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strokes

SC Film Comment by Chris White

Cinema Trouvé Greenville’s Jeff Sumerel finds films where we least expect them “indigenous” adj. originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native

Sumerel says his films find him. Each is inspired by a found object. And sometimes the object found is a person. “Theodore Gottlieb (aka Brother Theodore) found me in Greenwich Village in the spring of 2000,” he says of the subject for his most recent film, TO MY GREAT CHAGRIN. “I asked him why a filmmaker from the Deep South should be his biographer, and he said that he had always been an outsider: ‘just like you!’” Sumerel’s most recent work, an idiosyncratic gallery exhibit of “digital art” titled Exhibition of 16 Vignettes, demonstrates his tendency to arrive at the party first….before any of the other guests have arrived. “Finding an audience for my films is not unlike how the work itself is born,” he explains with a smile, “The audience has to find me.” Indeed, the cutting edge can be a lonely place. It is territory artistic innovators must make their peace with, yes…but it is also the rarified space the undefined audience craves. Indeed, artistically unambitious SC movies can go watch themselves. But…if a South Carolina filmmaker is striving for Criterion Collection excellence, they should be enthusiastically embraced. It’s just not enough for local folks to make films; we need them to make great films. We need more Jeff Sumerels. Support authentic South Carolina film. Jeff Sumerel’s 2009 feature-length documentary on the life of macabre performance artist, Brother Theodore, TO MY GREAT CHAGRIN, has screened has prestigious film festivals all over the world— including Columbia’s Indie Grits Festival. Find it here: spontaneous.net.

Not one to take issue with the editors at the New Oxford American Dictionary, my own experience with indigenous South Carolina film has occurred most un-naturally. Working as a production assistant on Jeff Sumerel’s wistful short film PLOW THE SKY in the spring of 1992, I knew I’d met someone truly unique: an ingenious-indigenous South Carolina filmmaker. SKY’s narrative—a dubious tale of a carnival “diving mule”—was so utterly unexpected. “I kept seeing that old amusement park on the side of the highway,” Sumerel explains, “It was telling me the story of a diving mule.”

SC Screens North Charleston’s friendly, neighborhood cinema: Park Circle Films Executive Director Nicholai Burton describes Park Circle Films (at “The Olde North Charleston Picture House”) as communitymandated. “There was a vote to determine what the locals wanted most. Grocery store won, followed closely by coffeehouse,” he says. “Independent cinema ran a respectable third…and that we could afford.”

Burton’s friendly collective of Lowcountry cinephiles gathers each Saturday night at 7:00 sharp to take in a smartly curated collection of bright new works by emerging filmmakers from across the globe (with a cult favorite sprinkled in on occasion so no one gets all uppity). Admission is five bucks…unless you’re a member of the Park Circle Film Society. Then you get in for two.

Chris White, Undefined Magazine Film Editor, is an indigenous South Carolina filmmaker who grew up in the Midlands, makes his home in the Upstate, and escapes to the SC coast every chance he gets. His latest feature is TAKEN IN (2011). www.ChrisWhiteHQ.com

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