It certainly felt like Hollywood’s noted Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Thursday as the red carpet was rolled out, cameras flashed, and about 200 patrons filled the Charlotte Harbor Event Center in Punta Gorda to kick off the second Peace River Film Festival.
The four-day event opened with a world premiere screening of the winner of its feature film category, the sci-fi thriller “Parapsychology 101.” The 68-minute film was among 126 entries submitted to be reviewed by a committee of four judges, who critiqued each one in categories that included writing, editing and screenplay.
“We had 18 questions for each judge to answer,” artistic director Elizabeth Billings said. “In all, we had 43 films to put on the program. I wished we could have done them all. They were all excellent.”
The plot of “Parapsychology 101,” filmed in Jacksonville, focuses on a paranormal researcher, Dr. Alan Greer, whose funding was cut for his project.
The innovative doctor then goes to a college in Virginia to teach a class on parapsychology, not admitting to the school’s administrators that he is using his students as guinea pigs to continue his research in telekinesis — the ability to move objects by using one’s mind.
Things take a turn for the worse when his experiments backfire as he unwittingly discovers a dark secret hidden within one of his students. The ending has a unique twist, much like an episode of the “Twilight Zone” or an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
The filmmaker, Dan McCarthy, said that he had the concept to make it after he dreamed about parapsychology. While doing a six-year stint in the Navy, McCarthy was “sucked in” by the subject and learned all he could about TK, as it is referred to, and applied it to his film.
“I had a 43-page script to work from,” he said. “There was a lot of ad-lib going on. What you saw was the actors being very creative.”
McCarthy, a 28-year-old native of Puerto Rico who has written three other feature films, said he had the idea to make it in the 2004-2005 time frame but had no funding. While he was attending the Art Institute of Jacksonville, the project was approved. He said that it cost him about $400 to feed the actors, but “if you add in his time, the actor’s time and the school’s time, it probably cost about $20,000 to produce.”
In his acceptance speech, McCarthy gave some advice for up-and-coming filmmakers.
“Writing is the most important and the most overlooked part of film,” he said. “Make sure your script is solid.”
Prior to the showing of McCarthy’s film, emcee Mike Riley of The BoogieMen band introduced a cartoon made by 11-year-old Elizabeth Herrick, “My License.”
“This makes Charlotte County a better place by bringing the arts here,” Riley said.
Supporter Kathi Papaleo, of Lake Suzy, also attended last year’s festival and was impressed by the many films she saw. Originally from New Jersey, she volunteered for the Tribeca Film Festival in New York that was the brainchild of Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
“This festival demonstrates that Floridians are filmmakers as well,” she said. “It all starts with a blank piece of paper.”