I spent last week gorging on movies at the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival in suburban Chicago. I have been involved with these folks since this festival's inception and have watched as it has grown and matured over the years.
One way the film fest has differentiated itself is by focusing on having cast and crew on hand to be interviewed live or via Skype, but an even greater differentiation point is having the judges screen the films live with an audience, counter to most festivals I have worked on (where you watch the entries by yourself and all the votes are tabulated). In what is sometimes long and frequently lively discussions, our deliberations at the end can often sway each other one way or the next. Watching 30 or so movies in a week, and then debating them, takes both physical and mental fortitude in the kind of "Nerd Extreme Sports" I like.
My personal favorite of the fest this year was Dax Phelan's cerebral Hong Kong thriller JASMINE. It was a cool noir with the kind of unreliable narrator that I enjoy. But the Chicago-centric romantic comedy OPEN TABLES by director Jack C. Newell was hard to beat, with nice performances, a domino-tipping plot, and good cinematography to make a pleasing blend (that won Best of Fest).
On the shorts front, I was utterly charmed by director Becca Roth's LUCKY PENNY, about a lonely barista who tries to seed the world with good luck in the form of pennies from her tip jar. My sensibilities were much in line with director Megan St. John's rural crime caper BROILED (which won Best of Illinois) but director Benjamin Cappelletti with his apocalyptic dark comedy SKAL introduced me to another guy who is probably going to push me out of the way some day.
Those are my top five, but there were cool things and good performances all up and down the festival lineup. Plus I got to eat Chicago pizza multiple times, and who can complain about that? You can go to bwiff.com to learn more about the film festival.