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‘My Big Fat’ film festival

Veronica Whitney
Film Fest Panel BH 10-4/Sun Photo's
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Could “Manna From Heaven”, one of the six movies shown at the Beaver Creek Film Festival, end up being the next “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, an independent movie that went to gross millions of dollars?

Genny Melliman, who came to the film festival from Denver with a group of 30 and saw the $5-million independent movie on Friday, said, “Yes.”

“Because it had characters that anybody can relate to. It’s universal,” Melliman said Saturday after a panel discussion on independent film making.



One of the most striking aspects of the film festival, presented this weekend by the Vail Symposium and The Toronto international Film Festival’s Film Circuit, was the compelling performances in the feature movies and the short films.

“Manna From Heaven” is a movie made by Five Sisters Productions – formed not only by five Burton sisters but in collaboration with their mother (who wrote the script) and their father, a retired psychology professor who now co-produces his daughters’ movies.



“I was very impressed with the movie,” said Gene Minzer of Vail. “I got the biggest kick out of the cast. It was unique.”

Nine of the main actors had either won Academy and Emmy awards or have been nominees. The cast included Shelley Duvall, Shirley Jones, Cloris Leachman, Louise Fletcher, Frank Gorshin and Wendie Malick.

David vs. Goliath



“Manna From Heaven” cost just $5 million to produce. After one a of screenings in theatres in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C. and other U.S. cities, the indy film has grossed $431,000.

“For an independent film, that’s very good,” said Ursula Burton, a producer and actor in the movie who came to the film festival with her sister, Maria Burton, also an actor-producer-director.

Ursula Burton said she expects to make the $5 million or more once the movie reaches what she calls “other markets.”

“That includes foreign distribution, DVD and the video market, TV and cable,” she said.

The panel discussion Saturday was titled “How do serious, independent filmmakers work around the Hollywood Goliath?” During the talk, Ursula said her family was approached by a studio to produce the movie.

“But they wanted to make some changes that we thought would change the story completely, so we said, “No’,” Ursula said. “It’s very tempting to have money to shoot the movie the way you want, but as an artist you have to tell the stories that you need to tell.”

The Burton family now has three expensive movies ready to go, Ursula said, and they might consider going to a studio.

“In film making there a lot of compromises you have to make,” she said.

One of the main differences between a large studio-produced movie and an independent movie is marketing, said Cam Haynes, the Canadian director of the film circuit.

“Studios can spend about $50 million in marketing a movie while the independent filmmakers might only have a couple thousand,” he said.

Corrina Harney-Jones, a member of the panel who stars in “The Road Home” (also shown Saturday) said people are looking for something better in movies.

“We’re like David against Goliath, but it’s not impossible to make these movies, because people want to see them,” she said.

Local film festival

Ebby Pinson, president of the Vail Symposium, said she agrees with what Cam Haynes said at Saturday’s panel discussion.

“Film is a cultural voice,” she said. “And it brings the community together.”

And for a reasonable price – $8 – compared to other events in the valley.

This year’s festival, which cost $15,000, was an upgrade from last year’s “The Best of The Telluride Festival”, also organized by the Vail Symposium.

This year Beaver Creek merchants and the Beaver Creek Resort Company pitched in more than $20,000 to buy a 35-mm projector, which made the festival possible.

Another positive aspect of the festival is that Steve Lindstrom, the owner of the movie theatres in the valley, has expressed interest in showing some of the independent movies.

Haynes has worked hard over the past years to make independent movies accessible to audiences in big cities and small towns. His film circuit in Canada now reaches 120 communities and about 320,000 have seen one of the movies he selects.

“Most independent movies don’t get to U.S. screens,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the Hollywood model. But we should still let the people know these movies are out there. A film like “Marion Bridge,’ an excellent film has only been shown in 10 theatres in the U.S.”

“Marion Bridge” was also shown at Beaver Creek” Saturday.

For David Weaver, director of “Moon Palace”, a short film shown Saturday, independent movies have to be made with a great deal of passion.

“From the very start you are going against that monolith that Hollywood is,” he said. “But because it’s hard, there’s a very heartfelt feeling.”

Haynes advice to the independent directors is straightforward: “Make a good movie and it will be shown.”

“After watching 300 films a year,” he added, “you say, “Hit me with something different.'”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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