Story and Photos by Stefanie Jackson – One of Cape Charles’ biggest annual arts and cultural events, Experimental Film Virginia, drew to a vibrant and dramatic close Saturday, June 29, with the seventh annual Reel & Raw, a film premiere event.
Every summer, artists from around the world, from L.A. to Taipei, come and spend a two-week residency in Cape Charles, acting, dancing, choreographing, directing, producing, and editing up to 15 short experimental films.
Eddie Steeples, who played Darnell Turner on the TV show “My Name Is Earl,” visited Cape Charles during the two-week residency and had just enough time for a brief on-camera interview before leaving for a job on the set with Nicolas Cage. The interview was shown at the beginning of Saturday evening’s program.
In past years, the Reel & Raw film premiere has been held outdoors, but this year it was hosted in the Historic Palace Theatre on Mason Avenue.
The lower end of Strawberry Street was blocked off to make way for both the cash bar that sold beer, wine, and food, and the stage where the band iDox performed, joined by special guest Sheila Sheppard on the fiddle.
Arm bands gave guests easy access between the concert venue and the Palace, using the theater’s side entrance on Strawberry Street.
The bright lights shining and the energetic tunes playing right outside the theater door electrified the event with a loud and lively, happening vibe.
The theater doors closed at 8 p.m. and event organizer and host Renata Sheppard glided in wearing a long, flowing evening gown glimmering with gold accents, and she introduced the filmmakers that made the evening possible.
This year’s film collection featured a healthy dose of humor, including “Subconscious,” by Pei-Hsuan Li, a figurative duel that becomes a literal dance between a man with a mysteriously multiplying collection of water bottles and a woman with a single wine glass – which she clutches during the entire dance.
“Stage Moms,” by Lachlan McClellan, is a mockumentary about stage mothers “Nancy” and “Cathy,” played by two men, and their personal war over whose kid will get top billing in the play, resulting in a set of playbills being reprinted and then getting set on fire outside the theater.
“Battle of the Hosts,” by Timo Gomez, depicts Renata Sheppard and Hugh Copeland at an Experimental Film Virginia premiere in a bitter rivalry for the title of host, ending with Copeland tied to a chair in a back-room.
In “Big Fish, Small Pond,” by Renata Sheppard and Alex Forge, a couple is about to perform at a party, but the woman is so nervous that she falls into the swimming pool and turns into a mermaid. Once she’s back out of the pool, with her tail flopping on the concrete, she’s applauded.
One of the films leaves the impression of fine art in the form of a pop music video. “The Exploding Moon and Crying Sun,” by Eran Sabo, features a thumping bass and lyrics including, “the mirror shows you how to lie.” A mother figure and child interact while black figures dance around them.
“Bellezza Spiaggia,” Italian for “Beach Beauty,” is a film by Mark Atkinson that appears to blur the line between mocking and imitating classic grace and beauty. A man and woman, dressed all in white, are in the water at the beach. He lovingly and playfully holds her and spins her around and around before finally leaving her and happily but inexplicably wading out to sea.
“And Still She Gives,” by Roberta Ferrara, follows a band of adventurers as they run and dance through a broken down, abandoned building, and instills fear as they gather to watch a nearby cloud of smoke billow. The film ends with a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”
“Applause,” by Maxximillian Dafoe, is about a man trying to overcome his performance anxiety and asking a friend how to know when you’re dreaming – while he’s dreaming. He listens to his friend’s advice and earns the applause he seeks.
The films make good use of the variety of backdrops Cape Charles has to offer, from natural to industrial and historical to modern.
The Cape Charles railroad tracks appear in “Take Me There,” by Chantal Cherry, a piece that shows lovers caressing while others are dancing along the tracks.
“Plight,” by Danzel Thompson-Stout, starts with a man running down the railroad tracks – a glimpse of one individual’s coming of age as he begins by telling himself, “run, black boy, run,” and ends with “run, black man, run.”
Massive concrete pylons set the stage for the weighty notions behind Nadia Petkovic’s “Me and I.” Two females with long and dark braided hair, one wearing black, one wearing red and white, dance along the thin line between love and hate, like one soul split in two.
“Encounter,” by Wei Chang, one of many works filmed on Cape Charles Beach, shows another couple as they twist, contort, and finally intertwine.
Denise Damon Wade’s “Not Yet …” takes a different direction, reminding the audience in plain words that there is “not yet” a cure for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, but it also uses imagery and choreography to send the message that those living with these diseases have “not yet” given up, either.
Viewers were also treated to Jim Baugh’s “The Milky Way Galaxy, Our Home,” a four-minute film that was not made in Cape Charles during the two-week residency and is not experimental.
Instead, it uses thousands of photos taken at some of the Eastern Shore’s best dark sky sites to showcase the beauty and wonder of the Milky Way in four time-lapse segments. The images were taken at Magothy Bay, Cape Charles, Wachapreague, and Red Bank.
Following the film screening, guests were invited back to Strawberry Street for more music by iDox.
(Click on any photo below to view the gallery.)