Since the summer of 2002, the Juneau Underground Movie Picture Society (JUMP) has been entertaining Juneau-ites with its twice yearly film festivals, while at the same time nurturing the creative impulses of local filmmakers anxious to dip their toes into cinematic waters.
Featuring a mix of cinematic polish and DIY spirit, the latest installation of the Summer Film Festival wrapped up Saturday night after five viewings spread over three days at Gold Town Nickelodeon Movie Theatre. The festival delivered all the diversity and fun that locals have come to expect from JUMP with this year’s version heavy on documentary filmmaking and, as expected, the expansive beauty of the Juneau area and all of Alaska.
Filmmakers must follow only two rules: their work must be no more than 10 minutes in length and their production must have a Juneau connection. This year’s JUMP Fest contained 16 films ranging from “Gert Svarney,” the portrait of an Alaskan artist, to “Videotone News,” archived footage of Juneau in the 1980s, from “Oregon Trail,” an ode to the Oregon Trail generation, to “Thunderpussy,” the documentary of an all-female band as it rocks the stage during the Sasquatch Music Festival.
JUMP Society Board Members Aaron Suring and Jamie Karnik sat down with me the day after Thursday’s opening, to talk about everything the Fest has accomplished in the last 15 years and this year’s batch of films.
“This year ended up being a little more documentary focused for some reason,” Suring said. “It’s always interesting to see what you’ll get, because you never know when you put out the calls what’s going to come back. They’re all really good … I was impressed with this group.”
A strength of this year’s fest seemed to be in how each film fit with those that came before and after. The pacing was well-done, keeping the audience engaged and surprised by what they were seeing.
“We get all types of different films, so you never know what you’re going to get; we try to place them in such a way where surprises will come along,” Karnik said.
Through the years, both Suring and Karnik say that the technical aspect of the films entered has gotten better, but the DIY spirit has not been lost. They stressed that JUMP welcomes the entries of all filmmakers, with nearly all genres fair game.
“One of our phrases is stop watching and start creating,” Karnik said. “We’re really dedicated to encouraging local filmmakers of all different perspectives, ages, and experience.”
Based on the opening night audience response, Suring was pleased.
“It was well received,” he said. “People liked the films this time.”
Other films presented included a very short and funny “Editing” by Jeff Brown; “An Ode To The Falls” highlighting visually gorgeous shots of water cascading through Alaska wilderness; “Going for the Gold,” a documentary that brings viewers into the world of a modern-day miner whose wacky-looking, self-designed equipment, hunger for gold and eccentric sense of humor kept audiences highly entertained; “Who’s That In Your Restaurant,” heavy on music as played by Playboy Spaceman; “Going Off Trail,” an exploration of the Treadwell area; “Vivo Aqui: Episode 4,” an ongoing series celebrating localization; “Inside Out,” a short from a considerably longer film about Juneau inmates leaving prison; and “Panhandlers MC Rodeo and Toy Run,” a film about motorcycle club members honing their riding skills and bringing toys to children.
Greg Chaney is a long time Juneau filmmaker who has been part of every JUMP Festival beginning with the first. His entry this year was “Reflections on Running With Pretty Sharp Things,” an interview with local playwright Aaron Elmore who wrote the play the movie is based on and whose understated and sometimes humorous description of the play’s innerworkings bounces nicely off of the action on stage. Chaney sees the film fest as being an important part of Juneau’s creative spirit.
“The thing to know about the festival is that it’s not competitive. It’s really a very welcoming and easy environment for someone to try something new,” he said. “It’s been a very supportive and pleasant experience all around.”
Chaney has the added perspective of having been to film festivals in other locales.
“I’ve been to other film festivals, some internationally with the stuff that I’ve done and I’ve talked to a lot of filmmakers who tell me that they’ve never had a local experience like JUMP,” he said. “Every six months it’s all local content, non-competitive and with large audiences for five showings. I’ve never seen that anywhere else in the world.”
Sarah Betcher had two movies in this year’s JUMP Fest, “Fishing In Nome,” and “Gold Dredging,” both documentaries highlighting events in the Nome area. Nearly all of the filmmakers featured show up to at least one screening. For Betcher it’s a great way to gauge what audiences respond to.
“I really enjoy seeing how people react to my films, like when they laugh or show other emotions,” Betcher said. “I usually don’t necessarily feel the same way just because I made it. I may be thinking of it in a different manner as an editor. Someone not involved in the editing may experience it in a totally different way and I learn a lot every time I have the opportunity to see a public showing.”
Just as winter always follows summer, so too another JUMP fest will happen in about six months’ time with the arrival of new work.
A fair number of the filmmakers who participate in the festivals have done so numerous times but Karnik is quick to point out the importance of new blood as well.
“We love it when a new filmmaker pops up, someone that we don’t even know,” Karnik said. “It’s really exciting to me when someone is showing their first film ever.”
• Thomas Kellar is a freelance writer living in Juneau.