Go Big or Go Home

The Growth of Indie Grits
By Free Times
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Indie Grits has been named one of the Top 20 Coolest Film Festivals in the World by MovieMaker magazine.

Hip-Hop Family Day
Slow Food, Take It Easy

If you’re not growing, you’re dying.

That’s one key piece of advice that Andy Smith, director of the Nickelodeon Theatre, has taken from the theatre’s experience working with the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. As the Main Street art-house theater has completed its move downtown and expanded its budget, staff and programming in the past few years, it has worked with the DeVos Institute to help develop its strategic plan.

Another key piece of advice from the institute: Focus on Indie Grits, the independent film and culture festival the Nick launched in 2007. This year’s festival runs from April 11-20.

“They think it’s really ready to explode,” Smith says. “They see a lot of potential to grow it.”

The festival is already growing. Last year, attendance was approximately 8,000; the year before, it was 6,000. In its first years, it attracted just a fraction of those numbers.

Indie Grits has continued to expand for two main reasons: (1) its reputation is getting better and better in the film community, and (2) each year, it reaches out to new areas beyond traditional filmmaking.

As for attracting filmmakers, it doesn’t hurt that Indie Grits has been named one of the Top 20 Coolest Film Festivals in the World by MovieMaker magazine. But just as important has been direct outreach to the film community, an effort that got a big boost this year with the addition of photographer, filmmaker and multimedia artist Seth Gadsden as co-director. Gadsden’s outreach efforts boosted the number of film submissions this year to 300, up substantially from previous years; 64 films will be shown, 60 of them as part of the festival’s competition.

Part of the message Gadsden preached: “We’re a festival that cares about them,” Smith says.

That message is getting through. In addition to the increase in submissions, 40 filmmakers are scheduled to attend and several even considered Indie Grits as a vehicle for national premieres of their films. Those premiere plans didn’t pan out for this year, but Gadsden says the festival learned a lot through those discussions that will help make Indie Grits a place for films to debut in years to come.

The other aspect of Indie Grits that has fueled its steady growth has been the addition of such elements as the Slow Food sustainable chefs showcase, the Spork in Hand puppet slam, Kindie Grits events for kids and Hip-Hop Family Day. The festival has been able to add these new elements in large part by collaborating with outside partners.

This year, the growth continues. Among the expanded offerings: major music acts, with Of Montreal and Slick Rick; Indie Bits, which focuses on gaming and interactive media; the Weekly Revue, an eclectic variety show hosted by Toby David and co-produced with Court 13, the production company responsible for Beasts of the Southern Wild; and an artist-in-residence, Amanda Cassingham-Bardwell, who will pop up in various downtown locations as well as build an installation piece in the One Columbia office on Taylor Street.

Indie Bits in particular is part of a conscious decision to embrace the evolving areas between traditional genres.

“That line between visual arts and media arts is really blurring,” Smith says. Visual artists, filmmakers and web developers often find themselves working in similar spaces now.

“The gaming world is bleeding into film,” Gadsden says. When you talk about “‘choose your own adventure’ films,” he says, they’re not really just games anymore.

It all fits into something Smith has tried to do all along — grow the festival organically in ways that make sense.

“We now recognize how these different pieces of Southern culture overlap,” he says.

“We don’t want to be South by Southwest,” Gadsden adds. “We are our own thing. We are defining ourselves.”

As the festival enters its eighth year, it’s poised for even more success. And with the addition of Gadsden to the organizational process, Smith sees it as a fundamentally transformational time.

“He’s really been the strategic force behind it this year,” Smith says. “And it’s time for new energy behind it.”

But as Smith steps back from being the dominant force of the festival, there’s one part he’ll never let go:
“This is the week of the year when I try to make the city I want to live in,” Smith says.  — Dan Cook

Following are highlights of the 2014 Indie Grits festival. For a complete festival schedule and ticket information, see indiegrits.com.

