Two awards is what he eats! Returning to Texas after its US premiere in 2015, Cosmico made an impression at the 2016 Austin Revolution Film Festival. C.J. Lazaretti's directorial debut won the top prize in the Best Animated Film category, as well as earning the audience choice award for Best International Short.
"Getting two awards in one festival was an unprecedented honor for me," says Lazaretti, who won his first filmmaking award for Cosmico at the 2015 Athens Animfest. "Above all else, though, ARFF was a great five days to watch entertaining independent movies, and to meet many of the friendly filmmakers behind them. I crossed the Atlantic to attend ARFF. Totally worth it."
Fostering the cross-pollination of film talent across borders is part of the event's ethos. ARFF founder and curator James Christopher is himself a film director (DisAssociationVille, the Quad X trilogy) with first-hand experience of the challenges and dilemmas that indie filmmakers face when trusting ambitious personal projects to festivals, often in the face of tight marketing budgets in which a lot depends on every screening.
"We don't take this responsibility lightly," says Christopher. "The ultimate goal of this festival is, and will always be, creating an environment that encourages the celebration of film and nurtures collaboration for future projects."
Now in its fifth year, ARFF is sponsored by Final Draft, InkTip and FilmFreeway, among others. One of the three venues hosting its screenings was a branch of the prestigious Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain. The presence of representatives from other events, including Twister Alley Film Festival, Windy City International Film Festival and Deep in the Heart Film Festival, only confirms the status that ARFF has quickly attained in the North American independent film circuit.
Cosmico was in excellent company. Comic gems in the 2016 ARFF shorts program included the endearing modern fairy tale Move Me, clever action-comedy Think Twice and Natural Insemination, a hilarious cautionary tale about the dangers of planned parenthood.
The event's hectic schedule also included over a dozen feature presentations. One of the highlights was the world premiere of Why Lie? Beer, Woman, Chicken Wings, a farcical stoner comedy featuring Roger Guenveur Smith (Chi-Raq, American Gangster). Another was theater director Ryan LaPlante's film debut Holy Hell, an outrageous comic horror caper that plays like Last House on the Left re-imagined by John Waters.
Parallel to the film program, ARFF also included a number of panels and talks. One of them was a visit to St. Michael's Catholic Academy, where Lazaretti shared his experience of submitting Cosmico's controversial brand of religious humor to international festivals. After screening at Exploding Cinema's children's show at the 2015 Supernormal Festival, the blasphemous short film keeps meeting undaunted viewers among the youngest demographics.
"The Texan capital will always be a very dear city to me," says Lazaretti, who studied film at the University of Texas at Austin. "Events like ARFF demonstrate that Texans are not only a friendly and welcoming lot, but also fiercely creative artists with great talent and drive. Filmmakers everywhere could take a leaf out of that book. Or two."