Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Explorer News Article on Reel Inspiration (Life section)

More than film buffs

Local group Reel Inspiration aims to get everyone involved in movie-making process

November 21, 2007

If you keep waiting for Hollywood to flood the market with inspiring, uplifting films, Jana Segal has a tip: Make your own.

These days, amateur moviemaking requires nothing complicated.

All you need is a cheap video camera, free downloadable editing software and a venue for showcasing your work.

Segal has that last one covered.

Her organization, Reel Inspiration, holds a film festival once every two years to encourage local filmmakers to forget about gore, violence briefly and create short flicks that derive meaning from the world and people’s relationships.

Select films from the 2004 and 2006 contests received a viewing last month at the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council’s fall festival at Riverfront Park. Several of the filmmakers featured have Northwest connections.

“I started the contest to say there’s really an audience if you want to make meaningful films,” Segal said.

But if Reel Inspiration’s reaches seem geographically limited, you’re not seeing the broader picture. Not only does the organization support fledgling filmmakers that sometimes go on to receive wider acclaim, it also inspires ordinary moviegoers to vote with their feet, so to speak. Hollywood puts much stock in opening-weekend ticket sales, so Segal writes reviews of films that move her, and she encourages her organization’s 100 members by e-mail to see the films quickly and tell friends about them.

“All they have to do is forward the reviews,” she said.

Reel Inspiration began in 2003 after Segal, who holds a master’s degree in dramatic writing from Brandeis University, tried to market a screenplay she wrote in Hollywood. The work received praise at conferences in America’s movie capitol, but still, it ended up in a shoebox under her bed.

“I got good comments from people there who wanted to encourage me, but they said the screenplay didn’t have enough edge, and nobody wants to see a movie about old people,’” Segal said.

At the time, the Academy Award-winning movies depressed her, and she suspected such films also were darkening the collective conscious.

“When someone tells you something negative, it sticks with you all day,” she said. “It runs through your mind and becomes part of you.”

Segal believed consumers could consciously affect the success of movies. And if a movie of substance brought in big bucks the first weekend, Hollywood would likely take a chance on a movie again.

In 2005, Reel Inspiration held its first filmmaking conference featuring big names, such as Linda Seger, a top Hollywood writing consultant, and Pamela Jaye Smith, who consults with the big studios about how to incorporate myth into films.

A writers and directors workshop is planned for later this year.

Reel Inspiration’s top awards in its 2004 film festival went to Bill Kersey, who lived in Oro Valley at the time. Kersey’s short film “Solace,” about a man grieving the death of his son, won the audience’s choice award, and the film “Garpenfargle,” a joint project with a fellow University of Arizona student exploring what dogs do when their owners leave, won top honors in the juried category. “Garpenfargle” is what a dog hears when you say, “Stay out of the trash.”

By the time the organization’s film festival arrived, the short film made the rounds to 10 festivals, including ones in Toronto and Los Angeles. It also had earned the distinction of regional finalist for the Student Academy Awards.

Kersey’s prizes involved encounters with well-connected people in the filmmaking world.

“Winning these awards allowed me to put myself in very helpful situations,” he said.

Other films shown at the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council’s fall festival included “Just One Wish” by Warren Lazar, a short piece about a teenage daughter of a single mom whose life changes forever with just one wish.

Segal said she wants to see Reel Inspiration grow to the point at which members are taking an active role and are writing guest reviews. Last week, she posted the first guest review at her blog site,

“If they’re going to preach to me, that’s not what we’re about,” she said. “I want to be moved, and I want to see films that make me think.”
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