FilmScene’s long-awaited ReFocus film festival is “tailor-made for a city of literature”

Refocusing Film Festival

FilmScene – Thursday, October 6 through Sunday, October 9, $12-230

FilmScene – Chauncey audience watches Jordan Peele’s ‘Nope’ (2022). – courtesy of FilmScene

Iowa City’s literary history casts a long shadow. It is the country’s first UNESCO City of Literature, home to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But next month, Iowa City will enter the world of film festivals with FilmScene’s highly anticipated ReFocus Film Festival, an event dedicated to the relationship between literature and film.

Andrew Sherburne, Executive Director and Co-Founder of FilmScene, always envisioned hosting an annual film festival. The conversations started nearly six years ago, but now, with the theater’s Chauncey and Ped Mall locations, FilmScene’s plans are ready.

“We have five screens, two blocks away. We have this vibrant downtown surrounding us. It’s just begging for a film festival,” Sherburne said.

However, the festival is two years late. FilmScene originally announced ReFocus for September 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on through the summer, the festival was delayed until 2021 and then again until 2022.

But ReFocus is less an inaugural film festival than a revival. From 1965 to 1979, the University of Iowa organized Refocus, which highlighted student photography and filmmaking. This festival, sponsored by the Student Union Board, featured films by UI students and those from other universities, as well as photography exhibitions.

“We’re happy to reignite the torch and reinvent Refocus as a festival that examines film’s relationship to other art forms, especially literature,” Sherburne said.

FilmScene wanted a unique festival that contributes to the national and international festival landscape. They started with Iowa City’s literary history and its growing film culture. But while ReFocus continues the tradition of UI festival media mixing, it expands the reach. The festival will offer adaptations of all media: podcasts, poetry, plays, comedy shows, archival documents, etc.

“ReFocus Film Festival is a celebration of the relationship between art forms, and it’s a festival tailor-made for a city of literature, examining the origin of films and how they come from the page, or other forms of art,” Sherburne said. “But you know, we also want to bend the rules as much as possible.”

FilmScene will have performers and performers to fill the festival mood as festival-goers stroll between theaters. Before the lights go out, patrons can listen to musicians like Dan Padley and watch slideshows by local artists.

Dan Padley performs with Alyx Rush at the Englert Theater on Friday, April 8; 2022. — Jason Smith/Little Village

ReFocus will deliberately coincide with the Iowa City Book Festival, encouraging each atmosphere to seep into each other. FilmScene will pair special guests from the book festival and ReFocus to have conversations about different art forms and how they interact.

Sherburne is always thrilled to see how films adapt stories from other media.

“Sometimes a good adaptation can be incredibly faithful to the original source material or can make something incredibly new out of it,” he said.

He recently read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, a graphic memoir about her life in Iran and Austria during the Islamic Revolution. Sherburne first watched the 2007 film adaptation, which is faithful in its story and art style. But the live movement elevates the original text, he said.

Ben Delgado, director of programming at FilmScene, thinks an adaptation should know what to keep and what to change. A notable film for him is white knightsFyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1957 adaptation, transported to Italy from the original Russian setting.

Delgado thinks the festival will elevate smaller films that people might not otherwise see. Many ReFocus films are only available on the festival circuit. He hopes people will take risks with films they don’t know.

“Most of these movies are going to be like that, movies people haven’t heard of, directors they haven’t heard of, and actors they don’t know,” Delgado said. “But it’s all part of the fun.”

Author Lizzy Goodman will appear with the documentary ‘Meet Me In The Bathroom’ (2022), based on her oral history which details the revival of the New York rock scene in the 2000s. – film scene

ReFocus will also help educate people about film festivals and how they work. Delgado and Sherburne recommend that newcomers show up early, stay hydrated and eat snacks, bring a friend but also talk to strangers, watch a movie you know nothing about, and stick around for questions- answers.

Festival passes are available online or at the FilmScene box office. Three different levels are available: an all-access pass, a nine-film pass and a five-film pass. Passholders have the first choice of movies, and higher passholders have more access to parties, happy hours, and artist conversations.

ReFocus will also host free events, including a VR Showcase, where people can watch a short film in virtual reality. Some conversations and other events will also be free. The complete list of films, conversations and events will be available in mid-September.

“It’s a film festival, isn’t it? So we put two things together: a lot of movies, really good movies, and then we make it festive,” Sherburne said.

This article originally appeared in Little Village issue 310.

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