“There’s nothing like watching six or seven shorts on a big screen in a dark room,” Dan Brawley, current director of Cucalorus, emphatically states.
He and the rest of Cucalorus kind take painstaking measures to ensure their festival honors the often-unsung efforts of short filmmakers. This year alone, they received over 1,000 short film submissions and will be programming 140 throughout the festival’s four-day run.
As with every year, the shorts are carefully programmed in various blocks; this year there are 16 in total. Some will get a second run, an honor which no features this year are afforded. The films are grouped with other complementary shorts, and many filmmakers will take the stage afterward to field questions and offer insights in their creative process. It’s just one of the many interactive components of Cucalorus that fosters a strong filmic community. Each of the blocks this year take on the namesake of a chicken breed—Dorking, Bantam, Yokohama, etc.—in honor of its 20-year chicken and waffles theme.
Typically, film festivals give shorts the shaft, featuring them almost as a side show to the main events; in fact, they’re often barely even listed in programs. Cucalorus, always the champion for artists taking risks, appreciates the freedom filmmaking permits.
“I think the shorts are where the most exciting shit is happening,” Brawley tells. “That’s where people are trying new things, and that’s where you discover filmmakers and actors and actresses you didn’t know before. It’s where people can just do some totally outlandish stuff and get away with it.”
Cucalorus has taken their love for shorts to Thalian Hall’s Mainstage this year, with the Black Silkie Shorts taking place at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday night. The block features the world premiere of “Times Like Dying,” a film helmed by two locals.
“We are very thankful to have had some of the best crew members in America, who are based right here, come out and volunteer their time on our film,” says Anthony Reynolds, producer and writer, and a local working actor for 21 years. “We could not be more humbled to be invited to screen this year at Cucalorus—in a year when our local film community has been all but slaughtered by politicians in Raleigh. We want to wave high the flag of our collective creativity and proudly show our community what a few dedicated crafts people can create, if given the opportunity.”
Directed by Evan Vetter—whose first feature-length documentary, “Daylight Come,” also will screen at Cucalorus—the post-Civil War-era film takes the Western and makes it an Eastern. Telling the story of a gang on the run after a bank robbery that finds shelter at a farmhouse, the film explores what may have happened in the Blue Ridge Mountains during a time when the industrial revolution, newly built railroads, and the economic implications associated with these developments forever altered the South. As the film progresses, greed and a hunger for power takes hold of the screen.
“Every decision one makes in life has a consequence is the theme, more or less,” Reynolds, a Blue Ridge Mountains native, explains. “I wanted the characters to make a moral decision that would ultimately affect the rest of their lives, while setting it in a familiar place.”
The film’s motifs hit home for Vetter, as he has instilled in his son that, whether good or bad, every action has an effect. The film illuminates the gray area of right and wrong: good people making bad decisions but for understandable reasons. It’s all about the way humans can deceive themselves in justifying their decisions. “I think a personal inspiration for this project came from Clint Eastwood,” Vetter describes.
Vetter became interested in the project while it was still in the script phase and immediately latched onto the story arc of the brothers in the story. “I feel like his approach utilizes all the tools a filmmaker has but only in ways that serve the story,” Vetter adds. “His films rarely try to draw attention to themselves, instead drawing you further and further into the world they create, and that was the approach we wanted to take.”
The film feels as though it comes from a larger narrative—something the filmmakers hope audiences will pick up on during the Q&A session. “We wanted to take a foundational approach to the short film format and see what kind of results it could yield,” Vetter says. “Hopefully, bringing something to festivals that might be outside what they might typically see in their short categories.”
Funded in part by an Indigogo campaign that raised over $8,000, the film was produced by Circle Street Motion Pictures and Lighthouse Film Company. The score for the film was composed by local talents Lee Hester, Ben Mabry and Brent Holloman. Cinematography came from Brad Walker and Lighthouse Films.
“Times Like Dying” features the endless talents of Jim Cody Williams, who’s starred in 30-plus Westerns. Folks may recognize him from appearances in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (2006), “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” (2004), or “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989).
Another local film premiere will be occurring at TheatreNOW on Friday at 1 p.m., as part of the Frizzle Shorts block. Rebecca Busch, a former encore magazine humor columnist, penned and directed “Got No Fetish.” Her gig with encore was actually her first foray into humor writing.
”I don’t count my first job, which was writing cat horoscopes, because technically that was supposed to be serious and insightful,” she clarifies. “But I couldn’t help myself. Let’s just say they thought cats were too dignified to be laughed at, but, hey, I’ve seen a few slip into the toilet thinking the lid was down.”
The avid lover of chuckles, writing and film found that stepping into the role of screenwriter was clearly the next logical step in her career. After completing her script, she shot the 15-minute film over the course of three-and-a-half days; the whole process took about a year to complete. Making the story leap from the pages of the script was a challenge, but the end result was more rewarding than Busch ever imagined. “It’s that moment when you go, ‘Oh my God, we did it!’” she describes.
She and her team from 3 Hats Productions—which also sports the talents and dedication of Natalie Lentz and Monika Winter-Sanchez, whose husband Jeff Sanchez was enlisted to edit the film—funded the film alongside Obscura Films.
“Got No Fetish” chronicles a naïve photography student who unwittingly becomes privy to a fetish party. Once there, she learns no pictures are allowed and is taken on a wild ride outside of her comfort zone. The story parallels an actual experience Busch endured
“They were all really nice people, but it was like I was seeing things that I really didn’t want to see, and people kept thinking I was part of the party,” Busch says. “I had stepped into a world I was totally unprepared for; I made it out unscathed and drove to a friend’s house. We laughed for hours and she said, ‘You need to write this down before you forget it.’ So I did. You know, I read ‘50 Shades of Gray’ and I kept thinking, This chick has never been to a fetish party! That book was like ‘Fetishes for Dummies.’”
The casting process to find actors fit to play characters like “Bootlicker” or “Pummel Horse Girl” was interesting, to say the least. Busch quickly discovered North Carolina’s pool of talent runs deep. Cucalorus veteran Ducky Garner and Jules Britt helped play some of the main fetishists. Mara McCaffray took on the lead role, and her abundance of talent since has taken her to LA. Also part of the cast are Tanner Martinelli, Willie Raysor III, Jackie De Conti, Kim Ewonus, Britt Butcher, and Levi Erik. Even Busch herself undertook a role in the film, playing “Overeater Girl” after another actress stepped down.
Judson Hurd created original music for the film, and Peter R. Parlegreco animated some eye-catching opening titles. Like any indie production, an endless supply of love and support poured in from friends and relatives who offered up their homes and skills.
With “Got No Fetish” in the bag and being sent out to festivals nationwide, the production company is already looking to future endeavors. “One of our goals is to work on a film project with an all woman crew,” Busch says. “We feel that women have a great perspective to offer the world of film, and our voices and movies are clearly in the minority. If any women out there see this and want to be part of our next project, let us know.”
Cucalorus 20 Shorts Blocks
Various times and locations
Thurs. – Sun., Nov. 13-16
$10-$15 for non-passholders