Friday, April 11

Opening Night Party
Nickelodeon Back Parking Lot: 6-11 p.m.
Admission: Free
The Nickelodeon throws down with a free party in its back parking lot. (Access through the alley between Mast General and the parking garage on Taylor Street or the alley beside the $2.50 Dry Cleaners on the 1600 block of Main Street.)
On tap: Live music from Rachel Kate; beer from The Whig; food from Wurst Wagen, Bourbon and the Village Idiot; live screen printing from Girls Rock Columbia, and much more. There will be tables and chairs set up, and this is a kid-friendly event — so try to limit your F-bombs if there’s a 6-year-old running around near you. — Dan Cook

Saturday, April 12

Kindie Grits
Richland Library: 10 a.m.-noon
Admission: Free
A funny thing happened on the way to creating a kick-ass independent film and culture festival: Organizers realized that hipsters have kids, too. In this program at the library’s Teen Center, kids will explore basics of creating a simple video game.  — Dan Cook

Spork in Hand Puppet Slam

Spork in Hand Puppet Slam
Nickelodeon Theatre: 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Admission: $10
OK, folks: Just because it has the word “puppet” in it doesn’t mean this is a show for the kids. In fact, this is most definitely an adults-only event. Local band Can’t Kids provides a live soundtrack to an evening of offbeat, irreverent and experimental puppetry organized by Columbia’s Belle et Bete duo of Lyon Hill and Kimi Maeda. As for the kids, take ‘em to Kindie Grits, Hip-Hop Family Day or the opening night party instead. — Dan Cook

Sunday, April 13

Slow Food
711 Whaley Street: 3-6 p.m.
Admission: $20 ($15 for Nickelodeon and Slow Food USA members)
“Slow food” ... as in, the opposite of fast food, meaning it’s grown locally and prepared lovingly by people you know and trust. Read all about it on page 18. — Dan Cook

Spork in Hand Puppet Slam
Nickelodeon Theatre: 7 p.m.
Admission: $10

Monday, April 14

The Great Flood
Nickelodeon Theatre: 3:30 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 for members, $5 for students (at door)
Remember after Hurricane Katrina when President George W. Bush praised FEMA Director Michael Brown by saying, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job”? Actually, Brown wasn’t doing a heck of a job — but it was arguably better than the government response to the Mississippi River Flood of 1927, which covered a mind-blowing 27,000 square miles of land in water, an area roughly equal to the size of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont combined. The Great Flood is directed by Bill Morrison, includes footage from USC’s Moving Image Research Collection and features a soundtrack by experimental guitarist and composer Bill Frisell. — Dan Cook

Strength and Beauty
Nickelodeon Theatre: 7 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 for members, $5 for students (at door)
This documentary feature explores the lives of three ballerinas from the North Carolina Dance Theatre, allowing them room to react to stereotypes about their profession and to demonstrate that — along with all the twirling and outlandish outfits — they’re also real and complex people with real and complex lives that will continue long after they hang up their slippers. — Jordan Lawrence

Tuesday, April 15

Indie Bits
Nickelodeon Theatre and Agape Conference Center: Noon-1 a.m.
Admission: $10 ($8 for members)
A festival within a festival, Indie Bits is daylong celebration of the vibrant culture surrounding video games and their creation. The centerpiece is a judged competition, which accepts submissions from developers across the Southeast, holding them to the same lofty standards that Indie Grits’ curators use to judge each year’s slate of films. But the organizers aren’t hoarding the games for their own pleasure. Each submission will be available to play all day, so bring some Slim Jim and Mountain Dew.

But there’s a lot more going on than just the games showcase. This is a film festival after all, and there will be movie components — a presentation of footage from the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections, a screening of the ‘80s cult classic War Games — to satisfy anyone not looking to get too interactive.

And for those who think one room of all-day gaming just isn’t enough, pop by the Indie Bits Arcade — aka the Nickelodeon’s plush screening room hooked up to play a variety of games on that wonderfully big screen. As with many of the festival’s special events, there’s a musical tie-in here, as well, with cheerfully nerdy rapper Tribe One and emotive electro-pop crew We Roll Like Madmen providing a live soundtrack.

If that weren’t enough, there’s also a workshop to teach novices to plan their own games, which is a good thing, as all the fun is certain to make a few people hungry to break into the business. — Jordan Lawrence

40 Years Later: Now Can We Talk?
USC’s Wardlaw Hall: 4:30 p.m.
Admission: Free
To explore the effects of desegregation in the Mississippi Delta, documentary filmmaker Markie Hancock talked to black and white high school graduates from the class of 1969 in Batesville, Miss.; also includes archival footage, interviews with contemporary students and more. Hancock and producer Lee Ann Bell, a professor of education, will discuss the film after the screening. — Dan Cook

