Two years after Thomas Edison invented motion pictures, Nevada produced the nation’s first blockbuster movie.
The film of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons prizefight, produced in Carson City in 1897, which also is considered the first movie documentary, played to record audiences across the nation. Back then, the flicks had to be viewed individually through a peep hole, with the moving pictures playing inside a wooden box. It wasn’t until years later that projectors became common and sent their magic beams of light over the heads of audiences waiting in the dark.
Since then, scenes from the Silver State have been fixtures on that silver screen, a tradition that continues at the Cordillera Film Festival 2021 in Reno. The annual event, from July 29 until Aug. 2, plays host to internationally-renowned film makers as well as new aspiring auteurs.
The festival boasts full-length features as well as 17 short films that are either about the Silver State or made by Nevada film makers. All have a running time of less than 40 minutes. The movies are offered in person, in some cases with the cast and crew available for question-and-answer periods. Or ticket-holders can stream the movies and watch from home.
I watched all 17 shorts; there’s not a clunker in the bunch. Here’s a look at some of them:
“Black Warrior of Pyramid Lake”
“Black Warrior of Pyramid Lake,” is among the best of the lot. It’s a very graphic film with a lot of violence, as is expected in a movie about murders. The homicides occur at the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation and are pinned on two gang members. That’s the start, not the end of the mystery.
Writer/director Myrton Running Wolf has an extensive educational and professional resume, and his experience and skill is apparent on screen. The actors make the characters and action believable. John Frederick delivers a standout performance as Richie Eccles, a white boy who grew up on the reservation, became a cop, and then had his life fall apart.
My only complaint is the story seemed to end too suddenly. I wanted more.
Myrton Running Wolf, audiences need a full-length film with you in the director’s chair.
“Four,” a battle with OCD
“Four,” centers on a young man who is in thrall to obsessive-compulsive disorder and driven to perform certain self-imposed ritual behaviors during the course of his day.
When the main character brushes his teeth, pours a glass of milk, or even opens or closes a door, he does those things in sets of four. This short film manages to capture the pain of OCD, which frustrates both the person afflicted and everyone around them.
I would have liked this film to be longer as well, to see how the main character progressed. The movie was made in conjunction with Cordillera Festival by 17-year-old film maker Paxton Satler. Satler is a high school senior and native Nevadan. He’s going places.
“Fowl Claims”: saving birds
“Fowl Claims” a quiet, moving film, documenting the efforts of Jim Boone, a friend to all creatures with wings. It documents Boone’s campaign to remove the remaining plastic mining claim markers that are peppered throughout federal land in Nevada.
The markers, which are now outlawed, are built like funnels and nesting birds are attracted to them. They can get in the tubes, but can’t get out and die within the trap
“Fowl Claims” is a short gem. Boone, like Johnny Appleseed, travels around doing good works. Watching him on his journey, accompanied by members of the Audubon Society, we feel the power of documentary film. There are few words; the story unfolds through actions of the people on screen.
Boone, driven by empathy for avian creatures, is a hero. I suspect there are many people like him throughout Nevada who, without fanfare, are quietly doing their part to save our environment and wildlife. This lovely film does not preach, it just follows the bird saviors and makes viewers want to help. Fred Bell, the film maker, produced this simple, elegant and sometimes heartbreaking, real-life tale.
Many more films on the bill
These are just a few of the flicks offered at Cordillera. In addition, the event hosts red carpet parties, master’s film-making classes, advice sessions about how to get your movie made, and more. In light of the reinstated COVID-19 precautions, audiences for the indoor events are limited to 25 percent capacity and masks (available at the venues) are required.
The Cordillera International Film Festival bills itself as “a champion of diverse voices and curator of independent stories for the screen.” The event celebrates the power of storytelling through engaging exhibitions, celebrity panels, educational workshops and premieres aimed at enriching and inspiring audiences. This year, Cordillera attracted a record number of submissions from filmmakers representing 83 countries. The festival also offers year-round events. For more information or tickets, visit the festival’s web page.
Bill Pearce Motors is the presenting sponsor of the festival. Community partners include Outlets Legends, Advanced Powder Coating, Artown, the City of Reno, the Nevada Film Office, the Film Festival Alliance, Amber Shore Pictures, the River Walk District, the Reno Boys and Girls Club and Bourns Productions.