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NYC Film Festivals

Rural Route Winds Back to NYC

A scene from Joel Palombo's Milk and Opium, screening this weekend in the Rural Route Film Festival's Post-Peasant program (Photo: RRFF)

By Chris Willard

A festival dedicated to the rural side of life may seem slightly out of place in of the world’s largest metropolitan hubs. But its content hasn’t kept the Rural Route Film Festival, which starts Friday at Anthology Film Archives, from becoming a staple of the New York film scene. Founded in 2003 by Iowa native Alan Webber and several other New York transplants, the festival highlights films dealing with rural people, places and themes -- projects that don’t often get much mainstream attention.

Opening this year’s festival is Reza Bagher’s Popular Music from Vittula, a feature about two friends wrestling with cultural identity issues and chasing a dream to become rock stars in mid-'60s Sweden. Webber said the Scandinavian film is an example of the growth the fest has experienced since its founding in 2003. “[The festival] has gotten a lot more international and diverse,” Webber told The Reeler. “When we first started it was a lot of people from the Midwest and the South, and it had that kind of tone to it of Americana and farming. That’s still at the core of the fest, but it’s really diversified a lot over the years. We’ve included things from Europe and South America -- not just farm films, but films from deserts and mountains and even extreme sports sometimes. We’re riding the rural definition for all it’s worth.”

This year’s selections also feature topics ranging from fairies in Iceland to turkey racers in Texas. Huldofolk 102 (Hidden People 102) takes a serious look at the Icelandic professionals, politicians, and farmers who still believe that the island is inhabited by enchanted magical creatures. Interviews reveal information about invisible houses occupied by elves and fairies, counting 80 percent of citizens who might not declare their belief in the “hidden people,” but who aren't denying the possibility of their existence, either.

Also on the schedule, director Erik McCowan will attend a screening of his documentary Ruby’s Town, which examines the effect of the turkey on the daily lives of the citizens of Cuero, Texas, host of the annual Great Gobbler Gallop turkey race. “It kind of goes from this simple, fun turkey race competition where they race turkeys down the street to giving a whole history, almost, of the turkey industry,” Webber said. “It’s sort of sad in a lot of ways -- like a lot of agricultural history films made since the '70s -- but it’s insightful and fun to watch at the same time.”

After its July screenings in New York, Rural Route continues its national tour with stops scheduled in Oregon, Iowa and Nebraska. When the tour wraps up, Webber said the festival crew hopes to sit back and take a look at what they’ve done and where they’re headed. “We want to build the organization more and make it more of an organization and then try to branch out into producing some films and getting more into the production side of it as well,” he said.

The Rural Route Film Festival runs July 20-22 at Anthology Film Archives. Visit the festival's Web site for program and schedule information

Posted at July 17, 2007 7:28 AM

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