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Film Festival ready for action

Photo courtesy of Carrboro Film Festival

By Susan Dickson
Staff Writer

From the looks of Chapel Hill filmmaker Todd Tinkham’s latest project, you’d think he’s been in the movie-making business for decades.

But Tinkham — whose short film will be shown in the second annual Carrboro Film Festival — has spent most of his life working with at-risk kids and didn’t start making films until a couple of years ago.

“My parents died when I was around 40, and they were great people, but they never lived the life they wanted,” Tinkham said. “They never lived their dreams.”

“I’d always wanted to write and direct films,” he continued. “What was I waiting for?”

In 2005, Tinkham shot his first film. He submitted it to ten festivals and was accepted into all of them.

Eventually, the film played in more than 30 festivals, including the Vienna International Short Film Festival.

“That was so much fun that I decided to keep doing it,” Tinkham said.

Tinkham has now shot 17 short films that have played in more than 200 festivals around the world.

His short film titled Alexa will be shown in the third block of the Carrboro Film Festival on Sunday. [see schedule below].

The film stars 12-year-old Alexa Phillips, a Carrboro resident and a seventh grader at Culbreth Middle School.

In the movie, a young girl swims in a backyard pool on a sunny summer day. The seemingly normal suburban afternoon takes an eerie turn when the cameras follow Alexa underwater, where the pool becomes a pond and she encounters another young girl, played by 12-year-old Anna Allen.

The four-and-a-half-minute film – with sexual undertones and themes of death – is certainly geared toward viewers older than the young actresses.

“I did tell the parents up front that there would be sexual undertones,” Tinkham said. “I think the kids, as actors, understand that this is going to come up sometimes.”

Phillips didn’t seem to mind the film’s creepy elements.

“I thought it was interesting to work with the darker side,” she said. “It wasn’t actually scary to be in it.”

The film was, however, scary for some viewers.

“Honestly, my parents were pretty freaked out when they saw it,” Phillips said. But regarding her acting, she added, “They’re really supportive.”

Tinkham initially wrote Alexa as an experiment while he was shooting underwater scenes for another film.

“It turned out that the experiment was such a good five-minute film that I decided to edit it … and put it out there,” Tinkham said.

He found Phillips and Allen through Movie Makers, a year-round movie-making and acting camp for 6 to 19 year olds. At the end of each Movie Makers session, the students screen their movies, and Tinkham sometimes attends the premieres.

For his next projects, Tinkham’s trying something a little different, with two feature-length films due to come out next summer. One of the features, a horror movie called Ghost Bride, features both Phillips and Allen.

“I’m really excited,” Phillips said, adding that she plans to continue with acting as long as she can.

“It’s a tough business. It’s really tough to get in, and once you’re in it it’s tough,” she said.

“If it’s something I stay passionate about, I’d love to stay involved.”

As for Tinkham, he says he’ll continue to make films, both feature-length and short.

“I can’t say I’m done with shorts,” he said. “Sometimes I get bored and write something and say, ‘Let’s just make it.’”

A regional festival

Although Tinkham didn’t have a film in last year’s festival, he attended the event and was more than impressed.

“Last year when I attended, I was simply amazed at the level of the quality of film,” he said.

The festival — which is sponsored by a number of Carrboro businesses and the Town of Carrboro and coordinated by a committee of volunteers — drew more than 80 submissions this year.

“We will accept films from anywhere and they can be made at any time,” festival committee Chair Nic Beery said. “That’s what I love about this festival – it’s accessible to everyone.”

The festival has only two rules: Films must be no longer than 20 minutes and filmmakers “had to have touched their toe in Orange County,” Beery said. “It’s a regional festival.”

This year’s festival features 27 films, including documentaries, comedies, dramas, social commentaries, music videos and more.

“It’s the real deal,” Beery said, adding that the festival has something for everyone. “If you don’t love a particular film, it’ll be over in 10 minutes. I pretty much guarantee you’ll like more than you don’t.”

Beery, who is a filmmaker himself, said the committee solicited submissions simply by setting up tables at Weaver Street Market and at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.

“We are a grassroots effort,” he said. “Word spreads fast.”

The word spread far too – filmmakers from as far away as Florida and Canada have work in this year’s festival.

Spreading the word and getting community support have been easy, Beery said.

“Carrboro is so cool in promoting the arts,” he said. “The town has been wonderful with helping us put it all together.”

What was difficult, he said, was selecting the films.

“There were a lot of very good films,” Beery said. “It was tough.”

Doors open at the Century Center at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, with a welcome by Beery at 2:05, followed by the first block of films. Tickets are $5 and kids 10 and under get in free.

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