December 22, 2015
Rack Focus Dallas, the short film competition sponsored by La Luna Entertainment, is the brain child of Dallas entertainment executive Israel Luna. He created the contest to spur more local filmmakers to actually start creating more of their own works.
“I always heard ‘there’s no work here from directors, producers, actors, etc’. So, I decided to create a competition to get people motivated and creative again,” Luna told me through FaceBook (the marvels of technology).
His plan seems to be working, as this round’s crop of films grew from 9 to 21 since Round 1, a rapid pace of growth which surprised even Luna. I’m told the quality of films improved drastically from Round 1 to Round 2 as well, though I can’t say for sure since I wasn’t there. However, I can honestly say the films presented were, at times, on par with many other shorts I’ve seen and could easily be submitted to other film festivals and competitions.
Each day had its share of standouts, but the overall quality of Day 1 felt more crisp and engaging. Subject and genre ranged from Horror/Thriller to Drama to Action/Comedy. The greatest audience reaction came for “Clubber’s Heroes,” a documentary short about a clubhouse for special needs adults. “Face /2 Face,” a thriller, tested the loyalty between a teenage girl and her boyfriend, “Coda,” a romance-drama featuring two songwriters beginning to find their connection through music, “The Caravan,” a post apocalyptic drama focused on a man’s grief over lost love, “Hand Covers Bruise,” a silent film shot in black and white with splashes of color witnessed the tragedy of drug addiction, and “Cyberdancing,” the night’s most risqué film offering, touched on cyber-dating culture and self worth. The evening’s final film, “Last Kill,” capped the festivities with a hilarious take on action based hit man films.”
Day 2 had its share of standouts as well, with “Sleeping Dog” tackling serial killers, “Still Life” addressing teen depression, “A Walk in the Park” paying respect to the elderly, and “Kumar and Jen Go to Dinner,” showing us a view of cultural racism up close and personal. The lone family film, “Across the Stars,” added a touch of fantasy to the proceedings, “Underground Under 10” demonstrated the corruption at the heart of illegal gambling and fight clubs, and “This is Not a Test” channeled an apocalyptic vision with shades of “The Manchurian Candidate.”
Several actors and filmmakers got involved in more than one project, with Michael Green submitting two films of his own, “Marius, What If?” and “Underground Under 10” and duo Saraphina Nova and Mark Glass submitting, “Cyberdancing” and “Heartbroken in Houston.” Actor and graphics designer Shannon Houk holds the record, having acted in or helped in production for four separate films.
The Rack Focus entry process begins with a pitch session, during which prospective filmmakers have two minutes to pitch their ideas to a panel. Those chosen spend the next 3 months creating their films and polishing them for the contest. This step is an important component of Rack Focus’ competitive and motivational spirit. The rules maintain contestants should only work on their films during this time frame, though there don’t seem to be any substantive ways to verify that they follow this rule. When I spoke with Luna regarding this issue, he stated that “other filmmakers would (be) on the lookout,” (my add) for those who stepped outside the boundaries. Though this system is honorable, in an industry that depends so heavily on networking I find it hard to believe filmmakers would essentially “snitch” on each other.
All films which are submitted on time and are under ten minutes in length screen for audiences at the Rack Focus Film Showcase, such as the one held this past week at the Granada Theater on Greenville Ave. While the showcase is open to the public, most of the attendees for Round 2 either had a film in the competition or were connected in some way to the Dallas filmmaking community. All this made for an eclectic group of creative talents ranging from actors to producers, directors, and screenwriters with the odd (in its truest sense) reporter hanging about. Each film and each actor in each film is eligible for awards, voted on by judges and the audiences, given out at the end of the showcase.
The whole night is a mix of “American Idol” meets “The Golden Globes” as each filmmaker receives a critique from the three competition judges. Round 2 a distinguished trio of veteran actors and acting coaches, including Allyn Carrell, Cathryn Hartt, and Jim Dolan. These critiques act as mini workshops on filmmaking and storytelling for both the filmmakers and the audience. All the while, drinks flow.
Balloting for this round was done using paper ballots, which were handed out at the beginning of each night’s festivities. Audience members had the option of voting on the first night or the second night, which became problematic and left open the possibility of “ballot stuffing” at the event. While this is troubling for the integrity of the first two rounds, I don’t think this decision came from ill intent so much as simply a few “rookie mistakes” on the part of event organizers and Luna himself. Luna admitted that “It’s all about learning and I’m learning a ton!” Haha. Like everyone else at Rack Focus, there exists a real sense of collaboration and self reflection which should lead to the event getting better and better over time. Everyone has a learning curve.
Nevertheless, few had any problems with the winning films and actors, since these clearly stood out for a variety of reasons. The night’s big winner was “The Caravan,” which brought home Best Film, Best Actor for lead Joshua Briscoe and Best Supporting Actor for Chance Gibbs. “Hand Covers Bruise” was named both 2nd Best Film and “Outside the Box” for its innovative use of silent film. “The Sleeping Dog” took both “Critic’s Choice” and 3rd Best Film. Laurel Whitsett won Best Actress for her portrayal of the lonely woman, Jenny, in “Cyberdancing.” Best Supporting Actress went to Staci Davis of “Coda.”
Rack Focus Round 3 kicks off with its pitch session/mixer on a date and time coming soon.
I also have a short audio interview with one of the filmmakers, Michelle Neat, whose film won “Outside the Box” and 2nd Best Film. You can hear that below.
For more information, please visit the Official Website