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PUSH! Film Festival: Something for everyone

June 13, 2015

(Source — Robert Sorrell) Two filmmakers, one from California and the other from Australia, briefly greeted each other in the green room at the back of the Believe in Bristol office on Saturday during the Push! Film Festival.

Jason Liggett, director of the short film “The 7th Man,” and Elliot Cowan, director of “The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead,” a full-length animated film, entered projects into the first-ever Push! Film Festival, held this weekend in Bristol.

The two men, and about two dozen other filmmakers, including Virginia Middle School students and several others from the Mountain Empire, are in town for the inaugural event.

The green room was set up as a place for filmmakers and festival volunteers to rest and snack on treats as films were played and workshops were held around downtown.

Liggett, who now lives in Los Angeles, grew up in Bristol, Tennessee. He moved to California back in the 1990s after playing baseball at Tusculum College. His first big acting gig was in the 2001 film “Pearl Harbor.” He played a sailor.

Liggett said he enjoys being behind the camera as a director and writer. In 2002, he began working on “The 7th Man,” which he described as the 10 minutes leading up to the raising of the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

The movie was filmed through the eyes of the famed Associated Press photographer, Joe Rosenthal, whose iconic picture captured the moment.

“I wanted to tell the story from the photographer’s point of view,” Liggett said.

He was astonished by the fact that photographers were not there to battle, but to simply photograph what was happening.

During the film, the audience witnesses conversations and actions that take place before the men raise the flag. And periodically, the audience can hear the clicking sound of the photographer’s camera.

Liggett said he was excited to have the opportunity to show the film in his hometown. He recalled watching “Pulp Fiction” in the 1990s in downtown Bristol and had always dreamt to show his own film at the Paramount.

“It feels so awesome to be in Bristol,” Liggett said.

The filmmaker said he currently has two projects in the works through Hickory Hollow Entertainment, his production company. One film, he said, “The Mastiff Revolver,” was filmed in the region.

The Australian filmmaker, Cowan, said he felt his first full-length animated film was a perfect fit for Bristol. Cowan has taken the film, released in 2014, around the world. It has been shown at 30 various festivals, including in Europe, Canada and Australia.

“The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead,” a 71-minute film funded by the Romanian government, features two characters who must head to the big city after they lose their rural home.

“It’s a feature about two characters, Boxhead and Roundhead, who appeared in a series of shorts that I made,” said Cowan, who noted that it began back in 2005.

It started out as a children’s book project, he explained, which he hated. Boxhead and Roundhead developed as a response to the children’s book. He said the film depicts the real world, and the characters must pay the rent and live their lives.

Cowan first developed a series of about nine short films.

“Most animators have this dream that they will make a long form piece,” he said. “An opportunity arose and I took it.”

Cowan produced most of the film, with assistance from former students and other filmmakers. He even provides the voice for Roundhead.

The film is for people of all ages, he said.

“My 4-year-old loves it, his friends love it,” he added. “I don’t think he gets all of the themes. Adults like it a lot.”

The film also features a variety of music styles which Cowan said made it a perfect fit for Bristol.

Since completing the film in early 2014, Cowan has been traveling around the world. After Bristol, he has future dates in India and Maryland. An online release is in the works.

A handful of students from Virginia Middle School in Bristol attended festival events on Saturday, the same day their approximately 12-minute short film, “The Luccanite Princess,” was scheduled to play at the Paramount Center for the Arts.

One of the film’s producers, VMS teacher Debbie Browning, said the students were excited about the chance to showcase their project during the Push! Film Festival.

Browning said about 30 to 40 students, who had joined the after-school movie club, began working on the project in February. After some brainstorming, the students created two different film ideas, including “The Luccanite Princess,” a fantasy about a young princess born on another planet but sent to Earth for her own safety.

During production, Browning said, students participated in every aspect of filming, including writing, acting, directing and editing. They filmed at various places around Bristol, including the school and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

At the beginning of the project, they had planned to show the film at school and at a local venue. She said once they learned about the festival, students became especially interested in seeing the project through completion.

“Writing the script was a big challenge,” said Browning, who has worked alongside fellow teacher and producer Susan Hampton with the students.

Browning explained that the students knew what they wanted to say, but found it challenging to put it in the script.

The short film ends with a cliffhanger. Browning said the students may return next semester to work on a sequel. The project was a learning experience for everyone, Browning said, including the teachers.