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Want to be in pictures? Geneva Film Festival pros dish advice

GENEVA - Some day, Freddie Lee wants to make movies.

And that was why Lee, of Elburn, found himself seated in a repurposed dance studio, listening with rapt attention for about two hours to the musings of seven more seasoned filmmakers, whose work was featured during the Geneva Film Festival.

"Honestly, I had never heard of the Geneva Film Festival until about two weeks ago," said Lee, a student at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove. "But when I did, I thought, this could be a really good fit for me, since making films is what I'm really interested in."

Now in its sixth year, the Geneva Film Festival has grown to include more than two dozen independent films chosen from among more than 100 films submitted by filmmakers from about 20 different countries, said Scott Rolf, the Geneva festival's executive director.

Selections included animated, narrative and documentary short films, as well as feature-length documentaries and original screenplays.

"And among those we selected, about 13 or 14 countries are represented," said Rolf. "It's been really great to see."

The festival is expected to draw crowds of more than 500 people again this year, Rolf said.

The festival began screening films on the evening of Thursday, March 28. Screenings continued until about 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 30.

Saturday morning, the organizers of the Geneva Film Festival took a break from the screenings for a filmmakers' roundtable discussion, offering aspiring filmmakers, like Lee, or those who were merely curious, the chance to pick the brains of some of the men and women who directed and produced the festival's various films.

The filmmakers at the table included Santosh Davakhar, director of the short film, "Party;" Frank Merle, director of the original feature film, "The Employer;" AnnMarie Parker, producer and owner of Naperville-based Nickel A Day Films; Ryan Oliver, director of the short film, "Air Conditions;" Ethan Bensinger, director of the documentary, "Refuge: Stories of the Selfhelp Home;" Elena Talan, writer, actor and producer of the short film, "Paper;" and Rafael Garcia, director of the documentary, "Mayan Blue."

The filmmakers said submitting films to be screened at local film festivals, like Geneva's, is important for developing careers in film.

Garcia noted that participating in a film festival, and receiving recognitions or awards, lends "credibility" to independent films.

"Those little laurels you get automatically put the idea in the minds of the attendees that this is legitimate, because it communicates that this film has been vetted by a group of people who know a bit about films," Garcia said.

"But any time you can get people in front of your work, to see it, and to judge it, it's important," he said.

Merle noted that the Geneva festival helped to launch his career, as his first film was screened and recognized at the 2007 festival.

His latest film, which was screened in Geneva Saturday, features the acting of Malcolm McDowell, who has appeared in various television series and Hollywood films dating back to the 1960s.

"For independent filmmakers like me, festivals are the theatrical release," Merle said.

The filmmakers also offered practical advice and encouragement to those in attendance, giving them tips on dealing with government bureaucracy, cinematography, stage direction, and working with actors and other talent.

Lee said he intended to incorporate a number of the suggestions into his future work.

"To hear what they all had to say, was really, really helpful," he said. "I learned a lot."

Merle, for instance, encouraged the filmmakers to learn as much as they can about every aspect of making movies.

And Parker encouraged young filmmakers to begin assembling a quality team.

"You can't play all the roles," she said. "If you want a really good film, you have to find a good team."

However, she said, that task should not daunt any would-be filmmaker.

"You should watch those who have done this, learn from them as much as you can," Parker said. "But then, you just have to do it yourself.

"Don't think for a minute that your film, the one you have inside of you, is unobtainable."


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