Fests focus on films by fans

Original pix made by and for fans take center stage

Comic-Con Intl. is billed as a gathering point for all things cool in pop culture — including film.

Movies have always been a part of Comic-Con, though in recent years they have gone from 24-hour screenings of classic genre films and anime to showing original pics made by and for fans through two events: the Comic-Con Intl. Independent Film Festival and the Star Wars Fan Film Awards.

“Film has always been a big part of what we do, from having Frank Capra sit in on a panel to having all night screenings,” says David Glanzer, director of marketing and public relations for the annual San Diego Comic-Con.

Now in its fourth year, the CCI-IFF has continued to grow in popularity and submissions. More than 45 films will be screened July 22-25, including shorts, feature-length projects, animation and documentaries.

The selection crew is made up of Glanzer; Garry Sassaman, who has a background in television; and Fae Desmond, director of the comics convention in the 1970s. Some of the more than 1,100 volunteers and office workers involved with the Con also will have a part in choosing the lineup. Though there are no official prizes, a juried format is a possibility for future editions.

Glanzer says the integration of these festivals into the Con was a natural progression.

“It’s a great endeavor to not only have your film seen by fans, but also by working professionals,” says Glanzer. “People don’t realize the history of the show. We had a film festival in the ’70s and we’ve constantly had panels on acting, producing independent films and even DVD production.”

“Star Wars” fan films have been gaining steam since about five years ago when a little- known filmmaker named Kevin Rubio created a hit pic parodying the “Cops” TV show using stormtroopers. Though “Troops” helped revive the genre, it was by no means the first takeoff from George Lucas’ universe.

“Since ‘Hardware Wars’ came out in 1977, fan films have been popular,” says Steve Sansweet, director of content management and fan relations for Lucasfilm. “Films that were parodying or paying homage to ‘Star Wars’ were really taking off all over the place, so we wanted some place to focus on them.”

Begun in 2002 at Star Wars Celebration 2 in Indianapolis, the Star Wars Fan Film Awards received 95 submissions for this, its second year at Comic-Con, up from 65 last year.

“At Comic-Con’s request, we showed all of the entries in a five-hour marathon. We had about 10 of the filmmakers represented out of about 36 finalists,” Sansweet says.

The selection of winners is a co-production between Lucasfilm and the online pic hub AtomFilms. Together they choose the finalists, and Atom hosts and streams the top picks.

One winner is selected by Lucas himself, while others are voted on by online users at AtomFilms.com. The awards will be presented at a gala Comic-Con ceremony July 22.

Sansweet says “Star Wars'” history with Comic-Con makes it a perfect home for the fest.

“We had our marketing people there in 1976” to promote the release of the very first film, he says. This year, the Con will host a “Star Wars” day and offer a look ahead to next year’s “Episode III.”

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