The 5th Annual Rainier Independent Film Festival brought three days of quality feature films and shorts, plus a bevy of documentaries and cinematic workshops to Ashford this weekend. However, the festival had to compete with blue skies and blazing sunshine, so the turnout was light, estimated by officials at about 200.
Nevertheless, attendees reveled in the presence of a trove of artistic abundance, one that was enhanced by the presence of many of the film makers. The question and answers periods that followed the screenings were as satisfying as the films, a true treat that was well-received.
The event started Friday evening with a presentation by student film maker Kristi Simkins. Her narrative short, titled, “Something Special” was a heartfelt narrative of a young man looking for solace in the wilds of New Zealand after a military deployment in some far-off land. Amidst the splendor of soaring mountains and clean, clear waters he grieves the loss of a combat buddy and is able to celebrate life once again.
The main attraction of opening night was a full-length feature titled, “The Drummond Will,” a black comedy made in the traditional British style of weirdness and understatement popularized most notably by John Cleese and the Monty Python crew. Although an attifice, Drummond Will was filled with a cast of stylish actors whose boldness surprised viewers in nearly every scene. However, the highlight of the screening was perhaps the follow-up interview with the director Allan Butterworth via Skype. Conducted at 5 am his time in the United Kingdom, Mr. Butterworth was clearly not fully awake but nevertheless delivered a thoughtful and substantive dialogue with his audience in Ashford. Even though Drummond Will was his first feature film, he certainly displayed a depth of knowledge of film craft.
Following the chat with Butterworth, the festival commenced its “Black and White Gala,” a festive time that was well-attended, particularly by the younger members of the audience. This fete again emphasized the festival’s unique opportunity to talk amicably with the film makers, such as Ben Kadie, a sixteen-year old from Bellevue, who produced and directed a 22 minute short tiled, “Mack,” and Tony Leonardo from New York City, who discussed his short drama about a bike messenger named “Kaya.”
However, one of the most dynamic films of the festival – and certainly one of the most acclaimed – was “Catching Dreams,” the story of a 37-year old investment banker who quit his job to become a trapeze artist with Cirque du Soleil.
The banker, Brian Flint, had always wanted to become a professional athlete, and in college he competed for a position on the US Olympic Water Polo team. However, he “didn’t go the extra mile,” in his effort, he says, and that failure “haunted me every day afterwards.”
Finding little personal value in his financial work, a fluke visit to Las Vegas in 2000, where he saw a Cirque Du Soleil show and was mesmerized watching the aerialists perform, ignited a tremendous passion within Brian to become a world-class trapeze artist. So intense was his excitement, Brian called his twin brother, Kevin, at 3 am.
Kevin, who was working as a deck-hand on a boat, was having his own troubles bringing his desire of becoming a film maker into reality, and Brian suggested that they meld their dreams – Kevin could film Brian’s journey to become a Cirque du Soleil aerialist.
Pooling life savings and maxing-out credit cards, Brian spent the next two years learning the craft of trapeze work, including performance stops at Club Meds in the Caribbean and Mexico. Specifically, Brian was learning to become a “catcher,” the aerialist who catches the “flyer” who leaves his trapeze and performs stunts in the air before being “caught.”
At the same time, Kevin was “catching” Brian on film, and sent Cirque the first of Brian’s many audition videos.
Brian’s passion was evident, along with his artistic flair, and Cirque invited him to a regional audition in Los Angeles. Afterwards, Cirque rewarded his growing abilities with a “training contract,” an opportunity to go to Cirque headquarters in Montreal and spend several months working with Cirque specialists.
Generally, such an opportunity would lead to a performing contract, but, in the first of what was to be four similar rounds of invitations and rejections from Cirque, Brian was not extended a performance offer.
Dejected, Brian began what was to be a six-year quest of overcoming those rejections, finding new teachers and greater performing opportunities, and building his confidence and skills. Along the way, he had to heal from a serious trapeze accident at Cirque training headquarters during his second invitation, when he suffered a concussion and broken cheek bone.
Persevering, Brian and Kevin traveled, studied and performed in Europe, Costa Rica, and Japan. Occasionally, Brian would be paid for his aerial work; sometimes Kevin could get odd jobs and support them that way. But it was tough.
“We missed many a meal,” said Brian. “We lived on $300 per week when I worked in the circus in Portugal.
In their Q and A session, Kevin admitted that he gave up on the quest about three-quarters through.
“By then I had lost twenty pounds, was totally broke, and I didn’t think Brian was going to make it,” Kevin confessed. “I had lost faith.”
Nevertheless, Brian encouraged him to not totally abandon the dream. Compromising, Kevin would make spot appearances wherever Brian was training or performing – a little circus in the Dominican Republic or a gig in Florida – and then head back to Los Angeles and the film world.
Starting with his 150-plus hours of film on Brian, Kevin made a short documentary, cataloguing the failures and grim determination of his brother. Then, a small dream came true – Kevin’s short movie attracted several investors.
Back together, the brothers endured a two-year period of silence from Cirque, but they continued to submit new performance tapes and inform Cirque of their continued interest.
Finally, in 2008, the dream manifested. Needing a skilled catcher to train new flyers for a show called “Alegria,” Cirque offered their fourth training contract to Brian, and the brothers returned to Montreal.
Further, Kevin produced another documentary on Brian’s epic journey and submitted it to Cirque. Impressed, Cirque allowed Kevin to film his brother inside the training facilities, the first independent film maker allowed to do so in the 25 year history of Cirque du Soleil.
Together in the training camp in a way they had never been before, the brothers prepared for the next challenge. Shortly after arriving in Montreal, a catcher in a Cirque show performing in Las Vegas became injured. Brian was one of only two experienced catchers in Montreal who could fill-in, and a fierce competition ensued to see who would be selected to replace the injured aerialist.
“I’ve never wanted anything so bad in my life,” declared Brian.
After a week of intense scrutiny, Brian was selected. He was offered a temporary performance contract to be a high-aerial catcher in the Cirque show, Mystére.
After eight years, Brian’s dream had come true.
“I cried like a baby at the end of the first show,” Brian said.
But what about Kevin?
“Kevin’s gone through a lot more than I did,” Brian said. “I had the glamour, the performances and the training, to keep me going when it was tough – but Kevin didn’t have that. He had to hold down the fort, take all those odd jobs, and make some money to keep us going.”
After Brian’s achievement, Kevin dove into editing and producing the film that has come to be known as “Catching Dreams.”
Completed and released in 2008, “Catching Dreams” has since won awards at five different film festivals, including “Best Documentary” in the 2009 Fallbrook Film Festival.
In Ashford this weekend, Kevin also proudly announced that he has distribution deals that will put the film in movie houses throughout Asia and possibly Europe.
As for Brian, he performed in Mystére for four months, leaving when the injured performer returned.
“I did 150 shows – twice a day for the four months, and when it ended I felt satisfied,” Brian said.
However, Brian, who is 48 and now retired from performing, works as a aerial coach at a training facility in Seattle. But, he is not finished with dreaming.
”Now, I’m on to my next dream,” added Brian. “I want to become a professional actor…Hello, Hollywood!”
Standing next to him, Kevin smiled, and then announced that his dream is to continue being a film maker.
“I want to be a successful feature-length film maker,” he said, leaving others to wonder if the two brothers have only just begun their work together.
© 2011 The Mountain News – WA
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