Thong way from home, Australian filmmaker praises Emerge experience

Seeking a venue last year to showcase one of his feature films, Sam Eather saw a listing for the Emerge Film Festival.

The Australian filmmaker was intrigued by its back story as a festival emerging from the ashes of another festival tainted by scandal. He loved the idea that a small group of community volunteers had joined forces to successfully build Emerge from scratch in a matter of weeks.

"Every festival has its own unique character, and that usually comes from the place and the people involved," Eather said.

The fighting spirit and pride shown by the people involved in Emerge resonated with Eather, who saw that community as the perfect place to hold the festival premier of his film "Love is Now."

His film won the festival's EFFy award for best feature.

One year after bringing his film to Maine, Eather is happily returning to the Twin Cities with another film. His comedy short "Jinxed" is one of roughly 40 films chosen for this year's festival from more than 2,300 submissions.

"It’s an incredible festival," Eather said. "The organizers work hard to put together an amazing program of films, and have identified the importance of having filmmakers attend and interact, not just with audiences, but with local schools, with the festival team and with each other. The result is an incredible experience and a lot of fun."

Emerge grew out of the mess when the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival folded after its co-founder and director was arrested for possession of child pornography two weeks before the start of the 2014 festival. With the LAFF brand forever scarred, a group of local film enthusiasts and filmmakers came together five days later to announce the formation of Emerge.

The volunteers needed less than three months to pull off the inaugural Emerge Film Festival.

Soon after, Eather discovered the story of Emerge's triumphant beginnings and contacted organizers.

So did other filmmakers. With more time to plan for the 2015 festival, local volunteers had the opportunity to cover all the details and add some perks like gift bags and having volunteers assigned to each visiting filmmaker.

Those personal touches appear to have paid off as the 2016 festival approaches. Submissions for this year's festival exploded from less than 200 films in 2015 to more than 2,300, a growth of more than 1,187 percent. Films were submitted from 42 states and 110 countries.

"Word of mouth is massive for festivals," Eather said. "Indie filmmakers, when they meet, always compare notes on festivals they’ve entered into and the experiences they had. "That exponential growth in submissions is, in my mind, from the filmmakers all going out and speaking positively about the Emerge experience."

Eather, 29, discovered that Emerge experience soon after arriving in Maine last year. Surprised by an April snowstorm, Eather, traveling with director Jim Lounsbury, arrived wearing just a short-sleeve shirt and flip-flops. Worse, his luggage was missing and it was after midnight.

Emerge volunteers met them at the airport and helped them locate warm clothes and shoes, but not before snapping a photo, which serves as Eather’s Facebook image.

"The Emerge team found it quite amusing," Eather said. "I was known as the flip-flop guy for a while there. I also got in trouble telling that story, because in Australia we say thongs, not flip-flops. So when I’d tell people I arrived with 'nothing but my thongs,' I received some interesting reactions."

Eather shot "Jinxed" in his hometown of Newcastle, located on the eastern shore of Australia just north of Sydney. The film features a guy who has bad luck dating, and how things go terribly wrong one night at a party.

Eather credits collaborators Gavin Blyth and Sam Hutchinson with helping to get the film made. Everyone who worked on the film volunteered their time, Eather said.

"It takes a village to make a film of any size. I'm just one part of it," he said.

While Blyth and Hutchinson are not scheduled to attend Emerge, Eather will have two of his producers — Alex Masson and Charles Olsen — at the festival with him participating in school visits and a Q&A.

With two more short films in post production, plus a couple of documentaries and shorts in the development stage, Eather still finds time to attend a handful of film festivals each year. He says he's honored that Emerge has once again selected one of his films and is excited to return to the Twin Cities.

"After visiting last year, I have a soft spot for L-A and Maine," he said. "It reminds me a lot of my home city of Newcastle. They’re both industrial cities on the up, being rejuvenated in part by the arts. I have a real passion to grow the creative industries in Newcastle, just like the Emerge team is trying to do in L-A."

Original story found at Lewiston Sun Journal.