Playing David to the Asheville Film Festival’s Goliath for the second year in a row is the Asheville Rejects Film Festival. Presented by Asheville’s Agency Films, consisting of filmmakers John Bennett and Shawn Lukitsch (who also put on the traveling Hobo Film Festival earlier this year), the Rejects Film Festival is a departure from the normal film festival fare, and instead highlights what they call Asheville’s “cultural underdogs.” The duo sees the Rejects as an opportunity for films that are not being represented by Asheville’s larger festival to get their chance in the spotlight.
What began a year ago simply as a venue for local filmmakers who had been shunned by the Asheville Film Festival has become something bigger. With films being submitted from as far away New Zealand, the Ukraine and Switzerland, what was originally a one day affair in 2006 has grown into a four day event—from November 8th through the 11th—dead set against the Asheville Film Festival.
And while in the past there has been a perceived animosity between both the Rejects and the Asheville Film Festival (the city threatened legal action a year ago when the Rejects included the Asheville Film Festival’s logo in one of their flyers), Bennett and Lukitsch don’t see it that way.
“We don’t hold any grudge against the Asheville Film Festival,” Lukitsch tells Xpress. “There needs to be another outlet for films that aren’t being represented by them … it’s kind of a necessity. It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship.”
As Bennett puts it, “There needs to be healthy competition.”
And in order to facilitate that competition, the Rejects have even brought in their own guest of honor: Lloyd Kaufman, the co-founder of independent film studio Troma Films, who will receive their lifetime achievement award. Troma is best known for such B-movie cult classics as The Toxic Avenger (1985), Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986) and Tromeo and Juliet (1996), with Kaufman acting as writer and director (occasionally under the pseudonym of Sam Weil) on not only those movies, but many of Troma’s most popular films.
Kaufman is also an actor, cinematographer and producer, and has distributed numerous independent films under the Troma imprint. It’s this focus on independent film—not to mention Troma’s own Tromadance Film Festival, which runs concurrently with the much larger Sundance festival—that made Kaufman’s involvement with the Rejects a no-brainer.
“For us to have him, it really embodies what our thing is about because he is one of the true independent filmmakers that hasn’t compromised what he does,” Lukitsch says. The Reject Festival will include a Troma retrospective at the Joli Rouge on Friday, Nov. 9, as well as a master class at the URTV studios with Kaufman himself on Saturday, Nov. 10.
And while the Rejects Film Festival may have a guest of honor and is beginning to branch out internationally, it’s still holding onto its local roots, with all sponsorship coming from small local businesses like Harvest Records, Orbit DVD and Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company—just to name a few—not to mention that all of the festival’s awards are being hand-made by local artists.
Every film submitted to the Rejects Film Festival was accepted (despite rumors to the contrary that last year there was a film that had been rejected) and will be screened at the Joli Rouge on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 10 and 11. While many of the submissions lack the occasional big names or financial backing of some of the entrants in the Asheville Film Festival, this is exactly how Bennett and Lukitsch want it.
As Lukitsch puts it, “These aren’t finely, finely honed Hollywood movies; these are made by blood, sweat and tears of people that really, really want to make films. These people have a true love for cinema and filmmaking, and that’s what we want to represent. Even though these films were shot on a shoestring, zero budget, that love for film is still there.”
[Justin Souther is a regular contributor to the Xpress movie-review section.]
who: The Asheville Rejects Film Festival
what: A DIY film fest
where: Various downtown locations
when: Nov. 8 to 11 (www.theagentheadquarters.com)