“The idea was born out of the idea that I absolutely hate film festivals,” said the filmmaker who was born and raised in Shreveport. Rather than attracting detached audiences to view movies collected from far-flung productions, Kallenberg sought a gathering with a more symbiotic relationship between viewers and those crafting cinematic works. Kallenberg has traveled the film-festival circuit as director and director and a producer of the Rational Middle Energy Series, a series of short films exploring energy topics. He also directed and produced Haynesville: A Nation’s Hunt for an Energy Future, a documentary chronicling a large natural gas discovery in northwest Louisiana and its effect on three individual’s lives. “Everybody with a theater seems to have a film festival, but I wanted to come up with something that was completely unique, to involve the community and its landscape at every level.”
Landscape is a critical component here. Eligibility for The Louisiana Film Prize eligibility rests on one central rule listed on its official website: “You have to shoot your film in the Shreveport-Bossier area. That’s it. Post production, music and effects can all be done at home.” Filmmakers are restricted to the seven parishes of Caddo, Bossier, DeSoto, Red River, Webster, Bienville and Claiborne, where, Kallenberg says, the communities have consistently embraced the arrival of producers, directors, actors and camera operators.
In 2015 a total of 127 movie crews from as far away as Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Jacksonville, Florida, swept into such diverse locations as highrise rooftops in downtown Shreveport, the cypress-shaded banks of Caddo Lake, a bank in Gibsland and a supermarket in Vivian to shoot original shorts ranging in length from 5 to 15 minutes. From these submissions, a nationwide jury of professionals from the professional realms of film, theater and journalism scored each film. An aggregate tally narrowed the shorts down to 20 juror selections, a process that Kallenberg says “gets harder every year” as the quantity and quality of films has grown bigger and more sophisticated.
The final 20 shorts are screened over the festival weekend in early October in sets of 10, with an intermission, at multiple locations in Shreveport and Bossier City. Louisiana Film Prize festival pass-holders, numbering more than 3,000 in 2015, are required to view all 20 films before being invited to cast a ballot for their favorites, along with choices for best actor and actress. Final judging is split 50/50 between filmgoers and the jurors.
Attendance has grown fivefold from an estimated 600 in 2012. Kellenberg estimates at least a third of visitors in 2015 came from out of state.
“It’s become a celebration-slash-party-slash-election-day … When I first started this, there were two questions that I got everywhere: ‘Where is Shreveport, Louisiana?,’ and ‘Why the hell would I go there to do anything?’ Now I hear us being talked about at film industry gatherings, like South by Southwest in Austin, as an independent filmmaking hub.”
The 2015 slate of films ranged in subject matter from the coming-of-age story of a high school girl coping with the guilt of being blamed for a classmate’s suicide to a suspenseful bank heist by a desperate single mother. Other story lines included a comedy pitting caricatured country folk in a long-running feud, a dinner-table vignette about a con game that backfires on a pack of unscrupulous friends, and a sci-fi portrayal of an dystopian future where books are banned by a totalitarian government. The grand prize-winning film, The Bespoke Tailoring of Mr. Bellamy, is a period piece set in 1964 rural Louisiana as the job market began to adapt to racial integration. Upon seeing a notice for a job, an African American man named Bellamy discovers an old sewing machine and takes it upon himself to make a suit for the interview (see trailer below).
“My friend and cowriter Paul Peterson and I had a back-and-forth boxer conversation about what we might write about, and we came up with this idea,” said producer Alexander Jeffery, age 27, of El Dorado, Arkansas. “I’ve always enjoyed period pieces even though they’re incredibly difficult to pull off, and then Paul said, ‘Why don’t we set this in 1964?’ One simple story of a man making a suit became a production nightmare when it comes to pulling off the 1960s on film.”
Jeffery cast Stan Brown, his former voice acting professor from the University of Nebraska, as Bellamy, a role that earned him the Best Actor honor. “I’ve known him for years and he’s always been an amazing influence as a mentor. I’ve always wanted to work with him, and when Paul sent me the script, I started thinking the only person right for this role is Stan, and luckily he was available to do it.”
Mr. Bellamy was filmed over three months in the timeless towns of Homer, Shongaloo, Vivian and Hosston, but Jeffery reserves particular praise for the reception he and and his crew received in Arcadia.
“We were filming on the town square there — we had permission to do so — and the police came by and asked what we were doing. We told them, and they said, ‘Do you need anything? Do you need us to shut down the street for you? If you need anything, just let us know.’ ” Jeffery asked if the officers could locate any 1960s-era cars in town. Within a few hours the deputies delivered two period automobiles from private owners and shut down the street. “That’s an amazing community and they truly embraced us as a team.”
As for winning the $50,000 prize, Jeffery adds, “It’s been a life changing experience for Paul and me. It’s given us a huge kickstart in getting our feature film going and it really shows some credibility when you’re approaching investors. When you’re as young as I am and you tell people you’re a feature filmmaker they’ll say, ‘That’s cute,’ and give you a pat on the head. Participating in this, and having the fortune of winning it, it’s helped legitimize what I’m doing.”
Jeffery and Peterson will begin filming The Long Haul in January on location in Nebraska and Chicago. “It’s a holiday comedy about a Scrooge-like college senior trying to rekindle a long lost love.”
Gregory Kallenberg echoes Jeffery’s sentiments about northwest Louisiana’s welcoming attitude toward filmmaking.
“When the art of making a film happens, it has a reverberation through the populace around it,” he said. “The people of northwest Louisiana have become the work force for the Film Prize, becoming part of the cast and the crew. This has also taught them about the art of making a film, to be discerning about it.
“People who come to the voting booth aren’t just circling a film and walking away. They’ve got notes and they are truly considering their picks because their choice has incredible implications — somebody’s going to walk away with $50,000.”
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The top five winning short films from the 2015 Louisiana Film Prize are distributed through Shorts International on iTunes. In addition to The Bespoke Tailoring of Mr. Bellamy, they include American Virgin by Tamzin Merchant, Honey and the Hive by Austin Alward, Hut Hut by Michael Allmon and Jackdaw by Travis Champagne.
The 2016 Louisiana Film Prize will take place from Oct. 3-5. Competitions for a Louisiana Music Prize for bands (sponsored in part by the Grammys Foundation) and a Louisiana Food Prize for chefs runs concurrently with the film festival. The deadline for film submissions is July 12, and the final selections will be announced August 12. To register a film, and to find out more about Louisiana Film Prize events, visit the official website.