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Shine the light

The film scene heats up the fall


Hilary Russo, host of Second Cinema, during filming at the Carolina Theatre in Durham - PHOTO BY ISAAC SANDLIN
  • Photo by Isaac Sandlin
  • Hilary Russo, host of Second Cinema, during filming at the Carolina Theatre in Durham

The area's independent film scene can sometimes feel like a widely dispersed group of people groping around in a dark, cavernous room. Only certain occasions bring filmmakers together--such as the bi-monthly Flicker Film Festival, which begins its new season on Monday, Sept. 11 at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro.

Another such meeting place is Second Cinema, a comprehensive and informative 30-minute program on Time Warner's local channel 24.

For all the excitement about the low-budget communications possibilities of blogs and podcasting, there's something very reassuring and irreplaceable about good old-fashioned television coverage. Second Cinema is a show worth supporting and developing, as it promises a way for independent filmmakers and cinematic impresarios across the state to keep abreast of each other's work.

One afternoon in July I caught up with the stalwart trio of local media professionals who produce the 2-year-old show. Its format is a mixture of local and visiting personalities, and each episode features a North Carolina short film. The film for the August episode was an amateur documentary by Russ Brandon called Ellis the Lion about a Morrisville schoolteacher who has been called to Iraq to fight with his National Guard unit. September broadcasts will feature a horror/suspense short called Saving Shells, produced by Eno River Media, a Durham-based nonprofit.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, I watched Matt Hayhurst and Josh Johnson, the show's two young producers, put up lights and the director's chairs at the Carolina Theatre in Durham. Theirs is an efficient shoestring operation, and the banter is light and easy as host Hilary Russo, a Raleigh-based stage and screen actress, prepares to interview Nic Beery, who is here to talk up the brand new Carrboro Film Festival that will take place Sunday, Nov. 19. (The festival is still accepting submissions: Visit for more information.) As Russo conducts a relaxed interview, Jim Carl and Phil Seib of the Carolina Theatre watch from the periphery, waiting for their turn to plug Retrofantasma's fall Femme Fatale Series.

For co-producers Hayhurst and Johnson, Second Cinema is just one program in their portfolio of a dozen or so shows they produce for Time Warner. While their local work encompasses everything from U.S. Rep. David Price's regular call-in show to a program called Honky-Tonk Country, Second Cinema best reflects their principal training in filmmaking. Johnson studied at UNC-Greensboro, while Florida native Hayhurst studied at the University of Florida under noted experimental filmmaker Roger Beebe, formerly of the Triangle and one-time curator of the Flicker festival.

Russo is a former early morning newsreader who acts on stage in Raleigh, recently appearing in The Last Night of Ballyhoo at the Kennedy Theatre, where she also handles publicity for Hot Summer Nights. "I moved here four years ago and found these guys," the Westchester, N.Y., native says. "North Carolina is a great market for me. It has such a great industry in film, television and stage. The theater here is amazing!" Russo was also recently hired by WTVD to host a statewide real estate program called "Fine New Homes."

Hayhurst is an avid listener and promoter of new music, which he disseminates through his blog and related podcasts, located at He also produces an indie music show on Time Warner Cable called "The Collective."

Second Cinema is produced monthly and airs statewide, locally on Time Warner cable channel 24 at 9 p.m. on Fridays and several times throughout the week. It can also be found Thursday nights at 7:30 p.m. on Durham's public access channel 8. For more information about Second Cinema, and to contact the producers, visit

Mohammed Haithem Majid in a still from Iraq in Fragments, screening Sept. 13 at Duke University - PHOTO BY JAMES LONGLEY
  • Photo by James Longley
  • Mohammed Haithem Majid in a still from Iraq in Fragments, screening Sept. 13 at Duke University

Dispersed thought it may be, the Triangle's film scene will experience an unusually high concentration of exciting events this month.

Durham will host a set of site-specific trompe l'oeil installations by French art star Georges Rousse, which promises to place the Bull City's proudly weary downtown landscape in a thrilling new light. (See Michele Natale's story on page 47.) Durham filmmakers Penelope Maunsell and Kenny Dahlsheimer will be following Rousse and his army of 150 volunteers throughout the month of September to create a feature-length documentary.

