Godzilla attacking Akron. A zombie flick with a twist. A documentary about local Red Cross workers. Musings about the "Akron Akron Akron" Bridge.

These are some of the themes that will be explored at the first Highland Square Film Festival on Saturday at the Highland Theatre.

Comedian, writer and Akron native Rhea Butcher will serve as host of the event, which runs from 2 to 6 p.m. and will feature about 20 short films. Submissions came from seasoned filmmakers and first-timers.

“We wanted to have a good mix of genres,” said Marissa McClellan, the festival’s project manager. “It was open to anyone who could make a film that was Akron-centric and five minutes or less.”

The event will kick off with a panel discussion about the potential for future film and video productions in Akron, followed by the screenings. Judges will rank the films and present awards. A $1,000 cash prize goes to the first-place winner, with $500 for second place.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing all the work and also learn more about what it means to make films in Akron,” said Butcher on the phone from Los Angeles.

Butcher, whose current projects include the Three Swings podcast and writing for a TV show (“I’m really excited about it, but I can’t say what it is”), is a fan of short films and vintage theaters.

“When I was growing up, I used to go the Lyn Theatre out on Waterloo Road. That was where I saw my first movie, so I have a deep love and appreciation for single-screen movie theaters,” Butcher said.

“There is one within walking distance of where I live currently. There’s just nothing like it. Everybody there really wants to be there. It’s the ultimate movie-watching experience.”

Brit Charek, head of the upcoming Bechdel Fest, will also be awarding a $100 prize to the film that best passes the Bechdel Test (films with at least two female characters talking about something besides a man). There will also be an Audience Choice Award, with the winner receiving a “super swag bag” filled with goodies.

Charek will be one of the judges, along with filmmaker and educator Miriam Bennett, author and UA Associate Professor David Giffels and Cir L’Bert Jr. of the Nightlight Cinema. The panelists include Miki Blak, Rob Lucas, Connie Collins and Scott Hallgren.

Admission is free, but you need to register in advance. Go to: https://ticketstripe.com/hsff2018. The Highland Theatre holds about 600 people.

The festival is the brainchild of the Highland Square Neighborhood Association board members, who received a Knight Arts Challenge grant. With matching funds from the HSNA, they were able to budget about $13,000 for the festival, McClellan said.

Organizers hope the festival will encourage artists to tell more Akron-inspired stories.

“Akron is so hard to describe to [outsiders],” said Butcher, who grew up in Kenmore and graduated from Archbishop Hoban High School (2001) and the University of Akron (2005).

“People in Akron really get it. I could point to LeBron James, David Giffels, Patrick Carney, Devo, Chrissie Hynde or Jim Jarmusch. We understand the place. Even if we can’t necessarily explain to other people what it is about Akron that makes it so unique."

 

Clint O’Connor covers pop culture. He can be reached at 330-996-3582 or coconnor@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClintOMovies.