By Kendra Lolio
WEST WARWICK — The third annual 401 Film Fest took place Saturday and Sunday at the Arctic Playhouse, drawing filmmakers from around the state and even the world showcasing their independent productions. The proceeds of the event benefitted Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State.
According to the festival’s founder, Adam Theroux, roughly 800 to 900 submissions are made each year, and only 36 were chosen this year to be screened at the festival.
“I have to say no to 10 out of 11 of them,” said Theroux.
The first showcase on Saturday, Nov. 25 included pieces such as “Vigilante” by Matt Scully, “Idioms Origins Another Tale” by Jim McDonough, and a piece called “Skin” by Holly Mello, Susan Shaw and Hula Hussain, among others. The second showcase featured pieces like “Anemotion” by Nick Tassoni, “Housekeeping” by Matt Ferrara, “Mis Entranas” by Guillermo Herrero Amor of Spain, and “Balloon” by Vis Vitalis of Russia.
The first showcase Sunday included clever, moving, and humorous films such as “The Look” by Audrey Noone about a mother using a seemingly innocent look to help her son with stuttering and facing some unintended consequences. “Kitty Troops,” by 8-year-old Chelsea McGuire involved the use of stop animation. At the end of the film’s screening, Theroux remarked, “That’s why we do this.”
“Will’s Game” was a short by Kody Fraser, which is a 5-minute spoof of the 1997 Disney Pixar Short “Geri’s Game.” Another was “Eyes in the Back of Her Head” by 16-year-old Massachusetts resident Madison Durand, a clever 4-minute animation about a young monster who thinks his mother is keeping a strange secret.
Later in the day they screened other works such as “Shattered” by Adam Foss and “Park Bench” by Tom Palleschi.
“It’s not overkill,” said Theroux of the festival’s format. “Other film festivals have over 100 films at 15 different venues. We’ve crammed 36 into two days and it’s completely free.”
“Fueling Fierce: The Shannon Heil Story,” by Brian Heil left no dry eyes in the room at the end of its screening about the late 18-year-old Shannon Heil, a Woonsocket Vocational Technical High School graduate who died in a car accident in Burrillville in July of 2013.
“It’s a very moving piece,” Theroux said.
The film tells the story of Heil’s life and the impact her death has had on countless others, as her father used the tragedy to spread kindness and start a ‘pay it forward’ campaign in Shannon’s memory.
Theroux, who also works full time as a video producer and editor for WPRI Channel 12, says he started the festival for independent filmmakers and believes there is a “booming” film industry in Rhode Island.
His goal was that he would try to raise enough money to keep the event free each year, which he did, but with leftover proceeds he decided to donate to an organization near to his heart, BBBSOS, for which he has been a mentor since 2014. He was named Big Brother of the Year in 2016. In total, using a $1 raffle system, the festival has raised more than $4,000 for the organization.
“Adam is not only a fun and dedicated ‘Big Brother’, he’s also a true advocate of mentoring, a philanthropist, and an extension of our BBBSOS team,” said Katje Afonseca, BBBSOS Executive Director in a press release earlier this month. “We are incredibly grateful for his support.”
“This isn’t a competition at all,” Theroux said. “It’s a celebration. A lot of these films wouldn’t otherwise be screened except for Youtube, but it’s different playing it on a big screen and with a bunch of people you don’t know watching.”
Theroux said the Arctic Playhouse has become a natural home for hosting the festival each year, and it will be the venue of choice again in 2018 for the fourth annual event.
“I didn’t need to look anywhere else,” said Theroux. “I found my home. The free popcorn is awesome. And couches? That’s prime real estate right there.”
Next time Theroux said he hopes to hold it in the playhouse’s soon-to-be-new home at 1249 Main Street, the former location of Maxine’s department store, which is being restored and renovated to become their new location.