The West Virginia Mountaineer Short Film Festival is the place this weekend for Morgantown fans of independent film.
If you are going to watch anything this weekend, treat yourself to a session of the West Virginia Mountaineer Short Film Festival. Started in 2010, the WVMFF is a juried, international event that takes place for the eighth time this year.
“The original intention was to introduce WVU students and the surrounding Morgantown community to the world of independent filmmaking, including video art,” says Gerald Habarth, a WVU associate professor who founded and organizes the festival. Providing an outlet for local and regional filmmakers is a secondary goal. And the international component is also important. “One of the things I’ve always found really gratifying about the film festival is this experience of viewing very real stories from the other side of the world.”
This year’s call for submissions drew more than 300 films, says Habarth, in genres ranging from narrative and documentary to animation and experimental video art. The WVMFF jury of eight filmmakers, video artists, and other professionals in the field screened them all, looking for important or topical ideas expressed in quality or novel ways. Then, the selected films—139, at last count, from at least 40 countries, including some WVU student films—were curated into groups that form resonances when viewed together.
“It’s about looking for relationships between the works, seeing where interesting themes might develop,” Habarth says. “As an example, this year there was a really interesting focus on the landscape, in particular in the experimental works, and several artists talked about how the pandemic was an opportunity for them to connect with nature in ways they haven’t before. So there’s a whole block of experimental works that relate to the experience of the landscape—sometimes in the form of an exploration of dreams and memories, and sometimes in a fascination with the wonder of nature.”
In an age when any independent film can be distributed and discovered online, it’s those kinds of resonances—along with the enduring romance of the group theater experience—that makes a film festival continuingly worthwhile, he says.
This year’s event unfolds over 15 hours on Friday and Saturday in three venues. Those who are unsure where to start should attend the 7:30 p.m. Friday screening in the Bloch Hall Theatre at WVU’s Canady Creative Arts Center, Habarth says. “Opening night tends to be some of the more sensational or interesting or outstanding works—it’s a wonderful smorgasbord.”
Saturday screenings are more focused, encompassing themes like “Allegories and Religious Experience” and “Gender and Identity.” As a second recommendation for the unsure, Habarth suggests the 4:30 p.m. “Great Stories of All Kinds and from All Over” session at the Gluck Theatre in the WVU Mountainlair student center. “That is a collection of mostly short narratives that focus on storytelling, and they’re all distinguished by the idea of ‘what makes a good story?’”
If you relish an edgier experience, Saturday night at Morgantown Art Party downtown is for you. Films on “Heightened States, Spirits, and Ghosts” will begin at 8 p.m., setting the stage for “The Experimental, the Abstract, and the Surreal” at 10:15.
“When you go to a film festival like this, it’s interesting to compare it to what you’re likely to see at the local theater—which is always going to be top-notch production but, for the most part, more or less generic,” Habarth says. “This is authentic, independent, really good quality work produced by true artists who are really trying to master their craft.”
Admission to all screenings is free and open to the public.