Go There: Founder’s Day Film Festival

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Our city might never match the multicultural chic of Cannes or the spectacular scenery of Park City, Utah, but that won’t stop it from holding the tenth iteration of the Founder’s Day Film Festival (FFF), August 3-6, at Old State Fairgrounds Park.

This decade-long tradition of showing films both celebrated and obscure on a giant temporary screen erected on the city’s south side was nearly canceled due to the announcement that the 1915 D.W. Griffith silent classic The Birth of a Nation would lead off the festival lineup on Friday, August 3rd. Long hailed as a innovative masterpiece, the film is also reviled for its depiction of Civil War era African-Americans as either cowering simpletons or predatory animals. Acrimonious exchanges between the Department of Parks and Recreation and local civil rights groups made news throughout the winter, ceasing only when City Historian Clara McNee stepped in to offer a compromise deemed acceptable by both sides.

Thus The Birth of a Nation will be shown as scheduled, but will be preceded by the documentary Glory Road: The Legacy of the African-American Motorcyclist (2005) at 7:30 pm, and followed at 11 pm by a 21st century take on the Civil War, Ronald F. Maxwell’s 2003 film Gods and Generals, starring Robert Duvall as General Robert E. Lee. The park will remain open until 3 am to accommodate the prodigious length (3 hours, 51 minutes) of this film. The 1915 silent film will also be accompanied by helpful subtitles, explaining the liberties taken with the historical record and putting the obvious and overt racism into context.

The theme for Saturday’s lineup is ‘Overlooked Classics’ and features Ginger Rogers, David Niven and Charles Coburn in 1939’s Bachelor Mother at 7:30 pm and the film noir sleeper Raw Deal (1948) starring Dennis O’Keefe, Claire Trevor and (a pre-Perry Mason) Raymond Burr at 9 pm.

Sunday is ‘Kids Night’ at the festival, beginning at 6 pm with the 1972 film The Biscuit Eater, the story of boy and his dog, starring tv’s Johnny Whitaker of Family Affair fame. Lest feline fanciers feel affronted, Disney’s classic 1964 film The Three Lives of Thomasina, the story of one-third of a cat’s typical existential allotment, starring ‘Danger Man’ Patrick McGoohan, will follow at 8 pm. If instead of our usual unrelenting August heat wave it is raining, the film will be shown inside the Old Fairgrounds Building, with the audience limited (by the Fire Marshall) to the first 277 kids and their parents.

Monday, August 6th is this year’s celebration of Founders’ Day. The city was not actually founded in August- in 1977, municipal employees were granted a summer holiday to fall between Independence Day and Labor Day, and so Founder’s Day is officially celebrated on the first Monday of August. Most local companies do not observe the holiday. But, taking advantage of the (almost) holiday, the FFF traditionally presents a day-long festival of short independent films, submitted and adjudicated by the FFF committee, headed by the aforementioned Clara McNee. Attendance is usually sparse. This year’s films include Memories of My Sister, an emotional tribute to a victim of bulimia, and The History of the Fork a faux-documentary by animated filmmaker John ‘Sparky’ Firestone from Pembine, Wisconsin. Monday’s cinematic line-up begins at approximately 1 pm, immediately at the conclusion of the traditional Founder’s Day re-enactments. Be sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat, as movies shown outdoors at midday are notoriously hard to see and you won’t want to miss a single minute of those animated forks.
David Andrews

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