The Rural Route Film Festival

still from Littlerock, directed by Mike Ott
Some folks may have seen Mike Hale’s report from of the Rural Route Film Festival in the New York Times this weekend–his piece was an overall enthusiastic response to a collection of films, both long and short, that are working to expand and challenge our sense of what’s compacted into the term “the rural.” We’ve long admired the mission of the Rural Route Film Festival, for the way their organizers are seeking to expand boundaries and chip away at old, tired binaries:
Since 2002, the Rural Route Film Festival has been centered in New York City, where both founders (originally from Iowa) met working in the film industry.  While having a rural festival in one of the world’s largest cities is an oxymoron, the irony proved to work, bringing in submissions from all around the world and attracting city slickers who were curious about the country, and country folk who had moved to the city but wanted to reconnect with home.  Rural Route has been effective in creating a like-minded community of filmmakers.  Unlike most festivals that operate under a general theme of ‘independent film,’ Rural Route’s specific focus on rurality has allowed us to place similar artists together whose work might otherwise be ignored or lost within the programming of broader based festivals.  Filmmakers under the Rural Route umbrella are able to network through each other, discuss/critique one another’s work, and crew on one another’s projects.  Many filmmakers have premiered their work at Rural Route and gone on to win awards through festival runs domestically and abroad, have their work screened through television outlets such as IFC and PBS, and have their films picked-up by independent distributors. continue readings their introduction here
Consider, for instance, the trailer to Littlerock, a film directed by Mike Ott that opened theatrically at the Rural Route festival:
When her rental car breaks down on a site-seeing tour of California, a Japanese student winds up stranded in a small desert town. Exhilarated by a sudden sense of freedom, she extends her stay and finds friendship, romance, and what promises to be a new home.  But as she pulls back the layers on this unlikely paradise, she discovers a different America than the one in her dreams, perhaps a better example than the large cities her and her brother have been travelling between.  The excitement of the new permeates every frame of this intimate evocation of a small town in Southern California where everyone’s talking, but no one really understands.

LiTTLEROCK Trailer from Small Form Films on Vimeo.

Another film featured at the Rural Route festival that presents the tensions between traditional and modern ways of life tells its story all the way from Tibet. Summer Pasture is a film by Lynn True Nelson Walker and Tsering Perlo:
In recent years, growing pressures from the outside world have posed unprecedented challenges for Tibetan nomads.  Rigid government policies, rangeland degradation, and the allure of modern life have prompted many nomadic families to leave the pastures for permanent settlement in towns and cities.  According to nomads, the world has entered duegnan — dark times.  Summer Pasture a.k.a. A Nomad’s Life is a feature-length documentary that chronicles one summer with a young family amidst this period of great uncertainty. Locho, his wife Yama, and their infant daughter, nicknamed Jiatomah (“pale chubby girl”), spend the summer months in eastern Tibet’s Zachukha grasslands, an area known as Wu-Zui or “5-Most,” the highest, coldest, poorest, largest, and most remote county in Sichuan Province, China.  The story of a family at a crossroads, Summer Pasture takes place at a critical time in Locho and Yama’s lives, as they question their future as nomads. With their pastoral traditions confronting rapid modernization, Locho and Yama must reconcile the challenges that threaten to drastically reshape their existence.
The Rural Route Film Festival site has much more information on all of the included films and their filmmakers, as well as an archive of all previous works included in the festival. We hope to feature more information on these films in the coming weeks.