By Patrick Felton
Last weekend we awarded Braxton County native Mari-Lynn Evans with the Filmmaker Of The Year award at the West Virginia Filmmakers Festival. This caused me to think about some of the great female filmmakers I’ve come in contact with over the last few years in the mountain state. There are a ton of great voices out there. Of the old guard the work of B.J. Gudmunson is very close to my heart, and Kim Novak’s “Ashes To Glory” still remins one of the seminal WV documentaries. Still, there are still some new artists that show amazing promise that are worth noting simply because their early work is so astonishing that I feel compelled to see more. These all happen to be women, but this is more coincidence than intention. Still, its good to see more women get into a community of filmmakers that has been dominated by men for so long.
1. Tijah Bumgarner.
Location: Charleston, WV
Essential film: Meadow Bridge.
Cal Arts graduate Tijah Bumgardner has one hell of a thesis film. Having been accepted to multiple festivals such as the West Virginia Filmmaker’s Festival and Mountaineer Video And Shorts Festival, “Meadow Bridge” is quickly becoming one of my favorite short subject documentaries of all time. It has a real personality to it. Its sort of a cinema verite equivalent of a Tom Wolfe novel in which Baumgardner returns to her hometown of Meadow Bridge to shine a light on a terrifyingly dysfunctional mountain community. Its not quite a hatchet job, but its certainly not flattering. This film is both heartwarming and terrifying and its ambivalently incriminating lens reminds me a lot of the early works of Jacob Young and Werner Herzog. I feel a special affinity with Bumgardner because her talent was such that she could have worked on the West Coast, and yet she chose to come back to WV to explore what stories she can tell here. Bumgardner is also a great talent in front of the camera, most recently starring in Michael Sydenstricker’s Narrative “Provident”
2. Mie Smith
Location: Eastern Panhandle/Kearneysville/Cumberland,MD
Essential Film: Cashing Out.
Half of the husband/wife producing team of Lightsmith Productions, Mie Smith and her husband SunJae have been making astonishingly polished work in the Eastern Panhandle over the last decade. To describe the kind of films that Lightsmith Films makes, imagine if the cast from a UNICEF ad remade the greatest works of Frank Capra on a 4000 dollar budget. Horrible as it sound, somehow it works, and it makes for surprisingly compelling cinematic fables. They hit on deep religious and spiritual themes in a compelling and upbeat way. My favorite part of Smith’s films: her culturally diverse group protagonists feature many non-native English speakers in a way that highlights the changing nature of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. Look for her romantic comedy “AI Means Love” to be released later this year.
3. Amy Trent
Location: St. Albans, WV
Essential Film: The Belles Of Prague
In 2008, I was bowelled over by Amy Trent’s thesis film “The Belles of Prague” while judging the West Virginia International Film Festival’s student competition. It’s a deep and somber story told with very lyrical mixed media animation and a great narration by actor Joe Miller. When she finishes films, Trent never sticks with one thing, having tackled gritty semi-nonfiction filmmaking with “In The Ringer” and also doing great work with WVSU’s Campus Connection, plus she has her own dance studio in St.Albans. I’m always curious to see whatever she will complete next. Look for her Lynchian anthology drama “Bear And the Color of Red” to possibly come out later this year.
4. Liz McCormick
Location: Shepherdstown, WV
Essential Film: Prison of the Mind
At 18, Ms. McCormick already has more decent projects to her name than I do. Having produced the very well made documentary “Racism In WV: Is It Really That Bad” back in 2009, she has made my jaw drop with her heart wrenching child abuse drama “Prison Of The Mind” McCormick brings an incredible emotional punch and strength of conviction to her films that is often heartbreaking, but its also balanced with an uplifting twinge of hope. “Prison Of The Mind” is one of the best directed student shorts I’ve seen in a while in terms of directing actors, and I truly hope this promising artist continues to mature.
5. Miriam Kajamovitz
Location: Institute, WV
Essential Film: Diary Of An Aching Heart
WVSU student Miriam Kajamovitz’s Lyric visual poem “Diary Of An Aching Heart” is a very interesting piece of work. I encourage anyone who is taking film at state to seek Miriam and her film out, because it is so different from anything else I’ve seen coming out of the department as of recent. She’s experimenting with more non-linear forms of narrative that remind me at least in theory to great female auteurs such as Sofia Coppola , Christine Jeffs or Sally Potter.
6. Kim Spurlock
Location: New York City/Huntington, WV
Key Film: Down In Number 5.
Earlier this year Kim Spurlock was 1st Runner Up for the Student Academy Award for her short film “Down In Number 5.” It’s an impressive and confident piece of filmmaking (It’s shot on 16mm for those keeping track) This Huntington High School graduate has become the toast of NYU’s film school with an incredible true story well told. Directed with a real sense of the timing of acting, this film hits a lot of amazingly difficult notes in a very short period of time in telling the story of a man dying of black lung that most make arrangements for his Down Syndrome son. The ending is heartbreaking a true Eastwood-esque ease and panache. I truly hope Ms. Spurlock gets the chance to direct a feature, because I truly think she could make some great actor vehicles in the future.