I can’t quite explain what went on during the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival. Whatever it was, it went beyond merely experiencing the films and gathering with filmmakers and friends. There was a buzz and exhilaration, a feeling that we were all experiencing something new and original. The sensation that Arizona independent film was not only as strong and vibrant as ever, but becoming something else; a scene surging with energy and innovation in the midst of the ghostly old town of Jerome. As filmmakers from all over Arizona gathered to rediscover classic AZ indie, as well as experience brand new feature films screening for the very first time, everyone there couldn’t help but feel that Arizona independent film has both come of age, and turned a corner. After watching the films, both old and new, I noticed several significant and positive directions AZ indie seems to be going; positive directions for both local filmmaking and perhaps even filmmaking in general.
The artistic vibe of Jerome has constantly resonated within producer/director/writer Toni Ross for many years. As the former owner of an art gallery there, Toni absorbed the energy of the once vibrant and bustling mining town, an energy that helped her to come to terms with her own personal tragedy and find strength and ambition in pursuing her artistic endeavors. With this artistic energy and enthusiasm, Toni presented the concept of the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival ‘officially’ on November 17, 2012. The response was slow at first, but soon snowballed into an avalanche of support and interest as the film festival in the ghost town began to materialize.
The festival was held the weekend of June 13–16, 2013, with an awards ceremony at the conclusion. The festival was very well attended, with screening venues filled during the day and then packed at night for parties and industry mixers. As with any inaugural film festival, the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival certainly had it’s share of glitches and malfunctions. The films didn’t screen in the order that was listed in the program, which became confusing for everyone watching. Some venues became unavailable at the last minute, causing some of the other films and events to be cancelled or relocated with little to no notice. Overall, the festival was a very positive experience in spite of the issues that are guaranteed to plague even the most established, long running film festivals. The film selections for the festival were outstanding. The huge collection of Arizona made independent films was exciting and inspiring. There were films I had only heard rumors about, now being screened for everyone to enjoy. Films with a dismally short festival run were now returning to the screen, for all to see. AZ indie veterans and brand new AZ filmmakers were able to take in the collective experience of where we have been and the direction we are heading as independent filmmakers. The experience was upbeat and very constructive for everybody and, after seeing the work of the young emerging filmmakers, the future of AZ indie film looks quite positive and exciting from many aspects.
Negative trends that have plagued low budget indie filmmaking in recent years are not only being addressed by the new filmmakers, they are consciously being abolished and creatively eliminated with each new production. Exhausting, dialog driven narratives with two actors and (usually) one location are no longer the accepted format; quick and easy doesn’t necessarily mean ‘compromise’ anymore. The films are returning to visual storytelling, refining and carefully limiting the dialog while seeking out new and varying locations and situations, challenging cinematographers and rewarding audiences. As sound design and quality was once the instant deal breaker for a low budget indie, lighting has now come to the forefront. With the vast improvements in sound quality, audiences are now expecting illumination with motivation. Lighting with plan and purpose, mood and contrast. Viewers are expecting consistent and cohesive lighting direction throughout the film, regardless of the budget.
Many of the AZ indie actors had approached so many of their early films with such an impressive arsenal of acting techniques they had acquired that, very often, this created an uncomfortably awkward intensity. From short student films to bigger budget feature length productions, many actors ostensibly approached their performance with a (unintentionally) visible motivation for their reel and their resume. Today, the performances by the local actors are nothing short of aurorean. Appropriately adjusted to the production, the motivation is no longer the credit, or the opportunity to ply their wares; be they the latest ‘methods’ being used or motivational techniques. The actors appear to be finding their balance; enjoying their performance in the latest low budget AZ indie while incorporating and presenting a perfect blend of their talent, skills and techniques. I found the acting in most of the new films to be refreshing and very entertaining. The performances were genuine, serious, hilarious and compelling.
Perhaps the most exhilarating experience for myself at the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival was seeing the work created by the very young filmmakers. Some are still in high school, most are barely finishing film school. The new filmmakers seem to be approaching filmmaking with an eager enthusiasm for the new technology available, while incorporating and celebrating a return to the art of filmmaking. While the harsh, extremely defined visual quality of the new HD cameras is readily available; today’s filmmakers refuse to settle for the out-of-the-box image quality the new cameras provide. The current look of the consumer cameras is merely an aesthetic; another tool in the burgeoning Pandora’s box today’s filmmakers playfully experiment with. Although these new cameras do have their practical purpose, for the overall look of their productions, the filmmakers are demanding the images possess the percipience that defined traditional cinema and filmmaking, opting for the larger format cameras for the larger productions. The rush to simply make a movie is waning, as the filmmakers strive for and embrace the cinematic, seeking out the imagery first, before capturing the images; a creative and stunning return to mise en scène. For the young filmmakers, film may be dead but filmmaking is not.
The Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival has been an incredible experience for everyone. I can only hope that this is the first of many; an opportunity for everyone to discover Arizona independent film in the fascinating ghost town high upon a hill in the town of Jerome, a place for all to reunite at the next Arizona indie summit: the next Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival.