By MIKE CHAIKEN
The underground of cinema is opening up in Connecticut this Saturday.
And locally-generated filmmakers are making some noise.
Meriden-based Jared Marmitt, Middletown-based Kelly DiMauro, New Haven-based Stephen Dest, and Woodbury native Kieran Valla (currently in California) are among the underground filmmakers showcasing their work at the New England Underground Film Festival to be held Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. at the University of Hartford.
Jared will be showing “Common Misconception.” Kelly will be showing “Protector of the Kingdom.” Stephen will be showing “My Brother Jack.” And Kieran is represented with “Hangdog.”
What exactly do filmmakers mean when they say they are “underground?”
Jared explained in an email interview, “Underground films may not be mainstream or high budget. But, like many indie films, I think that they can be just as good or even better, and they show a more unique, personal point of view.”
“I feel the term ‘underground filmmaking’ can be interpreted in a multitude of ways,” said Kieran via email. “My best definition would be anything that is of a non-traditional nature. Whether that means in the way it’s made or the actual content itself.”
“An underground film is often defined as being against the mainstream,” said Stephen in an emailed interview, “but it’s a term that in many ways doesn’t apply all that much anymore, with all the creative filmmakers out there and more importantly creative audiences that are looking for something ‘different.’ But in one very important regard the term ‘underground’ still holds very true today and that is in (terms of limited) finances/ budget.”
Kelly said, “I would define an ‘underground’ film as a film that does not reflect the technical values that say a medium or large budget film might reflect. Not that it doesn’t strive for those values. But realistically, it cannot achieve those heights. On the other hand, from a story telling perspective, an underground film can be just as relevant socially, politically, and emotionally as any film out there.
The filmmakers were asked, given their own definition of an “underground” film to explain how their own work reflects that term.
“(In) the case of ‘Protector Of The Kingdom,’ there was no budget,” said Kelly. “There was virtually no ‘crew’ to speak of. There was no formal lighting and sound. Aside from the editing facilities, it was a raw production.”
The small budget also helps define his own work as underground, added Stephen.
“It was shot locally with a small crew,” said Jared, “without big budgets or Hollywood influences. Everyone who was involved is a friend of mine.”
Kieran said, “I think my film would fit this definition in the sense that the content is polarizing. It doesn’t have a ‘traditional ending.’”
For two of the filmmakers, being raised in Connecticut, had an influence on his filmmaking either by inspiring content or by providing the machinery to make it happen. For another, the state had less of an impact.
“I think Connecticut has influenced me as a filmmaker in a variety of ways,” said Kieran. “My subject matter is often inspired by people I grew up with or interacted with while living in Connecticut and the backdrops of my films are generally set in rural areas that match the landscape I was raised in. Also, the social dichotomy of the community I grew up in is represented in many of my films.”
“Connecticut also provided a wonderful place to let my imagination flourish,” continued Kieran. “I grew up on 18 acres of land where I could run around and play make-believe all day long. There wasn’t a lot going on so I had to make up stories.”
Stephen’s presence in Connecticut also provided the structural support for his effort. “From the very beginning, in the early stages of pre-production, I got the state and more importantly for me, the city of New Haven involved. Reaching to local businesses and media, I was able to build a strong support group for the film, hosting events (kickstarter launches, art exhibits, concerts) that all linked to the film. This is something I don’t think I would have been able to do in a larger city. I was even awarded ‘Artist of the Year’ by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. So needless to say the city and the community certainly help foster the making of my film.”
However, Kelly said, “I am still developing my approach to film making. And I am not sure that my approach would be any different if I was working in any other part of the country.”
Like Stephen, Kelly explained, “All of the resources that are at my disposal for film making are rooted here in Connecticut. I am primarily a stage actor/director/producer. And the pool of talent and expertise that are at my disposal come from that background.”
“That being said, both Caroline V. McGraw (the screenwriter) and Mariah Sage (Rini, in ‘Protector”) are from Cleveland originally (just coincidentally). But their ties to Connecticut are strong. Caroline is a Yale graduate, having just competed her master’s in playwriting and has taught playwriting at Wesleyan University. And Mariah is a theater educator in Connecticut, having taught at Hartford Stage Company (where I met her), Fairfield University. and as a freelance acting and performance coach. She is also a founding member of Theatre 4 of New Haven… Our editor, Colin Stevenson, is a Connecticut native and has now edited two of my films. The company he worked for at the time the editing was done, Anderson Productions, is based out of Bristol, and provides a lot of the editing work for ESPN.”
