by Anthony Harrison
Billy Ingram, flaunting a cream-colored jacket, black shirt, black pants and a golden curtain rope draped across his shoulders, excitedly led a few stragglers from Gibb’s Hundred Brewing Co. in Greensboro along an uneasy, mud-caked alley off the south end of downtown.
Greensboro isn’t known for having many alleyways, but this one off Elm Street led to the back entrance of what will soon become PB & Java. The rear of the anticipated restaurant features a black-box theater.
Due to weather concerns, the first screening of 16 short films for Barefoot Bijou, a new film festival in Greensboro, debuted at PB & Java instead of outside the Forge makerspace, as originally planned.
It might not have been as “barefoot” as initially hoped, but the first screening of short films left no one disappointed, giving hope to its month-long run ending on June 27.
All films to be shown were either made in state or by North Carolina filmmakers.
Ingram told the story about how Greensboro very nearly became Hollywood, due to the railyard, manufacturing, integration of Jewish business and cheap labor.
“It came down to us and southern California, and they have more sunny days than us,” Ingram said, referring to the fact that old “sound” stages relied on natural light.
Without much further ado, the screening began.
These first shorts ranged from the silly to the serious, features and documentaries, horror and cheese, slapdash to high-brow and from the comedic realism of “The Barbituaries” to the morality play of “Locker 212” and the experimentation of “Icarus Ascending,” produced by everyone from professors to student filmmakers.
Considering the first showing presented 16 films, it’s surprising that most of them were pretty good. Even those which fell somewhat short had their own merits — a good script bolstered shoddy acting or crisp cinematography amplified a blasé slice of life.
“Icarus Ascending” by UNCG professor Michael Frierson opened the event. Frierson, known for a documentary on his father’s role as an informant against the KKK, turned more towards the abstract with this work.
Two women, dressed identically in black with brunette hair pinned in buns, stood superimposed in a shot reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. The score strained as the women danced together, and archival footage of a self-propelled wheel became incorporated with their movements. Soon, the film seemed to fall apart. As the women danced more independently, the score became more and more frantic and discordant, and the archive footage showed the wheel failing miserably, exploding upon itself.
At the end of the short, the room sat silent through the credits until a smattering of appreciative applause accompanied the second short: a documentary about Tate Street.
While charming and informative, featuring interviews from local musicians and Tate Street figures, some interviews were practically intelligible, their audio warbly and muffled, likely due to faulty recording. Better sound editing could have salvaged a promising piece.
The fourth film, Eric Henderson’s “Drawn,” was completed as part of the 48 Hour Film Project, wherein participants complete a film from script to print in two days. It was a miniature psychological thriller featuring an uncanny performance from a young boy who could draw his own realities. The film cribbed the best of David Lynch in its editing and music, and the twist shot shivers down the spine.
Closing the first half of the screening was Maurice Hicks’ “A Letter to My Son,” an impassioned monologue delivered by Crenston Johnson. Venting about the African-American experience in a stark white Oxford shirt, Johnson apologized to his son for everything he would endure.
“I have never been a perfect man, but I ask for forgiveness before you’ve even been born, because I’ve already failed you,” Johnson’s narrator states. “I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.” A tear streams down his face. “I’m sorry.”
Hicks, in attendance, received rave applause from the audience before intermission.
“The Barbituaries,” directed by and starring Ryan Walker, was a highlight, as well as the longest film in the program. Featuring New Wave-inspired framing and quirkiness a la Wes Anderson, “The Barbituaries” follows an obituary writer and hopeful novelist named Wes in his humdrum life around Greensboro — though it could be anywhere. It’s just that the Flatiron, ReCycles, College Hill Sundries and Suds & Duds are such familiar sights that only those in the know realize the town’s character. The script was witty as hell and realistically laid out the worries of a twentysomething, almost-hopeless romantic.
Matt Nunn’s “Locker 212” was a tiny tragedy with immense proportions and gravitas. Two high-schoolers get locked into detention with one another for smoking weed in the bathroom. One, the denim-bedecked bully without a cause, goads the other, a neurotic introvert, into opening up, but with unintended backlash. Jacob Leinbach and Matt Mitchell, the bully and the outcast, both display prodigious talent, and the twist — simultaneously revealing the “bully” to be brighter and more empathetic than originally suspected — speaks volumes to the state of classroom drama in the modern age.
Chris Crutchfield’s “Fait” began on a deceptively weak note. A writer sits on a bench, idling until an eccentric little girl asks what he’s doing. They chat. It’s cute.
But when little Rachel shows off her journal, a world of imagination and poetry in motion opens up to the writer, astonished as the text literally jumps off the page into the real world. The girl’s mother, embarrassed — as if she knows her kid shouldn’t show off to a Muggle — hurries her away, leaving the young man dazed yet inspired.
After the final short ended, everyone filed out happy. The festival had gotten off its feet.
Barefoot Bijou’s future remains to be seen, but for the moment, the festival seems content in celebrating itself and the work of local filmmakers.
“We love the south side of Greensboro,” festival organizer Les Butchart said to the audience before the screening began. “[Barefoot Bijou] is a Southside project… event… mission. Creativity spans all of us, whether you’re an artist or trying to make something in digital media.”
The festival’s next events include outdoor, short-film screenings at the Forge Thursday and June 18 at 8:30 p.m. For more information, find Barefoot Bijou on Facebook.