Jonathan Schwartz,  an L.A. based director who makes webisodes. Jonathan had submitted a short, One Day Away, (11 minutes) which “explores the possibility that through our actions and choices, we are all only One Day Away from losing all that we hold dear.” (You can see the program of all films shown here.)

The two grand prize winners were then given the assignment to make Strive, which The MIX filmed in Richmond last month, an inspiring short about a pro tennis player and the obstacles he had to overcome to get to his defining moment.

The audience award for best narrative film went to  André Gaumond, a first assistant director from Montreal who has moved into directing TV documentaries, such as Vietnam, the Country of Dreams, I Can't, I Live in Cuba,  and Happiness Seekers. Gaumond brought his short, Un Fils, to the festival.Un Fils (20 minutes) – “A son tells the story of a psychologist, Sebastien Huberdeau, who pushes a young boy to tell why he wanted to end his life. What he discovers will go beyond his expectations.” This film was produced in collaboration with the Quebec Association in Suicide Prevention, but it is not your average PSA; instead it a gripping family drama with more than one major twist at the end.

An "Other" award was specifically created for A Finger, Two Dots Then Me (8 minutes) – “'A spoken-word piece based on a popular poem by renowned modern poet Derrick Brown. The film takes a dramatic look at death, life and love through the eyes of Brown, a beat poet who has performed around the world for the last decade both as a headliner and with bands such as the Flaming Lips and the Cold War Kids.”

A Finger, Two Dots particularly enchanted me (and made me want to learn AfterEffects), especially since I'm adapting Ted Deppe's poem The Wanderer King into a screenplay.Here is Derrick's blog about the making of the film.


Of the films that didn't win anything in this particular festival (though it has been loaded down with laurels in many other festivals), I was particularly charmed by Mijo,  a short documentary by Chithra Jeyaram about a dancer mother and her young son facing the mother's cancer. You can see the trailer for Mijo here.


MIJO TRAILER from Chithra Jeyaram on Vimeo.


The festival wasn't all about films: local music acts, such as the American Youth Harp Ensemble, on their way to Carnegie Hall played for us; the Byrd has a Wurlitzer organ and we were treated to an organ concert as well. 


All in all it was an incredible festival, adeptly organized by CEO and Director of the MIX Festival, Heather Waters, and a small but hard working army of volunteers. Heather is stopping with organizing the film festival; she is also the creator of  The Media Industry Xchange, a creative forum and a business directory for film and media related industries. The directory launches in early October and will serve as a catalyst for developing and packaging projects.  This is a new, innovative tool for collaborating with other creatives while gaining further exposure in the industry. 

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