By Steve Kindred
September 4, 2010
There's no need to book a ticket to Cannes, Venice or Toronto to see some of the best movies made by independent filmmakers. There will be 170 films, many of them never seen before, screened at the Burbank International Film Festival from Sept. 10 to 19.
Some of this year's participants are new to the industry. Others, like Burbank resident Mark Kirkland, have been seen on credit rolls for years — in Kirkland's case, as director of 65 episodes of TV's "The Simpsons." He has two entries. The first is something right up his alley, a two-minute animated short, "Animal Crackers," shot 32 years ago when the now-53-year-old Kirkland was a student at Cal Arts, and recently restored for a festival in Brazil.
Kirkland's live action product," A Letter from Home," chronicles the fate of members of the Greatest Generation who fought against Hitler's soldiers in Europe. As was the case with the 1965 film "Battle of the Bulge" starring Henry Fonda and Telly Savalas, the 10-minute long "Home" was shot at a snowy Big Bear. The script was inspired in part by the true life story of Kirkland's stepfather, Omer D. "Whit" Whitwell, leader of a rifle platoon in Europe, whose bravery earned him three Purple Hearts and two Silver Star medals for valor.
"Whit was a hard-working executive who appeared to be an average American everyman, except he was missing his right ring finger and when he took his shirt off, deep scars were visible—evidence of his combat wounds," Kirkland said. "His unit showed what mankind could do when everyone works together. I believe that a thousand years from now, people will look back at both world wars as moments when history changed because of the way these (allied) soldiers contributed and sacrificed. They had to grow up fast."
Striving for as much authenticity as possible, Kirkland shot "Home" on a 60-year-old, 35 mm Éclair camera. In one scene, his star, Brenan Fleming, wore a turtleneck emblazoned with a Red Cross label, which had been worn by an actual veteran who fought the Nazis. Kirkland's wife produced the film, which will be shown Sept. 15 at the AMC Town Center 6 in Burbank.
The festival is also a showcase for Internet videographers hoping to make it to the big time. One example is "We are the Punky Pets" — animated animal musicians from around the world competing in a Battle of the Bands in hopes of receiving a recording contract from one of the major labels. It's the brainchild of Glendale resident Charles Unger, 42, and his wife Paula, 39.
The film won top prizes at festivals in Canada and Hawaii. Three webisodes have garnered a sizeable following online, and the Ungers are already hard at work developing marketing tie-ins for the Punky Pets, including a line of toys and accessories. They hope the Burbank International Film Festival will be a launching pad for a series on network television. Charles Unger says the underlying theme of each program is unity through music.
"We think it's flashy, fun and great entertainment," he said. "Eight animated characters from around the world, jamming, We saw it as a breath of fresh air. Whenever you come from a unique place like this, you're going to stand out in some degree."
The Ungers' entry will be shown Sept. 16 at the AMC Town Center 6 in Burbank.
The festival costs $100,000, with no paid staff. Not even the Executive Producer Bobby Whitell is paid. He was determined to expand to multiple sites, abandoning last year's venue, Woodbury University, which was too far from any Hollywood-style amenities, last year's participants told him.
"The filmmakers wanted to have dinner, or get a drink at the local watering hole," Whitell said. "Based on the input we received from them, we moved it downtown."
The changes made it possible to screen 95 more films this year, and capture the flavor of the San Fernando Valley as well, he said.
"We wanted it to be a truly international gathering, with participants from as far away as Germany and Japan, but we also know that the Valley, and Burbank in particular, are integral parts of the motion picture industry," he said.
What: The Burbank International Film Festival
When: Sept. 10 to 19
Where: Screenings and seminars at AMC Town Center 6, Burbank High School, Video Symphony School of TV, Film and Audio, and Barney's Beanery in Burbank.
Tickets: Individual events vary; all festival events: $250; daily passes: $60
Contact: email@example.com or call (818) 861-7270.