An Interview with P.J. Starks – By Kirsten Walsh

There are a ton of awesome film festivals around the country and around the world at this point, which is awesome for independent filmmakers. P.J. Starks is a filmmaker turned festival director for the “River City Festival of Films” that takes place every March in Owensboro, Kentucky. A festival that prides itself on supporting independent films and film in general, this year, the festival featured some incredible films and some awesome festival guests! The third time was the charm with this festival, which has been getting more and more attention as it has consistently grown. Starks also is a host of “Unscripted: An Indie Film Xperience”, which is a mini-showcase that features short films with commentaries! Make sure to check out the links for the festivals for when submissions will open up!

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KW: How did you get involved with the Fest?

PJS: I’m the creator of the festival and I also organize the event along with my friends and partners Claude Bacon, Jim Blanton and Jason Koger.

KW: What is the main goal of the Festival?

PJS: We have several goals that we try to accomplish with the festival. First and foremost we try to be a viable venue for local/regional indie filmmakers and artists to showcase their work and abilities. Second we use said venue to give the community a chance to see the types of artistry we have in our area and expose them to this. We also try to be a networking tool for those artists to work together as well as give those in the community who are interested in film a chance to meet the filmmakers as a way to become more involved. We have a lot of reasons we pull off this event.

KW: What kind of films play at the festival? Do you have any special screening events for genre films/ horror films?

PJS: It’s an all genre film festival so we screen any and all types of films. This year alone we had everything from suspense thriller to documentaries to zombie comedies to dramas to slasher/horror fare. Our event runs the gamut. We try to bring in a little something of everything to give the lover of each genre a reason to attend.

KW: That’s really cool, and I see many film festivals doing that now. Can you talk a little about the panels and what the topics were?

PJS: This was the first year we did any full blown seminars. It was pretty exciting. We had Dave Shuffett, the nine time Emmy award winning host of Kentucky Life on KET, give a talk about his career on the show as well as discuss his new book ‘My Kentucky Life’. The other seminar we hosted was with Owensboro native Jason Koger and actor/writer/director Peter Weller of Robocop fame. Six years ago Jason lost his arms in a horrible accident and he used that tragedy to become a national inspiration. His work lead him to being cast in the Hookman episode of the hit series Hawaii 5-0 where he worked alongside Peter. They became quick friends and we had them discuss working together on the show. It was a big hit and drew in a good size audience.

KW: What was your favorite part of the festival this year?

PJS: I’m won’t sugar coat the failure of year two. A hundred people showed in twelve hours. It was depressing to say the least, so I’m not lying when I say how excited I was at the incredible turn out for year three. The vibe was insanely different too. The packed house and atmosphere of the newly built Owensboro Convention Center really validated all the hard work we put into creating the first and only film festival in our area. Filmmakers really got a chance to network and mingle. Artists, that otherwise would never cross paths, had the opportunity to exchange information and ideas. We also had full theaters for our local shorts. All of these things together, mixed with working on something so unique for our area with friends that I truly care about, ultimately made this event for me. It has helped make 2014 a memorable one.

KW: That’s awesome! When will you start planning for next year, or have you already started?

PJS: I would be lying if I said the gears weren’t turning already, but we decided to take a small breather to let everything soak in. Our first meeting will be in the coming weeks. Then we can start stressing about how we’re going to top Peter Weller.

KW: Ha! That might be hard to do! As a filmmaker as well as the founder of this festival, how does this festival in particular benefit participating filmmakers?

PJS: Our festival, like any, gives you an audience to experience your story. As a filmmaker I not only create a narrative that I would enjoy, but something I hope others would like to see as well. We all want an audience for our work. We want the feedback to know that our story has connected with someone. I don’t know any filmmakers that make movies so they can sit on a shelf and collect dust. Watching your films with an audience is also a useful tool to find out what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes you might have a certain idea of how someone should react, but the viewer has a completely opposite reaction. By knowing these things you can start to break your methods down and figure out how to do things differently in order to get the desired effect. Making films in general is just an exercise in figuring out what not to do next time.

KW: What are your thoughts on the current "scam" regarding Film Awards vs. Film Festivals?

PJS: As disappointing as my answer might be, awards are nice but applause is nicer. I’m fine with a basic laurel that I can put on the poster. I just want the film to be accepted, get watched and hopefully enjoyed. End of story.

KW: That is an excellent way of putting it! How does the River City Festival of Films play into "Unscripted"- which is the year round screening experience you host?

PJS: Honestly they’re two separate events all together. The only thing they might share is certain films. Some of the indie shorts from Unscripted 3 that ended this February screened at the film fest in March. After this year Unscripted: An Indie Film Xperience is going to be an annual eight week short film series that takes place at the Daviess County Public Library. It screens local/regional shorts and features a unique live audio commentary experience with the filmmakers about their project. The film festival features screenings; however, there is no live audio commentary. Then again, I like cross-overs and there’s no reason why Unscripted can’t invade the festival one year.

KW: How can filmmakers get in touch with the festival or Unscripted?

PJS: The best way to get in touch with me is by looking me up on Facebook, you can also become a fan of our events at www.facebook.com/TRCFF and www.facebook.com/UnscriptedXperience. You can also email me directly at starks.pj@gmail.com or veritecinemafilms@gmail.com. Right now we’re looking for shorts for both Unscripted and the next festival that will take place in 2015.

Thank you P.J. and best of luck to you for next year’s festival!