Greenfield Garden Cinemas to host Short Film Showcase Nov. 12

Last modified: 12/2/2015 8:48:57 PM

A boy. A wooden sword. A dragon. A quest to avenge the dragon’s attack on his village.

“Or Else I Shall be Lost” by Ashfield film director Ben Tobin lasts just 10 minutes. But the film, which won its 25-year-old director recognition in England’s Orchard Lea Film Festival, is just one of seven independent shorts by six area filmmakers at an independent Greenfield Short Film Showcase planned for Nov. 12 at Greenfield Garden Cinemas.

The longest films in the program, beginning at 7 p.m., are 34 minutes apiece; the shortest, by showcase organizer Jared Skolnick, is a five-minute “graphic retelling of a very innocuous joke — a comedy piece with elements of horror,” he says. Filmed in Northampton’s Look Park on a budget of about $100 by the Feeding Hills director, it’s a lighthearted attempt to answer “one of the oldest questions,” he says.

The short — along with Skolnick’s 34-minute-long “Girl in the Basement” — found a one-night home on Greenfield’s big screen as a way to answer Skolnick’s own question: How does an independent filmmaker, trained in Fairfield University’s film program, find a way to get his film out to live audiences in real theaters?

As he did a few years ago, Skolnick gathered some of his fellow independent filmmakers together and approached the Garden for an evening of indie shorts.

“That went really well; I think we pretty much filled the place. And the theater was really welcoming, and just open to the whole endeavor,” said the 28-year-old director, who also works as a commercial videographer, producing videos for real-estate firms and businesses. “I’d just finished ‘Girl in the Basement’ and been looking for a venue. We’d had a great time before in Greenfield. Why not do it again?”

For this “world premiere’ film, shot almost entirely in one location in Holyoke, on a budget of about $2,000 — which largely went for makeup and union staff — there were eight actors, including Robert Savage, who also produced the film, and Kt Baldassaro, who also did editing along with Skolnick.

All three also worked on presenting the Greenfield film showcase, which will be followed by a reception at The People’s Pint to give people to talk with most of the filmmakers and some crew members.

“The market for short filmmaking, I wouldn’t call it especially lucrative,” said Skolnick. “You can’t really make a living on it. As far as a career, a short is a good stepping stone. It helps demonstrate your abilities in a way that won’t break the bank.”

Although Skolnick, Tobin and the other filmmakers are able to show their works on websites, on Youtube, Vimeo and other online sites, as well as at film festivals, having an opportunity to show them to live audiences the mainstream public is a great, rare opportunity, said Skolnick.

The benefit of online showings is the reactions — Skolnick says he gets comments every day from viewers — screenings at events like these give are inspiring, he says.

“I’m always surprised to see who shows up at these kind screenings,” says the graduate of Williston Northampton Academy. “I think it will be just people within the film community, which is growing every day in western Mass., but we see people who are just curious for a night out, artists who want to network, also friends and family. I’m always astounded not just by how many people show up, but by people who are really eager to just have a good time.”

At least some of the audience is generated by mailing lists and social media by the filmmakers themselves, some of which Skolnick says exists as their support network as much as for promotion.

“That’s something I really like about western Mass.: Everyone’s genuinely eager to help each other and to be part of the community, rather than “I’m in it for me, I do it just for me. Everyone in Western Mass. just loves it for the love of rock ’n’ roll.”

But other than for The Platinum Pony, the Meat for Tea’s cirques at Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton, Pothole Pictures in Shelburne Falls and Amherst Cinema, there aren’t many places where independent filmmakers like South Hadley’s Dimitri LaBarge (“Transits”), Boston’s Alby Ravenswood (“Enough to Be Dangerous”), Connecticut director Marty Lang (“Protesters”), or Mike Messina (“Lost in Bloom”), now in Austin, Taxas, but formerly from western Massachusetts, to connect with live audiences.

Chain cineplex theaters have shown some interest in showing independent shorts, said Skolnick, but “never a lot of enthusiasm. Why show work at someplace that will be lukewarm about it, rather than someplace like Greenfield, where they’re just really happy for us to be there, ecstatic to show work and promote it, and people are willing to show up for it?”

Tobin, who grew up in Williamsburg and began working on mostly documentaries as soon as he returned to the area in 2012 to live in Ashfield after graduating in cinema from Oberlin College , said it’s great to have his five-minute short screened at the Garden, “an awesome theater. I went there a lot as a kid.”

After planning, filming and editing “Or Else I Shall Be Lost” for about a year, he said, “It’s great to actually have it on the big screen. I haven’t had a chance to see it on a big screen yet.”

Tobin says he knew since the sixth grade that he wanted to make films — “filming a world and constructing something that felt like the right thing” — and began subscribing to Cinefex magazine, about special effects, as soon as he saw “The Two Towers” in 2002. He also attended a film camp at Smith College. But when he took a documentary film course at Oberlin, his filmmaking interests became divided, and he began making short documentaries, on Tregellys Farm in Hawley, and most recently, “The Dry Brush Master,” on Ashfield artist Greg Ruth — father of Emmett Ruth, who stars in “Or Else I Shall Be Lost” and several other films shown at the Ashfield Film Festival.” (“The Drybrush Master” has been screened at the Big As Texas Short Festival and San Diego’s Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival.)

Written last year, “Or Else I Shall Be Lost” is about what Tobin calls “the cycle of revenge,” because ultimately, the boy lets go of his urge for revenge, with the woods (of Ashfield, in fact) and the dragon as companion, he’s drawn from the trappings of the civilized world.

Tobin, who used the work of local artists, also had his own quest for a special effects studio, looking for collaborators at first in India, then Poland before settling on someone in Oregon.

Unlike much of the local talent he drew on, including Milena Dabova as the voice of the dragon, the special effects wound up costing much of the $6,000 budget for the 10-minute film. But then an Indiegogo campaign brought in viewers as far away as New Zealand.

At any rate, the audience at Greenfield Short Film Showcase — with younger viewers advised against attending because of the graphic elements in some films — should have a range of perspectives, many of them filmed around western Massachusetts.

Lang’s 10-minute-long “Protesters,” for example, shows a different take on an abortion-clinic protest, while Messina’s “Lost in Bloom” follows the results of an experimental brain treatment that raises questions about the nature of free will, the fallacy of true love and the nature of the human existence.

And all of it blooming in the Garden.

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You can reach Richie Davis at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 269


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