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FilmScene has refocused its efforts to bring a film festival back to Iowa City — in a big way — from Oct. 6 to 9.
The inaugural Refocus Film Festival will launch at 7 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Englert Theatre with “Bones and All,” one of the hottest titles making this year’s festival circuit. It also stars one of cinema’s hottest young actors, Timothee Chalamet, and it has a University of Iowa connection.
Screenwriter David Kajganich, an Iowa Writers’ Workshop alum, is skipping his film’s New York premiere that night to attend the Iowa City debut with Camille DeAngelis, author of the novel on which the film is based. They will share with audience members the process of adapting a story from book to film, and those in attendance are invited to attend the Postscript Party afterward at FilmScene at The Chauncey.
These events dovetail perfectly both with the festival’s spotlight on the art of adaptation, especially literary adaptation, and with the 2022 Iowa Book Festival, which opened Wednesday, Sept. 28, and continues through Oct. 13 in Iowa City and Coralville.
“Immediately we’re bending the rules, because there’s so many various ways that film was inspired by other art forms,” said Andrew Sherburne, FilmScene’s executive director and co-founder.
“It is more than just movies,” added Ben Delgado, FilmScene’s programming director, who spearheaded the film festival. Refocus also will offer readings, conversations, musicians, artists and spoken word artists. “So that’s a different experience than you might get at most film festivals.
“But then we’re also going beyond just a literary adaptation … into dozens of other forms of adaptation, from songs to poems, to plays, to audio transcripts, older films, Delgado said. “It really kind of runs the gamut of what an adaptation can be.”
What: FilmScene’s Refocus Film Festival: Celebrating the Art of Adaptation
When: Oct. 6 to 9, 2022
Where: Downtown Iowa City venues: FilmScene at The Chauncey, 404 E. College St., No. 100; FilmScene on the Ped Mall, 118 E. College St.; opening night at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St.; other select sites for related programming, refocusfilmfestival.org/program/festival-events/
Film schedule: refocusfilmfestival.org/program/films/
Tickets: Omnibus all-access pass, $195 FilmScene members, $230 public; Avid nine-film pass, $95 members, $110 public; Debut five-film pass, $60 members, $65 public; single tickets per film, $12 advance or rush; refocusfilmfestival.org/program/tickets-and-passes/
The previous Landlocked Film Festival brought independent movies from around the world to downtown Iowa City for about a decade, beginning in 2007, so it’s been about five years since audiences could flock to a local film festival with international flair.
Sherburne said the time was right for FilmScene to launch its own festival — with a literary twist.
“At its most basic level, we think this is both a community that would love to support a film festival (and) that would engage in a film festival,” Sherburne said. “And now that we’ve actually built the infrastructure — FilmScene’s two locations and five screens — we’re perfectly set up to host a festival. All those things weren’t in place until recently.
“But I think philosophically, we’ve had this idea of a film festival that’s related to literature in some way. Being a (UNESCO) City of Literature, something that was very unique to Iowa City has been percolating for many years.”
Plans were in the works to hold a film festival in 2020, but the pandemic not only put that on pause, the FilmScene staff decided to scrap those plans and start all over this year.
So they began combing through U.S. and international festival entries, and working their industry connections to bring the newest offerings to FilmScene’s screens in the Chauncey Building and on the Ped Mall, as well as the Englert Theatre. Related events and discussions also will be held within walking distance downtown.
‘Bones and All’
Securing “Bones and All” for the new Iowa City festival “is a big coup,” Sherburne said. The film premiered Sept. 2 at the Venice International Film Festival, receiving “a rousing standing ovation,” he noted. Next, it traveled to festivals in Telluride, Colo., and the Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas.
“And then it’ll come to Iowa City one hour before it plays in New York, and then it goes on to London,” Sherburne noted. “So if you look at that slate of festivals, that’s quite esteemed company for us to be in.”
“It speaks to just what a special place this is, that Dave (Kajganich) would choose to come back here to Iowa City on that evening, when he could be in New York,” Sherburne added.
Bringing it to Iowa City took “lots of conversations over a long period of time,” Sherburne said. “Ben started those conversations a long time ago, with the film’s releasing team. And then, I think Dave’s advocacy helped secure it. He’s excited to be back. He loves Iowa City. He knows what a special place this is.”
“Bones and All,” described as an “unconventional tale of first love,” stars Chalamet and Taylor Russell as "two misfits” who travel the Midwest “searching for identity and chasing beauty in a perilous world that cannot abide who they are — cannibals.” The cast also includes Mark Rylance, Andre Holland, Chloe Sevigny, Jessica Harper, David Gordon Green, Michael Stuhlbarg and Jake Horowitz.
However, the film reaches beyond the shock value of cannibalism.
“You hear ‘cannibalism’ and you think, obviously, one thing, but it’s more of a compulsion and a metaphor than it is a sensationalist thing,” Delgado said, and so the publicity hasn’t focused on that aspect.
“I think the film team is trying to just make sure that the humanistic elements of the film are accentuated,” Sherburne said. “That this is a love story, it’s a coming of age story. It’s about people who live on the margins, and their stories — and it just happens to play out, as Ben said, through cannibalism as a metaphor.”
If you miss it opening night, the film also will be screened at 10 p.m. Oct. 8 in Theater 1 at FilmScene at The Chauncey, 404 E. College St., Iowa City.
Refocus draws its name from a UI film and photography festival that ran from 1965 to 1978, and brought to town such illustrious guests as Robert Altman, Robert Redford and Charles Guggenheim. The new Refocus features 26 independent films all vetted this year by FilmScene’s core staff. They wiped the slate clean from movies they would have shown in 2020.
“One of the challenges — but also the joys of programming of a film festival — is that you really can’t plan too far ahead. You have to be very responsive,” Sherburne said. “So this program really came together in the last two months. Some of these are long-simmering conversations that Ben’s been having. But getting those commitments from the film teams to include their films — that all happened in the last two months.”
“The idea here is that most of these films are films that are either currently on the festival circuit or recently have come off of the festival circuit, having played other bigger film festivals — Venice, Telluride, Toronto, that sort of thing,” Delgado said. “But there is also a classics section this year, so we have four classic restorations of adaptations, as well.”
Most of the films have multiple showings, letting festivalgoers create their own viewing schedule. Tickets also come in various prices, from all-festival passes to individual show tickets.
“We’re encouraging festival passes, because we want people to sink their teeth in more deeply,” Sherburne said. “I’ve been going to film festivals for almost 20 years, and I like really making a commitment to engaging deeply. I think you’ll get more out of it when take a bigger bite, so I hope people will do that, and take a chance.
“I also encourage people to challenge themselves and to go in with an eye on discovering something new,” he said. “Festivals are a great place to see something that you might not otherwise ever see.”
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