Beginning in 2012, Wilmington found a new way to party and celebrate independent cinema simultaneously. When he wasn’t helming his own film ventures (or day-drinking Happy Juice), local filmmaker extraordinaire John Lopez concocted the Dirt Poor Filmmakers Festival. As the title suggest, the event reveres the penniless but nonetheless inspired visionary. Taking in the weirdest of the weird and the most low-budget of low-budget, the film series provides an opportunity for indie filmmakers to connect and become moved by each other’s work.
With the sunset of the film incentives, Lopez’s time here is rapidly coming to an end. Faced with a lack of jobs, he’s recently had to move between Atlanta and Charleston, and he will eventually spend a bit of time in New York to continue working in the industry. But he’s not leaving Wilmington high and dry: In late August, Lopez will formally say goodbye to Dirt Poor with a post-apocalyptic-themed final entry. The event will take place, as always, at the film-friendly Calico Room (107 S. Front St.) Whether it’s Dirt Poor’s Halloween spectacular or a regular installment, the one-night festival ensures drinks are flowing, connectivity is being prompted, and short films are getting an audience. Each event brings together a divergent group of film lovers, who get to see their work on the center-stage screen. Indie-filmmaking is all about experimentation. Unlike big-budget blockbusters, there are no formulas for how it should be done. When one ventures into the atmospherically lit Calico Room for Dirt Poor, they are consenting to a wild ride that will leave them enriched. As well, many of the filmmakers are local, which gives attendees a chance to meet the minds behind the madness.
“The idea has always been to have local stuff,” Lopez says. Though there has been no official call for entries, he is currently accepting submissions for short-indie flicks that play off the post-apocalyptic theme. The final fest’s theme comes as a poetic ending for the filmic event.
“Wilmington is sort of seeing the end of something that was really coming into fruition,” Lopez tells. “We had a ton of movies and TV shows planned [for production], and that would have generated a lot of revenue for not only the city but NC. It also would have significantly impacted not only independent art in this town, but it would’ve impacted restaurants, bars, shops, etc. I decided to have our last [Dirt Poor Film Fest] be apocalyptic-based because of that: the death of incentives for the time being.”
Lopez further laments the loss of dedicated crew members and equipment providers. The loss of film doesn’t only mean the loss of productions, it also entails the loss of outlets for aspiring filmmakers. It’s both a cultural and economic issue, as creative people are leaving in droves to find suitable work.
“The question becomes: Is it possible for independent filmmakers in town, now that we’ve lost the incentives, to get the support they need from major production resources to create independent content that can do major festivals?” Lopez comments.
The sad answer to his question: For the most part local film has disappeared. Big productions are exiting or have already. With them goes talented crew members who could make a film-festival worthy short or feature. While his current outlook on Wilmington film is dismal, he does believe in the future, state incentives and other perks will regain prominence and usher in a new wave of activity.
For now, however, Lopez looks forward to setting Wilmington ablaze with the spirit of indie cinema, but he has no intentions of passing the festival’s torch to someone else. “If somebody had an interest to take over the reins, they could talk to me about it, but at this point, I don’t think it’s necessary,” he says. “I would just encourage someone to do their own thing. All they’ll inherit is a nightmare. You’d want to do your own thing because that’s the spirit of independent art.”
Folks can submit work to Dirt Poor by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. —Christian Podgaysky