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Behind the scenes; BSU hosts first annual film festival

SUBMITTED PHOTO Ali Selim (left) is the director of "Sweet Land," an adaptation of Will Weaver's (right) short story ""A Gravestone Made of Wheat and Other Stories," which has won six awards at various film festivals. "Sweet Land" is the feature film of the Headwaters Film Festival at Bemidji State University.

BEMIDJI -- When Will Weaver sits down at his favorite spot at the Bemidji State University library to work on his latest writing project, he doesn't think about if it might attract the attention of filmmakers.

"The fiction writer works to publish their story, but where it will go no one knows," Weaver said. "You sort of take your chances knowing sometimes lightning strikes."

As chance would have it, lightning struck when Weaver's work -- "A Gravestone Made of Wheat and Other Stories" -- attracted the attention of Ali Selim, an independent filmmaker from Los Angeles who produced an adaption of Weaver's short story.

"Sweet Land" is one of several independent films being featured at the first annual Headwaters Film Festival today at the Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex at BSU.

Hosted by the Mass Communications Department at BSU, the film festival, which opened Friday night, features short films and works of more than 10 filmmakers and writers. The filmmakers are also hosting a variety of forums to discuss the importance of culture in literature and films, as well as to share with audiences some of the back stories of creating their work.

"This is an introduction to what a film festival here could be like," said organizer Virgil Bakken.

Today's events include two filmmakers forums, a black box matinee showing of several short films and a feature presentation of "Sweet Land" with a Q&A session following the showing with Weaver and Selim.

With the capacity to entertain all members of the family, Bakken said the event will offer works of varying genres.

But while each film has a different message to convey, Bakken said all of the filmmakers and their works have ties to Midwest region.

"Every film we brought in had to be tied to the region in some way," Bakken said. "This is a chance to be a part of a conversation about film and the culture here."

Weaver's tale is one of love that involves a midwestern farmer and a German mail order bride.

Shot in the Montevideo and Willmar areas, Weaver said the opportunity to work with a film director and visually bring to life his story was an added perk in being an author, but said his real passion is writing.

"I've always tried to focus on my writing," Weaver said. "If the filmmakers come calling, I'll work with them, but I always want to focus on what I do best."

With the intention of promoting young filmmakers and writers to pursue their dreams, both Bakken and Weaver said they wish to inspire artists through discussions and presentations at the festival.

"I want to eventually see an opportunity here for young filmmakers around the area and midwest to come and be featured," Bakken said.

Similarly, Weaver advises aspiring writers shouldn't jump the gun and expect to be critically acclaimed authors at the beginning of their career. He said writing is a journey and to enjoy it.

"Success in writing is far more about persistence than it is natural genius," Weaver said. "I would say writing is a process and not miracle."

Wanting to bring a regional name to the film festival, Bakken is hopeful that the event will become a gateway for filmmakers to present their works to audience members in a unique light.

"Something like this is a way to see films in a new way, like a poem," he said.

Each film showing will be followed by a short forum in which filmmakers can discuss the movie with the audience and answer any questions the movie watchers may have, Bakken said.

As a freelance filmmaker, Bakken said there is no meaning to a film without an audience to watch it and react.

Weaver said he is eager to meet with film enthusiasts, as it exposes cinematography in a new way.

"I would like people to be able to look behind the curtain in what it takes to make a film," he said. "When we go to a theater, you don't see the agony and hard work that was put into the film; you can see some of that here."

If you go:

What: Headwaters Film Festival

When: Today

Where: Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex

Cost: Black Box Matinee is free, other events are $10