The Twin Rivers Media Festival is the first weekend in May every year in Asheville, NC. All proceeds from the festival, after promotional and other expenses, go back to the film makers and media artists. Next year is Twin Rivers Media Festival’s 15th season.
The festivals judges begin selecting films in March and April and continue right through the festival’s official dates, during the first weekend in May, where the finalists are screened in two hour intervals throughout the weekend. The independent media festival typically draws around 150 viewers at each screening or so, for a total of over a thousand or so visitors overall. “The Twin Rivers audience really appreciates the media arts, and this festival gives them a chance to see stuff that might not otherwise be available. We get entries from all across Europe and Asia, as well as all over the Americas, and it’s some of the best in the world,” says Carlos Steward, the festivals founder and driving force.
With 400-500 entries coming in from some of the best independent media artists working all over the world, Twin Rivers focuses on substance instead of glitz, and strives to be more eclectic than the typical film festival. In addition to featuring some of the best independent documentaries, short drama and feature films being made anywhere in the world today, The Twin Rivers Media Festival also offers categories for artists working in CD multimedia, audio media, commercials, internet media and websites. There are even special categories such as “Made on a Mac,” or for projects that deal with outdoor, conservation or environmental themes.
Over the years, Twin Rivers and its predecessors have become extremely popular with independent artists on the West Coast and in film schools. A majority of the US entries come from California, followed by film schools such as NYU and Florida State, then the Southwest. Accomplished professional artists will often be invited to talk about their work and teach workshops. Among students and local budding artists, education is a major draw to the festival. Film makers and other media artist can network, talk about projects and exchange ideas in a supportive setting.
Stewards love of the media arts goes far beyond just film, and he wanted to make his festival more inclusive and open to any media arts. “These art forms are so similar and inter-related,” observes Steward, ” I wanted to do more for independent artists creating amazing work in media besides film.” In the early 80’s, Stewards vision was realized, and a media festival in upstate New York was born. Since then, he has been involved in festivals in states across the country, and most recently has settled in Asheville, North Carolina, where the Twin Rivers Media Arts Festival continues to grow and expand. “Asheville has an amazing community who are very supportive of independent media,” says Steward, “It allows great exposure for artists from the U.S. and other parts of the world.”
As a film student at Florida State University and a documentary film maker in Mexico and Central and South America, Steward learned first hand how difficult it is to get independent film to audiences. “Underground media festivals are a great way to get things shown that normally would not be seen by a very wide audience. That’s where the idea for creating my own film festival began, and this current incarnation here in Asheville is the best so far. “
Asheville offers other advantages, in that although the festival celebrates art from all around the globe, the entire event is organized and produced with local talent. Film judges belong to and are credentialed by MAP (the Media Arts Project) of Western North Carolina. Judges for audio and screen writing come from various professional studios in and around Asheville. Steward believes Asheville to be the perfect community to produce a grassroots media arts festival. “I have been all over the world, and Asheville has one of the most amazing pools of local talent I have ever seen,” notes Steward. He tries to involve as many local artists as possible to ensure that the festival has a true community feel and has many art forms represented.
With 102 World Premiers and 8 North American premiers, the Twin Rivers Media Festival provides some of the best independent screenings to be found anywhere. Jamie Hester, a fan of the festival and regular at The Courtyard Gallery’s Friday night “World Cinema” series commented on some of his favorite entries from last year: “I really enjoyed ‘Fix’ by Tao Ruspoli, and ‘Karearea’ by Sandy Crichton was amazing.” Jarrett Leone, a Twin Rivers volunteer noted, “I liked ‘Camp Woz,’ by Jarrad Kritzstein, and not just because of the name. I also really loved ‘Ancestor Eyes’ by Kalani Queypo, the Native American film maker from California.”
The Twin Rivers Media Festival is not your typical film festival. This amazing showcase of some of the brightest international media artists manages to deliver world class talent without being the least bit pretentious. No Hollywood starlets walking down red carpets into fancy screening venues here. At The Courtyard Gallery, home of The Twin Rivers Media Festival, you are more likely to find yourself in a cozy chair or couch surrounded by one of the most diverse collections of work by local and international visual artists, or sit out in the courtyard itself and enjoy the secluded outdoor screening area.
There are a multitude of reasons artists choose to enter Twin Rivers. Many are interested in the highly popular film categories such as feature film, documentary or short drama. This gives competitive film makers a chance to see how their project stacks up against 100-200 entries from some of the worlds best. Other categories are less competitive than other festivals, and draws entrants who may feel they have a better chance to garner rewards for their work. The top placing winners receive a unique hand-made trophy or plaque made by Mexican artist Cynlos.
Although Twin Rivers is a Labor of Love, and consumes most of Steward’s time from March to early May, he believes it’s well worth it. “Getting a really outstanding entry from an unknown film maker just blows everyone away. This year, one of these was ‘Rabia’ a student film by Muhammad Ali Hasan, about a young Islamic women that straps explosives around her waist and then shows her previous life in flashbacks. It is an amazing little film. Film makers and media artists need audiences to appreciate the enormous work that goes into their projects. Some of these projects are labors of love that can take a decade to make. Being able to bring these products to an appreciative audience is really a wonderful thing to see.”