By Jan Mercker
The old cliché says, “write what you know.” So it’s no surprise that Loudoun-based screenwriter Elizabeth Stinnette’s big break came in the form of a movie about screenwriting.
Stinnette’s 2016 film “The Screenwriters” is a centerpiece of the brand new LoCo-centric festival, Cabin Fever Film Fest, which makes its debut Jan. 19 and 20 at Franklin Park Arts Center.
The festival is the brainchild of Liz Jarvis, a former Hollywood PR maven who now heads up the Purcellville Arts Council, with support from Elizabeth Bracey, director of the county-owned Franklin Park Arts Center. And unlike the swanky Middleburg Film Festival, which boasts national releases, including Oscar contenders, the Purcellville fest will focus on homegrown talent.
“I like the focus on what I like to call hyper-local,” Jarvis said. “It’s really focusing on the Purcellville area. We have a good number of people who live in this area who are in the film business.”
A former marketing and public relations executive for Sony Pictures and Variety magazine in Los Angeles who did the festival circuit for years, Jarvis decided it was time to create a showcase for local talent in the small town she’s called home since 2011. And Bracey immediately offered the county’s beloved arts center as a venue.
When Jarvis saw Stinnette’s film, she was wowed by its professional caliber. “The Screenwriters” was produced by Purcellville-based independent filmmaker George Escobar and his Advent Film Group, which focuses on developing Christian filmmakers, and was released in 2016.
Stinnette, 26, who was a student when she wrote the screenplay, was inspired by classic films like “Casablanca” when she came up with the story of two very different screenwriters in 1940s Hollywood: a veteran writer who’s coasting on his fame and a newbie who’s just come to Hollywood. The two men are given an assignment to work together to complete a screenplay in 24 hours.
“It’s very much this conflict of two very different people who are trying to work on a story together. It’s about the creative process and about friendship. It’s also an homage to classic Hollywood,” Stinnette said.
Even with a shoestring budget, the crew was able to hire professional actors to bring their vision to life. Jeff Rose, who appeared in the television drama “Army Wives,” plays the once-great Stewart Harvey; and Jason Burkey, known for his recurring role as Kevin on “The Walking Dead,” plays the upstart Chip Leninskovich.
With “The Screenwriters” as the centerpiece for opening night Jan. 19, the festival continues Saturday morning with a screening of local photographer Sarah Huntington’s 2011 documentary, “Nichols: The Last Hardware Store,” about the iconic downtown Purcellville business. And Jarvis says the film has special relevance, given Purcellville’s recent and ongoing growth.
“Many people have never seen [Nichols]—especially if they just moved here. It’s a film that was made several years ago, but I feel that it’s an evergreen,” Jarvis said. “Nichols is an iconic part of Purcellville.”
Huntington, whose Purcellville-based photography studio is located down the street from Nichols Hardware, is something of a local icon herself and will discuss her process for making a documentary film.
And while featuring some of the more professional films to come out of western Loudoun in recent years was key, the festival is also intended as an outlet for young filmmakers. After Huntington’s talk, the festival will showcase the work of two teen filmmakers.
“We really want to encourage students to keep going in that direction,” Jarvis said. “We will highlight your work. We will support you. We will show your films.”
Loudoun Valley High School junior Michael Chirillo, 17, submitted his short film “Teo And Jake Play Chess.” As an outgrowth of his longtime love of movies and animation, Chirillo started making films last summer through his involvement with A Place To Be, the Middleburg-based music and arts therapy center, with support from his mentor Kevin Leong. Leong plays Jake in the movie, and Chirillo, who hopes to go into a career in acting or film editing, plays Teo.
Loudoun Valley sophomore Maddy Wade, 16, submitted two very different shorts: the atmospheric “Exploring Corolla” is visual exploration of North Carolina’s Outer Banks set to music while “The Ghoulie Girls: Summoning Charles Dickens” is a funny and irreverent look at Charles Dickens, filmed as a reality TV-style paranormal investigation.
Wade is looking forward to seeing her work, available on her YouTube channel, on the big screen, but warns viewers about a little bit of goofiness in the Dickens piece.
“It’s fun to share what you create, but at the same time it’s probably going to be quite cringey seeing other people watch the funny one,” she said with a laugh.
With two full-length films and a trio of student-made short films, Cabin Fever Film Fest’s organizers are starting small, but anticipate that submissions will snowball as word spreads about the new festival.
“People have the idea that a film festival is for professional filmmakers, and this is different,” Bracey said. “We wanted it to be more of a hometown festival. What better way to try something new than a festival like this that’s very much encouraging of all kinds of filmmakers—all ages and abilities. So even though the numbers of entries isn’t tremendously large, we do have a very interesting gamut of films that we’re excited about.”
The Cabin Fever Film Fest opens at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19, with a screening of “The Screenwriters,” followed by a Q&A with Elizabeth Stinnette. Tickets are $8. The festival continues at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 20, with a screening of “Nichols: The Last Hardware Store” and a talk by Sarah Huntington, followed by short films by Michael Chirillo and Maddy Wade. Tickets for Saturday’s event are $5. Both events will be held at Franklin Park Arts Center, 36441 Blueridge View Lane west of Purcellville.