A guest post by Jack Eagen

 

This year I had the opportunity to attend ActionFest. I didn’t just get to go as a film-goer, but I volunteered myself to what turned out to be a surprisingly amazing experience. I have not had so much fun at a film festival ever. I genuinely believe that this is a unique film festival that rivals to entertain patrons more than any other. I heard about the event when a friend mentioned he was going. A film festival fan, he had purchased a package to see every single film. I asked what was playing and discovered that some of my favorite film makers had projects playing. Namely, Takashi Miike, and Jackie Chan. The festival included a stunt show on Sunday. As I represent a production company, including a stunt and fight choreographer, Billy “Wylde” Wolcott, I emailed the people listed as being the organizers. I received a quick response and was please to get Robert Bradley and his Ghost Town Gun Fighters involved. Billy was able to participate and I got to work with John Cann, who was in charge of supplying the stunts. He brought his one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art, crash bag completing two jumps, one downtown at the ARCADE as a pre-show buzz builder. He brought his air ramp and was set on fire by Buddy Joe Hooker.  They included motor cross stunt bikers that came with their own ramp, doing jumps forty feet up, in front of the Carolina Theater front marque. There was a martial arts exhibition from Ho Sin Sool Dojang, Traditional Martial Arts Center, and to my excitement my friends from Robert Bradleys Gun Fighters kicked the entire show off with a classic Wild West show comedy bit. Robert Bradley himself did an impressive death roll back on pavement and the under taker to one to the keaster.

The highlights this year at the screening was the winner of best film, A Lonely Place to Die, and the new Film by Miike, 13 Assassins. Lonely was an excellent twist on a climber story, by a British director (Julian Gilbey) and company. I had a chance to speak with Gilbey and he was kind enough to discuss some of the difficulties he had. He mentioned they shot on the RED One camera, and that some of their most expensive shots were entirely due to a safety cable crossing in front of the lead actresses face during key moment. They digitally removed the cable, hence the cost increase on their shots. The final product is a triumph for any director on the independent scene.

Colin Geddes and Peter Kuplowsky are doing a fantastic job, and can use all the volunteers they can get. Colin is an organizer from the Toronto Film Festival, and his experience is paying off. Peter not only ran a tight ship but I appreciated that when he spoke before the final screening, 13 Assassins, he mentioned Gozu, a not often referenced film by Miike. A sign that he is a true fan, and film lover. With guys running the show that have such a personal connection with the screenings, the festival is about love for the films. This is a festival about fun. Something often lacking in film festivals.

Because ActionFest is focused towards the Action, it seems to draw out some interesting visitors. Chuck Norris came to the first year, and it was gonna be tough to top that this year. Buddy Joe Hooker, Stunt Man Legend, stepped in to fill the shoes with no problem. Again, this is a good sign because people who are Action Buffs, or Film Fanatics know the name Buddy Joe Hooker. The easiest way to explain is to say he one of the members of Stunts Unlimited, he holds the record for the most rolls in a vehicle (22), and most recently infamous was his driving in Death Proof by Quinton Tarantino. Listing out everything else about him would take forever, but I seriously recommend anyone who claims to love film to make sure they know these names.

The Life Time Achievement award this year went to Russel Towery, who absolutely deserved it. He was the stunt stand in on all the Robo Cop films, a Fight Choreographer on the Pirates of Caribbean films and Machete, but mostly he was a very nice guy that was extremely approachable. Other visitors included the fighter choreographer for Troy and Sherlock Holmes, Michael Jai White who played Spawn and Black Dynamite, and Larnell Stovall who is the fight choreographer for Bunraku and the newest in the Mortal Combat films. All three of which where on a panel with guest writer, specialist, film consultant, Kung Fu “know it all” Ric Meyers, who was attending the festival to promote his new film and book “Films of Fury”. Ric was also someone who I got the chance to talk with on multiple occasions. Besides knowing more about the history of Asia, Martial Arts, Martial Arts Film, and Kung Fu than anyone I have ever met, he is also a brilliant writer. I bought a copy of his book and can’t put it down

If that isn’t enough, when I was talking with him about the difficulties of getting so much important information into a 2 hour movie when the book is over three hundred pages, I mentioned a DVD I have watched many times. I got it in a bundle with something else, which I can’t recall.  It is called The Art of Action. It is hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, and until Films of Fury, I have never seen a more in-depth and enlightening review of the history of Kung Fu films. It has wonderful interviews that opened up to many interesting details that never seem to get covered in film school history classes. Turns out that was one of Ric’s first attempts to getting this information out in front of the public. He was a consultant on that very same DVD. The new film, Films of Fury, is as Ric described it, an attempt to do something more entertaining for an audience that might have no interest in Kung Fu films, but also to more respectfully cover some of the most important topics. Ric Meyers seemed fairly pleased with the screening, which he pointed out he had not yet seen. Previously they had shown him a rough cut of the film which he hadn’t been ecstatic with. It is a long, complicated topic to try and cover in front of an audience with an increasingly short attention span.

Mostly, I would say that this festival is the little, big secret. It is a big idea and they are just getting started. The turnout seems small compared to the massive space they cover, opening the parking lot up for the stunt show. I expect the word will pass quickly and the turnout will expand exponentially over the following years. The theater is wonderful and although the Carolina is not positioned close to the downtown area, it really is the perfect space. Besides having a layout including a good VIP room and concessions including alcohol, they also have a private parking lot that allows them to meet all safety and zoning needs. This is very important when you are setting people on fire and throwing them off platforms over 35 feet up. I will definitely see you all there next year and those who missed out this year, don’t stress, ActionFest is here to stay.

 

Jack Eagen, Story Teller