Our local universities are an unsung cinematic resource, and the faculties of N.C. State and Duke University have been making overtures to the general public to check out their on-campus film offerings.

In commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Duke University's Screen Society has a must-see lineup of films and faculty discussions (see Best Bets on page 5 for more information). On Monday, Sept. 11, a feature film called Underexposure will receive its U.S. premiere at that event. What's remarkable about Oday Rasheed's effort is that it's a fiction feature--one can scarcely believe that it was possible at some point in the last three years to shoot on location in Baghdad, but apparently Rasheed did. The title refers to the isolation of the Iraqis and to the outdated film stock that was used to make the film. Professor Abdul Sattar Jawad, a visiting scholar from Baghdad, will introduce the film, which will be in Richard White Lecture Hall on East Campus. The following two nights feature acclaimed films that have already made brief appearances in the Triangle. On Tuesday, Sept. 12, The Road to Guantanamo, a searing film from Mat Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom, will be shown, to be followed by a discussion led by a panel of faculty heavyweights. Wednesday, Sept. 13, James Longley's Full Frame and Sundance award-winning doc Iraq in Fragments will get another area screening. The latter two films will be in Griffith Theater in the Bryan Center. Although unrelated to the 9/11 programming, Caché, Michael Haneke's thriller of anxiety in the age of terror, will nonetheless occupy fortuitously timed slots Thursday and Friday at Griffith. For more information on all these screenings, go to

Meanwhile, over at N.C. State, the film faculty has put together a nice package of 35mm prints under the very appealing title of "Young Rebels of International Cinema." The series kicks off tomorrow with Logan's Run (1976), a film about a world in which it is a capital crime to be over 30 years old. The assaults of the young against the old continue the following Thursdays with Heavenly Creatures (1994) (directed by pre-Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson and starring pre-Titanic Kate Winslet) and Neil Jordan's cult fave The Butcher Boy (1997), which features Sinead O'Connor as a foul-mouthed Virgin Mary. The series wraps up on a lighter note with the imperishable Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). All films are free, begin at 7 p.m. and are being shown in 35mm. See

Last month, my negative review of Little Miss Sunshine generated the most vociferous response of just about anything I've ever written. From my point of view, it's odd that this distinction belongs to a movie that is formulaic and forgettable. While I didn't receive many compliments on the review, I nonetheless am heartened by the noisy feedback. This sort of bracing response is a fresh rejoinder to the critical tendency to bemoan the diminishing role of the motion picture in contemporary culture and to pine instead for the 1960s, when the average moviegoer supposedly was conversant with Buñuel, Antonioni and Godard.

An undeniably real problem is the shrinking market for serious critics, a state of affairs that has driven many to freelancing and blog publishing (two that I visit most often are and While the main point of these blogs is to provide a forum for a vertiginous level of critical discussion, there is also a dispiriting amount of internecine squabbling in the comments sections. There is frightful bloodletting between critics, whose battles over films such as Terence Malick's The New World often seem like proxy wars of professional resentment. It's in this rarefied context that I find it refreshing to get heated letters from ticket-buying moviegoers.

I don't wish to re-argue the (de)merits of Little Miss Sunshine, but I noticed a couple of things in the responses I've received. One is that for many, Little Miss Sunshine seemed to strike an unusually personal chord, which must be why so many took such offense at my indifference to the film. More than one correspondent cast Little Miss Sunshine as an antidote to our troubled times, whether it be the renewed threat of a terrorist attack or simply a summer of violent mediocrities at the multiplex. Another common point in the responses is that audiences cheered at the end. While this sort of collective response is very gratifying and reinforcing when you're a member of the majority, in hindsight I might have noted in my review that the large and mostly white audience with which I saw the film (in Oklahoma City, by the way) was not particularly responsive, and we certainly didn't clap.

All critics with pretensions to seriousness would rather start arguments over aesthetically adventurous films than blow sunshine--if this pun can be pardoned--up the backsides of predictable and profitable movies. It all comes down to what one wants from a film. While there's nothing wrong with going to a movie in hopes of feeling good, there are some who distrust films that push obvious and overused buttons. When we see the resulting ersatz sunshine, some of us just want to paint it black.

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