CANTON — And the winner is ...
Those words were heard Sunday morning at the Best Western University Inn as the inaugural St. Lawrence International Film Festival wound down on the final day of its four-day run in Canton, Potsdam and across the border in Ottawa and Brockville, Ontario.
During a ceremony hosted by YouTube star and comedian Drew Droege, awards were presented to “Face Value” for Student Film, “Unspoken” for Narrative Short, “The Rat Slayer of Hillside, N.J.” for Documentary Short, “Sucker” for Narrative Feature, “The Sex Temple” for Documentary Feature and “The Preppie Connection” for the Empire State Filmmaker Award.
The competition was tough, according to Mr. Droege and members of the jury who screened the films and selected the winners.
“There were incredible films from across the world,” Mr. Droege said.
“We just want to show the best films in the world. I think we have done that. The awards today represent the best of the best,” said Adam Paul, executive director of the St. Lawrence International Film Festival.
“Face Value” was directed by Sharlene Lee from Clarkson University, Potsdam. Mr. Droege said the competition was open to St. Lawrence University, SUNY Canton, Clarkson University and SUNY Potsdam students. The award was presented by St. Lawrence University.
“St. Lawrence University has been a terrific sponsor of what we’ve been doing. For them to sponsor this student award is wonderful,” Mr. Paul said.
George Zaverdas was the writer/director for “Unspoken,” which was the winner for Narrative Short. The film, which centers on a family at a diner and has very little dialogue, is described as “a glimpse of a family in a moment of tension and crisis, struggling under the weight of a secret.”
“I was lucky to be on the jury. There are so many different genres; it’s ever-changing,” Mr. Droege said.
“The Rat Slayer of Hillside, N.J.,” the winner for Documentary Short, was directed by Andrew Keogh Ruotolo. The film’s Facebook page describes it as a documentary “about the infamous Hillside rat case of 1994,” in which Frank Balun was cited with animal cruelty for “needlessly abusing a rodent” after he trapped and killed a rat that had been eating his prize tomatoes.
Director Johan Palmgren was the Documentary Feature winner for “The Sex Temple,” a story about two businessmen who strike a partnership to open a sex club in the basement of an old theater and stage Moulin-Rouge-style LGBT burlesque shows in the theater — much to the chagrin of the residents of Norrkoping, Sweden.
Presenter Aaron G. Woolf said the film “represented in some ways the highest accomplishment of the craft in documentary filmmaking.”
“I was practically living in the swingers club for a long period of time,” Mr. Palmgren said in accepting the award.
He also thanked the film festival for selecting his documentary to be shown.
“I will spread the word about this fantastic festival,” Mr. Palmgren said.
“Sucker,” written and directed by Ben Chessell, with Lawrence Leung as co-writer, won the award for Narrative Feature. In the film, Chinese-Australian Lawrence disappoints his family by cheating on his math exams and failing to get into medical school. Banished to Melbourne for the summer, he falls in with a new family, a father-daughter con team, and they plot to swindle their way through the top poker game in town.
Joe Kraemer, a member of the jury that screened the films in that category, said all of them were worthy of consideration.
“It was a difficult decision,” he said.
“The Preppie Connection,” which was the Empire State Filmmaker Award winner, was written and directed by Joseph Castelo, with Ashley Rudden as co-writer. This true story follows a New York private school student who ran a drug trafficking ring to make friends with the popular kids in the early ’80s. But Toby, a lower-class scholarship student, find himself in over his head as he delves into the dangerous world of Colombian drug cartels.
The first St. Lawrence International Film Festival, which had a theme of “Beyond Borders,” featured more than 60 screenings of more than 25 features, five shorts programs and live performances in four cities. Films from throughout the world were screened at five different venues.
Bears Fonte, programming director, was responsible for selecting films for this year’s festival. He said some of them came through open submission of films that were on film websites.
“Also, as programming director, my job is to seek out other features or films that have not played,” he said.
There were plenty to choose from, said Mr. Fonte, who watches every film to consider it for the festival.
“There are probably 3,000 festivals in the world. Every tiny town has a festival,” he said.
“Sucker” had played at the Melbourne International Festival, and Mr. Fonte heard about it.
“I said, ‘It sounds great,’” he said.
He said “The Sex Temple” and “Sucker” represent the international flavor of the festival.
“We had four or five Scandinavian films this year. There’s a lot of great stuff happening in Sweden right now,” Mr. Fonte said.
As the final day of the festival wound down, Mr. Fonte said he was pleased with the inaugural effort.
“I think it’s been great. The filmmakers are having a great time. They’re networking and meeting fans,” he said.
It was also an opportunity see some films that others might not have an opportunity to see for a year, he said.
“It’s a chance to see great film on the screen with an audience,” Mr. Fonte said.
Staging a festival of such magnitude was a challenge, but it was successful, Mr. Paul said.
“It was a major undertaking. It certainly exceeded my expectations. As inaugural festival years go, I think we’ve just knocked it out of the park. Our programming this year so far exceeded what we thought was possible. Our attending filmmakers from around the world wowed our audiences with the depth of their work, their passion for their craft and their willingness to share, party and collaborate. Everybody had a great time,” he said.
Mr. Paul, who has produced television shows and movies and directed commercials, said this was his biggest effort to date.
“I had an incredible staff. We put together a festival of dreams,” he said.
He said there are a number of festivals in the region, including Lake Placid and Watertown, but residents embraced the St. Lawrence International Film Festival, which spanned both sides of the border for the first time.
“This was intended to be larger. It’s an expensive undertaking. We’re grateful for the sponsors and attendees. We wanted to make sure we did the sponsors and the visitors right. All the partners and players were so supportive and enthusiastic,” he said. “All of the pieces together make the event. It helps economic development in the region and cross-border traffic.”
Plans already are being formulated for next year, which will see the festival move up on the calendar.
“We’re premiering on Labor Day weekend. We’re moving the timetable up,” Mr. Paul said.
Read the article (and view pictures) on the Watertown Daily Times: http://www.watertowndailytimes.com/news05/filmmakers-honored-during-st-lawrence-international-film-festival-ceremony-20151026?