Arts Theatre — 11 November 2013
Putting the spotlight on local filmmakers

By Anna Harris (Courtesy photo)

Alexandria kicks off its annual celebration of the silver screen today, an event featuring filmmakers from around the world.

The festival boasts shorts, documentaries and feature-length productions from as near as Alexandria to as far as India. Cinephiles can expect big things, said event director Pattie North.

“We have over 60 films this year, which is 50 percent more even than last year,” she said. “We have films from around the world, including France, Italy, the U.K. and Brazil. We also have more than 30 premieres.”

Film selection began in May with more than 200 submissions under consideration. A panel screened and rated each film to narrow the list.

Being a part of the process that gets people’s stories heard is thrilling, North said.

“You can enjoy a beautiful painting but rarely is there a work of art that costs someone two or more years of their life, maxing out their credit card to make it happen, involving all their family and friends,” she said. “There’s an enormous passion that goes into filmmaking and is really necessary for it. … It’s really exciting to be a part of making those stories happen and be a part of that passion.”

The festival begins at 7 p.m. today at Old Town Theater and runs through the weekend. For tickets, locations and times, check Alexandria Film Festival’s website at alexandriafilm.org.

And the four-day movie bonanza wouldn’t be complete without a few local entrants, including Alexandria’s “Saturday Night Live” alum, Casey Wilson.

YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN

What’s sweeter than returning home to avenge a stinging childhood defeat? And what’s more rife for hilarity?

T.C. Williams graduate Casey Wilson said she and her co-star, June Diane Raphael, drew on real life — if not a real-life experience — for the 90-minute comedy “Ass Backwards.”

Directed by Chris Nelson, the film follows two women making their way home from New York City for the anniversary of a pageant that the pair lost — abysmally — as children. At stake: a chance to make up for the humiliating defeat.

Wilson and Raphael, who met while attending New York University, co-wrote the screenplay. It’s a reflection of the craziness of their post-college years, Wilson said.

“It’s inspired by a time in our lives,” she said. “We just wanted to make our female buddy comedy.”

Wilson made a name for herself as a former member of “Saturday Night Live” and has written, produced and acted in shows, films and shorts. She loves comedy and independent filmmaking for the freedoms they allow.

“You can say what you want to say without constraints,” Wilson said. “It’s not so big that it’s open to all interpretations.”

While Wilson won’t be following in the footsteps of her on-screen persona — her busy schedule is keeping her away from the film’s Port City debut — her father, Paul Wilson, will be on hand to talk about what it was like raising a budding comic genius.

Casey Wilson is wrapping up filming for “Gone Girl,” directed by David Fincher and based on the novel by Gillian Flynn. The film, which also stars Ben Affleck and Neil Patrick Harris, will come out next year.

In her spare time, she is drafting scripts for two pilots for ABC and NBC.

ROOTED TO THE SPOT

Moviegoers can expect two films from Northern Virginia native Daniel Stine: “Grape” and “The Championship Rounds.”

Of the two, Stine is more talkative about the former. “Grape” is set in rural Virginia and centers on a winemaker struggling with the death of his daughter, Claire, and the sale of his family’s vineyard.

Despite fertile soil, the land has not produced drinkable wine for two generations. The plot takes off when a late-night visitor, played by Stine, interrupts the winemaker’s grief.

The 28-minute film touches on the vineyard’s history and contrasts life before and after the death of the protagonist’s daughter.

“It has a fantastical feel,” said Stine. “It’s a ghost story about a girl who’d been dead for a year. There’s a haunting beauty of showing a vineyard in winter. It’s in stark contrast to Claire, who makes everything look sunny.”

The idea, he said, churned in his head for a while, but the inspiration comes from multiple sources. Small moments, experiences and people meshed to form the basis for “Grape.”

No stranger to the Port City’s celebration of cinema — his short film “God and Vodka” appeared in the 2011 festival — Stine went to high school in Fairfax County and graduated from George Mason University. The filmmaker now lives in Los Angeles, where he pursues his passion through independent productions.

Why independent filmmaking? He says it’s about freedom.

“It’s the same reason college basketball is more fun than the NBA,” Stine said. “The independent thing, from a director’s point of view, is the amount of control. There are a lot of on-set battles between producers and directors you don’t have to go through. And there’s a real sense of building from scratch.”

STRUGGLING WITH EVIL

Alexandria native Claire Ensslin’s “Pedestrian” is anything but.

The 7-minute-long psychological thriller explores the mind of a disturbed man struggling with his urge to prey sexually upon a young girl.
Ensslin labels the production “experimental.” Setting the mood through lighting and music, she eschews dialogue. The stark portrayal of a man’s fight with inner demons lines up with her usually dark and visual-dependent work.

Born in 1990 and raised in Alexandria, Ensslin’s artistry quickly got her noticed. She won awards for television production and photography before graduating from T.C. Williams in 2008. Her acclaim only grew as she pursued a degree in film and video directing from the School of Visual Arts in New York.

In 2009, she met her mentor, filmmaker William Wedig, and worked with him in editing two films: “Forged” and “La Soga.”

Ensslin, who lives in Brooklyn, edits web videos for Sport Illustrated and acts as props master for “Saturday Night Live.”

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