Katra Film Series Embraces “New Norm” With Familiar Filmmaker Spirit 2020

by EJ Argenio, NRFTW Contributor and Correspondent

As the clock approached 7pm Eastern Standard Time on Friday May 29th, the Spring Edition of the 2020 Katra Film Series was moments away from kicking off. However, there wasn’t a red carpet nor were there any members of the press. The sound of tickets being scanned and the smell of popcorn were nowhere to be found. Similar to many institutions affected by the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, Katra was tasked with finding an alternate plan for executing the 2020 Spring Edition of their film series. By accepting this challenge, the revered festival would have to do some outside of the theater thinking.

Founded in June of 2012 by award-winning writer, director & producer Geoffrey Guerrero, the Katra Film Series has garnered high praise from filmmakers and critics alike. The international film festival is currently recognized as one of the Top 100 by FilmFreeway as they continue to give emerging filmmakers a platform to present quality short-form and feature content. “There is nothing like seeing your film or web series that you spent countless hours on and shed many blood, sweat & tears for being shown on a big screen,” says Guerrero who also serves as the festival’s executive director. As someone who had their short film screened as part of Katra, I can attest to the satisfaction given to independent filmmakers when they see their film showcased in such a grand fashion. However, like so many already sacrificing during the pandemic, this was not the time for standard convention. The hardworking filmmakers who provided the content of the 2020 Spring Edition of the film series were going to have to make the sacrifice of losing the big screen in order for their films to be seen.

Through the assistance of Footprint.TV, the Katra Film Series was given an online setting to showcase the films selected as part of the 2020 Spring Edition. According to Guerrero, “If it wasn’t for the pandemic, we would have been at the Alamo Drafthouse Theater [Brooklyn, NY].” He would go on to say, “In April, when it became obvious that we couldn’t be in a movie theater, we started researching different platforms and the good people at Footprint were friendly and open to working with us.” This was Katra’s first attempt in having an online festival and there were definitely going to be some obstacles to overcome before going live.

For starters, dependency on technology was going to be higher than usual. Unlike smaller details such as projector operation and adjusting for the needed sound and aspect ratio, there were now concerns of seamless communication with all of the needed parties in their remote quarantined location. “The online series was challenging because you are not dealing with people in real time and communicating virtually is difficult by its very nature. Everyone has different bandwidths and WiFi connections,” Guerrero said at the conclusion of the festival. However despite the uncomfortable new reality festival organizers were faced with, everyone came together for a flawless execution. Geoffrey Guerrero would go on to say, “People understand and are patient with what’s going on. It’s the new world that we live in until we are back in a movie theater.”

Despite these remote hurdles, it was pretty close to business as usual for the Katra Film Series. Films were divided into two blocks, one at 7:00p and the other at 8:30p ET, totaling 18 short films & web series showcased via Footprint.TV on Friday May 29th and Saturday May 30th. Since tickets were not sold, the possible economic loss to Katra was combated with a donate tab available to those watching online. Following the conclusion of each block the traditional discussion with filmmakers was conducted, but this time online with Zoom.

Maintaining the dialogue during the festival is crucial. For many independent filmmakers, one of the perks of having your film as part of any festival is the conversation afterwards. This becomes an opportunity for you to learn and interact amongst your peers. It benefits not only your growth as a professional, but also as an artist on which the future of film is dependent.

Audiences voted for their favorite films following the conclusion of each film block. Upon the festival finale the votes were tallied and awards were announced for the Spring Edition of the 2020 Katra Film Series. The Audience Choice Awards went to two short films. The first was The Flower On The Road about a road trip between two strangers who are forced to spend the night at a roadside motel after their car breaks down, written & directed by Petros Georgiadis. The other went to Le Temps Perdu, a film set in Paris where the merits of falling in love are discussed between a local woman and a male tourist 24 hours prior to him leaving the French city, written & directed by Julian C. Santos.

A pair of Honorable Mentions were also bestowed. The short film Today You, Tomorrow Me written & directed by Chris A. Neal tells the story of a blue-collar worker stranded on the side of the road who receives help from an immigrant family and the comedic web series Joyfully Jaded directed by Dominick Pate, written by Chloe Lapenat & Angelica Toledo. The series follows the antics of two unlikely roommates and their attempts to get rid of an unwanted visitor (a cult leader and his followers). Lapenat & Toledo also star in the series as lead characters Joy and Jade.

While I don’t necessarily disagree with these choices, there was one film that stood out most to me. Quite frankly, I have thought about this one particular film a lot in recent days, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating written and directed by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. This short film, adapted from Bailey’s award-winning nonfiction memoir of the same name, tells the story of a bedridden woman who finds comfort and encouragement in her newfound friend, a tiny snail.

What I found remarkable from this film was how impactful it was despite its simplicity. In filmmaking, and more often in the making of short films, some artists try to do too much. The story is either too complex or there is heavy focus on one department (i.e. camera, art, lighting) rather than the film as a whole. However, in the case of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, there was a sense of balance. A single character with narration (provided by veteran actress Daryl Hannah) and a snail (beautifully filmed by a team of 7 cinematographers) help to make the sum of this film much more than its parts. This is a beautiful story about a woman who found inspiration by observing the habits of a small creature. Sick and unable to move, she saw what the small, staggering efforts of a snail amounted to over time. What doesn’t seem like much of a result now, can and will happen. We may take small steps, but can still travel far. Each symbolic scene echoed with cries for progress, persistence and hope. Coming to this realization is where we find our connection to a film. The message given that might be applicable in your own life. Based on the title alone, I was unsure what to expect. Sometimes you find the grandest prize in the most unexpected of places.

The feeling of uncertainty still lingers as the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) lockdown continues. We are beginning to enter phases of opening up and returning to better days. However, it is still anyone’s guess as to when we will truly taste the sweet nectar of normalcy. For now, we adjust and move onward. In the eyes of founder and executive director Geoffrey Guerrero, “The first ever virtual edition of the Katra Film Series was a success. I’m happy with the diverse and original selections our programming team put together for the special edition.” A success it was and all to the benefit of independent filmmakers and cinephiles everywhere. We don’t know how many virtual editions the Katra Film Series will have in the future, but we now know what to expect and that is continued quality, creativity, and heart. The Katra Film Series remains strong with emerging filmmaker perspective despite the sacrifice of the big screen.

Originally published at https://behindtherabbitproductions.wordpress.com on June 5, 2020.

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