Local films in the spotlight

Southern Oregon University senior Jotham Porzio spent an entire day last fall filming a 5-minute, stop-motion movie about a teddy bear and stuffed caterpillar who play Scrabble.

The work paid off when Porzio's short film, "Simon Grady," won the college section of the Ashland Independent Film Festival's student competition.

"We worked from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. one Friday and never left the studio," he says. "The fact that our hard work was acknowledged is great, because now we're encouraged to make more."

Porzio shot the film with his friend and fellow SOU film student, Danny Quilici, who also provided the voices and music for the movie.

"Simon Grady" will screen at 9:30 a.m. Sunday in the Historic Ashland Armory alongside seven other family-friendly short films shot by locals. Tickets to the event are free and are still available at the Varsity Theatre downtown and at ashlandfilm.org.

"We recognize that there are high-quality filmmakers living in our community, whether they be student filmmakers at the middle school or professional filmmakers," says Tom Olbrich, festival executive director.

After the screening, all eight filmmakers will answer questions from the audience.

In addition to Porzio, the event will showcase the three other winners of the student film competition, called Launch.

"The four student films are some of my favorite films we've ever shown in the Launch competition," Olbrich says.

Ashland Middle School sixth-grader Kyra Smith, who was in fifth grade at Helman Elementary School when she made her film, won the elementary category for "The Keys," about a girl who helps her dad find his car keys, using friends from across Ashland.

Eli Turner, an eighth-grader at Ashland Middle School, won the middle school category for his short documentary "Walk to Fight ALS," about people walking to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Ashland High School senior Nick McKernan won the high school category for his film "Mother," about a young man coping with the loss of a loved one.

Sunday's event is the first "Locals Only" gathering. The second will be held at 3 p.m. Monday in the Varsity Theatre and will feature two documentaries.

The first is a short documentary about guitar making, shot by Pistol River resident Les Stansell. Screening second is "Two In a Million," a full-length film about two talented Ashland musicians, Dave Marston and Robin Lawson, who recently died from the same rare brain disease.

"'Two In a Million' is a powerful story about two people many people in Ashland knew, but haven't had a chance to see unfold on screen," Olbrich says.

No more advance tickets are available for Monday's free screening; however, some rush tickets may be available about 30 minutes before the show, Olbrich says.

Filmmakers whose movies were selected to screen at the "Locals Only" events will receive two passes to the festival.

"Including filmmakers living in Southern Oregon and offering them an opportunity to show their work to friends and family and the community is an important way to support filmmaking, and that's what the festival is all about," Olbrich says.

The annual event is funded through a $5,000 grant from the Carpenter Foundation.

Winning the student competition has encouraged Porzio to pursue filmmaking after he graduates from SOU this year, he says.

"Who knows if I'll get a job, but I know I'll never stop making movies," he says.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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