Filmmakers come together in Eau Claire for inaugural festival

More than 45 films screened this past weekend, either at The Oxbow or the Downtown Micon Theatre

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Photo by Kar Wei Cheng

Chris Herriges and Dan Coffeen, the co-directors of the Eau Claire World Film Festival, screened more than 45 films this past weekend.

The popcorn started popping, the lights dimmed and the wheels on the film started turning. A voice whispered, “Enjoy the show,” and soon enough, the opening credits flashed before audience members’ eyes.

The Eau Claire World Film Festival, co-directed by Chris Herriges and Dan Coffeen, showed more than 45 films this past weekend, with the majority of the shows on Saturday. The festival showcased short films, which comprised more than half of the total films screened.

One short documentary entered into the festival, “This Day,” directed by Robyn Di Giacinto and Eric Robinson, took viewers into some of the protests surrounding President Trump’s inauguration. Robinson, a recent graduate of George Washington University, said it was his first film made outside of school.

“It’s nice being in a small film festival because there’s almost an intimacy to it,” Robinson said. “It’s small enough that you’re meeting people pretty easily but it’s not so big that it’s a swarm or you have trouble meeting and talking to people.”

Herriges said the festival received more than 100 submissions. Of those, they decided to show 48. To attract filmmakers, Herrings said the Oaxaca Film Festival in Mexico gave them their email list, containing 5,400 names. Although many filmmakers replied to the emails asking to be removed from the list, Herriges credits Oaxaca for their list of filmmakers and FilmFreeway, an online directory for film festivals around the world.

The weekend showcased films from multiple countries, including the United Kingdom, India, Australia, Russia, Austria, Ireland, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, France and Angola in western Africa, among others. Herriges also decided to screen regional films, including ones from Milwaukee, Madison and Appleton, Wisconsin.

In order for films to be selected, Herriges said they looked at production values and storylines.

“If the story’s strong enough, you can forgive other things, like maybe the sound isn’t perfect in a place or something like that,” Herriges said. “All in all, they had to be pretty solid in terms of story production.”

Throughout Saturday’s showings, a steady crowd gathered at the Downtown Micon Theatre. A range of 30 to 40 people viewed the films and some of them stayed to discuss them afterward in the theatre lobby.

Matt Johanning, the filmmaker for “Amereki Kum, Escape from Dubai,” made a film about his uncle Ted who ended up being held in jail for five years because of his misfortunate encounters in business.

Although Ted became a citizen of the United States, he was born in the Netherlands and made his escape by constructing a wooden crate which flew to the Netherlands and back to his family in the U.S.

“I was really able to make this because there is a high level of trust you know, we’re all in the same family,” Johanning said. “Early in the movie where you saw the home movies of him with the little kids, I was one of those little kids.”

Johanning reigns from Madison and showcased films in the Wisconsin Film Festival there before coming to Eau Claire.

“The quality of the film that I have seen here is really excellent,” Johanning said. “I’m really proud to be in the company of the other work that I’ve seen here today.”

On Saturday night, the festival invited in David Burton Morris, a celebrated filmmaker who won the Sundance Film Festival to screen “Patti Rocks,” a sequel to “Loose Ends,” with the same characters taking place 12 years after the original.

After the film, Morris and his wife Victoria Wozniak took part in a question-and-answer session with Brian Lambert about the film industry and their success.

“There are so many avenues out there to show it (film),” Wozniak said. “It’s a huge beast that needs to be fed and there’s a lot of stuff going all the time.”

Herriges said they hope to continue the film festival in future years and is thankful it turned out well. More information on the films included at the festival can be found on their website.