Wednesday, April 16

Big Significant Things
Nickelodeon Theatre: 3 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 for members, $5 for students (at door)
Big and significant things are happening in the life of 26-year-old Craig, who’s staring down a move to San Francisco and increased commitment to his girlfriend. Instead of following the path in front of him, he makes an excuse and hits the road, searching for big significant things: the world’s largest rocking chair, the world’s largest man-made star — nonsensical distractions from his increasingly serious world.
Big and significant things are happening for this film, which premiered last month at Austin’s South By Southwest. — Jordan Lawrence

Above All Else
Tapp’s Arts Center: 5:30 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 for members, $5 for students (at door)
Another film that comes to Indie Grits after a premiere at SXSW, this documentary digs into the lesser-known details surrounding the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline at its end point in Texas and the activists there who fought to stop it. The picture promises an unflinching, if somewhat biased, look at the possible dangers — so, you know, maybe don’t take your friend on the other side of the political aisle. Or do. — Jordan Lawrence

When the Bough Breaks
Nickelodeon: 5:30 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 for members, $5 for students (at door)
What do kids need to succeed in life? To be able to read, for one thing. In this 43-minute documentary, Bud Ferillo — known for his 2006 film Corridor of Shame — does more than just drive home the basic point that literacy matters. Instead, he delves into innovative research and programs aimed at getting low-literacy-level children up to speed by the time they hit third grade. — Dan Cook

Nickelodeon Theatre: 8 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 for members, $5 for students (at door)
We in Columbia wouldn’t know anything about the challenges of trying to push cutting-edge culture in a conservative environment, now would we? Skanks is about the joys and frustrations of producing a drag show at a community theatre in Birmingham, Ala. Trustus Theatre’s Larry Hembree hosts — because, of course he does.  — Dan Cook

People Portrait Shorts
Tapp’s Arts Center: 8 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 for members, $5 for students (at door)
The films in the People Portrait block of shorts are organized around a predictable premise: unique personalities exploring their eccentricities and the way those traits mesh with society at large. Portraits include a taxidermist, a man mapping out his family tree through photographs and an artisan skateboard maker. — Jordan Lawrence

Pizza Party
The Whig: 10 p.m.
Admission: Free
After the films, go eat some pizza and drink some beer. No charge to get in, and the pizza is on The Whig. The drinks? Those are on you.— Dan Cook

Thursday, April 17

Nickelodeon Theatre: 3 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
An experimental documentary on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Liahona attempts to express — through impressionistic sounds and images culled from real life — the complex lives of those who follow this oft-misunderstood religion. — Jordan Lawrence

Trouble the Youth Shorts
Nickelodeon: 5:30 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
A two-hour program of short films including Ethan and Eli, Locker 212, Helpless, Confusion Through Sand and John’s Farm. Themes range from coming of age identity questions to war, bullying and parenting. — Dan Cook

The Road to Livingston
Tapp’s Arts Center: 5:30 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
How do you cope when a loved one has been sentenced to death for a crime you believe he didn’t commit? Do you lose hope and give in to the inevitable? Or do you keep fighting, keep believing that justice will win out in the end? The Road to Livingston follows Delia Perez Meyer, whose brother has been sentenced to death for a triple murder, exploring her fight to prove his innocence and the lives of the other conflicted loved ones she meets along the way. — Jordan Lawrence

Narrative Shorts Mash-up
Tapp’s Arts Center: 8 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
Love, dreams, cults, mystery, solitude — these six short films cover the gamut. — Dan Cook

As It Is In Heaven
Nickelodeon: 8 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
Your Anointed One has died, and now it’s on you: How do you keep a small, fanatical sect together when your leader’s prophesies have not come to pass and your own faith is wavering? — Dan Cook

Of Montreal
Columbia Museum of Art: 8 p.m.
Admission: $15
Besides the intrigue of seeing some well-known and distinctive bands, the sonic selections at Indie Grits shine through their tie-ins to the festival’s visual mission. True to that form, the outsized and fuzzy pop-rock produced by Of Montreal is enticing for the ears, but their live show is also a mind-bending blast of lights and costumes — a post-glam reinterpretation of paisley-tinged ‘60s jams. The dreamy pop of Mood Rings and the emotive punk of fk mt. sweeten the deal. — Jordan Lawrence

Friday, April 18

Last Stop, Flamingo
Nickelodeon: 3 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
Five-hundred and one years after Ponce de Leon brought Florida to the attention of Europeans, filmmaker Georg Koszulisnki explores many of the man-made visions that have been proposed for and imposed on this peninsula — from an early 20th-centry utopian community to the world’s largest planned subdivision. — Dan Cook