Just like many industries, the rise of the internet has had its impact on the film business… for good and bad. YouTube and other streaming video services have changed how films are consumed. The filmmakers if the changes have had an impact on them.
“Video outlet sources like YouTube or Vimeo… are great for filmmakers like me,” said Jared. “Its an easy platform to release our work. In most cases, it’s our only option to get our work known without the tremendous amount of capital needed for a DVD release.”
“If anything it has solidified my approach towards filmmaking,” said Stephen. “Tell a good story and let the world know about it.
Kieran, however, was less enthused. “It has obviously changed the way people see content for better and for worse. More access, less theatrical distribution. You lose that amazing feeling of seeing movies together. You lose a certain sense of wonder that you get in the cinema.”
“But a good story will always be a good story,” said Kieran. Also there are more careers geared towards producing online content and fewer careers in making cinema. Many indie film directors now make web content to supplement their income.”
“To be honest,” said Kelly, “(the new technology) has been somewhat disappointing. Oh, I guess that the internet affords me the ability as a filmmaker to reach a larger demographic and increase the audience base that might be interested in my work. And there is the convenience of timely access to films that I may want to see at any given moment.”
“But I am also finding that the films I grew up on— and truly love to watch over and over again— are almost completely inaccessible in the world of streaming on-line access,” said Kelly. “I mean, I haven’t been able to find ‘The Sand Pebbles,’ one of my all-time favorites, since the demise of the video store industry.
“Finally,” explained Kelly. “there is nothing like watching a movie on the big screen, in a big theater, with all of the whistles and bells that come with a theater (ambiance, popcorn, crowds and their reactions, etc.). I guess maybe I’m an old school traditionalist when it comes to performance, whether it is on screen or on stage.”
“And I must say that I am so looking forward to sitting in the Wilde Auditorium at The University of Hartford, in the dark, with my peers and watching the light from ‘Protector Of The Kingdom’ fill the screen for their enjoyment … and criticism,” said Kelly.
The Wilde Auditorium is one of the reasons why the New England Underground Film Festival is back for another year. Its previous venue in Hartford shuttered earlier this year, leaving the festival without a location.
“Rather than cancel the event, I did a quick search and was able to secure the Wilde Auditorium at the University of Hartford’s Gray Conference Center – it is a handsome venue and I am happy that our festival has its new home in this setting,” said Phil Hall, the festival’s organizer.
With the roadblock to the festival’s return, why was it important for Hall to ensure “the show goes on?”
“Underground cinema represents both a pool for new talent and an ocean for iconoclastic considerations of what filmmaking should represent,” said Hall. “If you want shoot-’em-ups and vulgar slapstick, the multiplex can keep you busy. But if you want films that challenge and provoke your intellect, and which dare to look and sound different from the Hollywood cookie cutter machinery, then this event is for you.”
The filmmakers agree the festival is important for the region.
Kieran said, “Connecticut needs something like this festival because Nutmeggers are wonderful patrons of the arts. There’s no better way for people to come together than sitting in a theater watching films together and discussing them afterwards.”
“Film festivals play a vital part in the growth and awareness of independent films,” said Stephen. “Without ‘marquee’ names above and below the line, it’s an extremely difficult process getting your film seen and for that matter even taken seriously. Film festivals help with all of that. But honestly, the most important reason to have film festivals here in Connecticut and elsewhere is to provide the storytellers with an audience.”
“A few years ago, Connecticut offered huge tax incentives for film makers to make their films here,” said Kelly. “That generated a lot of activity in the industry within the Connecticut borders and more and more film artists began producing films here. It would only be fitting for those films to have a local outlet for screening.”
The New England Underground Film Festival will be held Saturday, Oct. 5 at the Wilde Auditorium in the University of Hartford’s Gray Conference Center, 200 Bloomfield Ave, West Hartford from noon to 6. General admission is $10 and students with school ID can pay $5.
The full festival schedule is online at newenglanduff.webs.com.
By MIKE CHAIKEN