VA Indie Film Festival: Independent filmmakers take the big screen

Mechelle Hankerson
Assistant Spectrum Editor

The 2011 Virginia Indie Film Festival began Saturday with its documentary segment, showing “Beardo the Movie,” a film that chronicles the story of the 2009 World Beard and Moustache Championships and those that participate.

The festival, sponsored by the Virginia Film Office and the Virginia Production Alliance, spans over two days, showing documentaries and short films on the first day and feature-length films the next day.

In each category, a panel of judges awards one film from various local film societies.

This year, the documentary “A Gift for the Village” won in the documentaries category, the short “The Walk,” for short features, and “Tracks,” for feature-length films.

The shorts section of the festival screened six short films, all less than 20 minutes long. These films featured various topics, such as a family dealing with a pet’s death (“Goodbye to Muffy”) and Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion (“Possession”); the longer, plot-driven “The Walk,” took the award for this category.

Following the day’s events, “A Gift for the Village” and “Goodbye to Muffy” were named the audience’s choice. Sunday night, “Tracks” was also awarded as the audience’s choice.


‘A Gift for the Village’

“A Gift for the Village” told the story of Virginia Tech professor Jane Vance who painted a modified lineage painting for Nepal, titled “Amchi.” After 10 months of working to complete the piece, Vance presented it to Dr. Tsampa Ngawang, who had been a visiting professor at Tech in the past.

The film details the journey of the painting from Blacksburg to a two-day festival for its arrival in Nepal. The team from Virginia, which included producers and editors, Jenna Swann and Tom Landon, were granted special rights when in Nepal, including being able to present the idea for their gift to the king of Nepal.

The Virginia team was not the only side giving though. The actual timeline for the painting and gift-giving ceremony intersected with the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, and when the team arrived in Nepal, they were greeted with a traditional Buddhist ceremony honoring those lost during the shooting.

According to the question-and-answer session following each film, “A Gift for the Village” was filmed with no real budget – it was, as Swann pointed out, created by three public school teachers.

‘Beardo The Movie’

“Beardo The Movie” was about the competitors in the 2009 World Beard & Mustache Championship held in Anchorage, Ala. It was a very humorous documentary, and it was obvious that none of the competitors took themselves too seriously.

The previous world champion Jack Passion, sporting an unkempt beard that went down to below his waist, was the scene-stealer of the movie, bringing a great sense of humor and dedication to the cause of beard awareness.

Another high point of the movie was the musical act that performed at the competition, “The Beards,” an Australian blues act that sings about beards and how men without beards should reconsider their lives.

‘Local Life: Camera Truck’

“Local Life: Camera Truck,” was a very brief (14 minutes) film about Shawn Irving, a photographer in Richmond who set out to build the world’s largest portable camera.

In the film, directed by VCU graduate Kathryn Johnson, Irving rebuilt a van to act as a giant camera, so he could capture large stylized images of the Richmond cityscape.

A fantastic short, “Local Life” shows just how creative of a city Richmond is, and how photography can be altered to present a beautiful and unique image of something as dreary as urban decay.

Unfortunately, VCU TV, the organization Johnson worked with to film the documentary, is currently defunct and without funding. It is unlikely that we’ll be see many more creative works by VCU students without VCU TV.


‘The Walk’

“The Walk,” an 18-minute, seemingly random conversation between a young man and presumably unrelated man, was shot during 2009’s November Nor’easter in Suffolk, Virginia on 16 millimeter film.

Writer and director Jon Mark Nail said in the question-and-answer session that the film was about how a person must lose their innocence in order to learn any life lesson.

The film focuses on a conversation between an 11-year old boy and the small town’s old sheriff. The boy begins their conversation asking the ex-Sheriff why he’s so brave, and as their conversation continues, the questions the boy asks of the adult get increasingly personal.

Despite being a film of questions, there are little answers provided by the end of the short, including if the boy and ex-sheriff are related or if it was just a suggested relationship.

‘Goodbye to Muffy’

Following a family for a day after the pet’s death, “Goodbye to Muffy” is a comedy revolving around Muffy, a cat the family has had for only two weeks.

The youngest of the family’s five children, Anna Marie, eagerly offers to take family pictures with the dead cat, not realizing he’s dead. The rest of the children, however, realize Muffy isn’t alive while Mom insists to get as many family pictures as possible.

The family half-heartedly partakes in an official funeral for Muffy at Anna Marie’s request and seems to end the film appropriately enough, but a neighbor’s discovery actually ends the film with another change in the family’s makeup.

‘Caution Wet Floor’

Filmed with no real script, “Caution Wet Floor” features a small cast stuck in a building lobby attempting to make it past a wet floor without slipping.

Officially sorted into the thriller genre, the four co-workers strategically approach their situation, losing some along the way, declaring their love for one another, and eventually rescued by a firefighter who asks them to check if the ground is still wet.

After making it out alive, they are greeted with yet another challenge to make it through without slipping.


“Possession” is an eight-minute film about Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion from the perspective of the slaves.

Turner is characterized as a narcissistic, fanatical leader who brutally justifies his actions to anyone who appears to be dissenting.

The film actually focuses on a slave named Will, who becomes uncomfortable with the rebellion when a group of men, dressed in their master’s clothes, take the wife of their now-dead master into a room to rape her.

Turner angrily tries to explain to Will that it doesn’t matter if the woman was the one actively enslaving him, but because she looks at them as her possessions, she is also part of the problem.

Though the film ends with Will asking what he should do, it doesn’t follow the rest of the rebelling slaves as they continue their violent journey through Southampton.


The only short with no dialogue or plot, “Relax” is four minutes of a North Carolina beach and the sounds that come from it.

The film condenses a day, from sunrise to sunset, into four minutes, focusing on the movement of the water, the wildlife and the sun.


The other longer form short, “RE: MESSIAH” was directed, produced, written and edited by VCU graduate Paul Hugins.

The 18-minute film examines the role of technology and machines in humans’ worlds in a memorable and creative way that focuses on how relationships are formed through the internet and other similar means.

Filmed partially at Ipanema Cafe, “RE: MESSIAH” was an opportunity for Hugins to experiment with creating explicitly violent and bloody scenes while examining a relevant and pertinent topic both to society and himself, as he said he was inspired to write the film after he found out about his younger sister’s Internet activity.

Feature length films “Quick Feet Soft Hands,” written, edited, and directed by Paul Harrill; “Tracks,” written and directed by Kevyn Settle; and “Danger. Zombies. Run,” written and directed by Brian Wimer; all were screened Sunday evening. More information about the films can be found at

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