Surviving Cliffside
Nickelodeon Theatre: 5 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
This documentary focuses on Brandy Smith and EJ Huffman — the director’s own West Virginia relatives — detailing their drug addictions and poor choices. It’s reportedly difficult to watch and has been divisive among critics. The Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore described it as “dispiriting and not very enlightening,” saying it “may open some eyes on TV but will have a hard time competing with other similarly themed docs.” — Jordan Lawrence

Experimental Documentary Shorts
Tapp’s Arts Center: 5 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
How does Pen Up the Pigs use handcrafted animation to draw a connection between slavery and present-day mass incarceration? How does Rice For Sale document the demise of the motto “rice is life” in Bali? How does This Is (Not) Yates mix and match film techniques and deconstruct the idea of self-portraiture? Who knows — that’s why they’re called experimental. See for yourself. — Dan Cook

Big Significant Things
Nickelodeon Theatre: 7 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
Staring down an increased commitment with his girlfriend, Craig hits the road, searching for famously large tourist traps. — Jordan Lawrence

Limo Ride
Tapp’s Arts Center: 7 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
This avant-documentary delivers the drug-and alcohol-fueled tale of 10 friends who boarded a limousine on New Year’s Eve only to find themselves — per Indie Grits’ plot description — “kidnapped, stripped, stranded and left for dead on a dirt road 24 hours later.” Half interviews, half elaborate re-enactment is the recipe in this enticing depiction of debauchery and survival. — Jordan Lawrence

Weekly Revue
The Half and Half (912 Harden St.): 9 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 members
The Weekly Revue is an alternative variety show birthed in Philadelphia and hosted by the actor and comedian Toby David, and it excavates thorny topics from science, religion and popular culture with brazen smarts and giggles. Mipso, a sprightly group from North Carolina that invigorates bluegrass with pop intensity, will serve as the house band for this Columbia edition. Expect an evening that’s equal parts charming and challenging. — Jordan Lawrence

Saturday, April 19

Panel: Shooting on a Micro-Budget
Nickelodeon: 10 a.m.
Admission: Free
If you’ve ever been in a punk band, you already know how to make a record out of virtually nothing. If not, get your ass to this panel. — Dan Cook

Kindie Grits
Tapp’s Arts Center: 10 a.m.
Admission: Free
Filmmaker and animator Charlotte Taylor introduces kids to the world of stop-motion animation with cutouts, clay, paint and puppets. — Dan Cook

Indie Grant Films
Nickelodeon: Noon
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
Short films funded by the South Carolina Film Commission and Trident Technical College.

Nickapalooza Shorts
Tapp’s Arts Center: 2 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
Honor the Father, the album, is a 23-minute folk-rock opera from Lexington’s The Restoration. It explores, in vivid detail and cathartic crescendos, the religious zealotry and violent acts of Roman Bright, and their impact on a fictionalized ‘40s and ‘50s version of the group’s hometown. Honor the Father, the film, uses the band members as actors in a 10-minute musical short that narrows the focus to Roman’s abusive, ultimately murderous relationship with his wife, Diana, giving him room to reckon with his guilt in a way the EP could not.
It’s a welcome local highlight for the Nickapalooza block of shorts, which spans a variety of subjects and genres. — Jordan Lawrence

Trouble the Youth Shorts
Nickelodeon: 2:30 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)

Nickelodeon: 5:30 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
Redneck comedian heads back to his rural South Carolina hometown to play Hamlet in a community theater production. Folks, if we could dream up plotlines this ridiculous, maybe we’d leave journalism for comedy. — Dan Cook

Summer Nostalgia Shorts
Tapp’s Arts Center: 5:30 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)
“Spencer Neale purchased a 1977 Datsun B210 for 500 dollars off a fiddle player in Santa Fe, New Mexico and drove the vehicle on a sacramental burial tour of the southwest,” reads the description for American Watercolors. No matter that On the Road was published in 1957; the appeal of dropping everything for a crazy-ass road trip never gets old. Other short films in this series explore themes of childhood summers, bullying and coming of age in the rural South. — Dan Cook

Closing Party
Barringer Building (1338 Main St.): 9 p.m.
Admission: Free
Musicians, DJs, filmmakers, puppeteers, audience members — and, of course, alcohol. — Dan Cook

Sunday, April 19

Winning Films - Block One
Nickelodeon: 4 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)

Winning Films - Block Two
Nickelodeon: 6 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)

Winning Films - Block Three
Nickelodeon: 8 p.m.
Admission: $10, $8 (members), $5 (students, at door)

Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

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