By Jennifer Sadler

The Columbus International Film + Video Festival, also known as “The Chris Awards” is one of the most prestigious film competitions in the U.S. and the oldest of its kind in North America. Every year in November, the CIF+VF presents a full week of films and filmmakers that you can't see anywhere else. The CIF+VF shows documentaries, animation, narratives and experimental work from around the world and from right here at home. The event also allows the public access to the filmmakers, offering a rare opportunity to meet and talk with the artists.

For more than half a century, the CIF+VF has honored thousands of films, filmmakers and producers both at commercial and independent levels. The Chris Award–the festival’s top honor—is proudly displayed in production offices around the world. For some, the Chris Awards has been a qualifying festival for the Academy Awards. The Chris Awards remains a revered prize for industry professionals, but the organization is equally passionate about supporting independent film. The juried competition, with categories ranging from experimental short films to more traditional narrative features, focuses on rewarding the world’s best films, regardless of origin, while serving to promote and screen more and more films every year. In addition to film, there are also competitions for screenplays and print media.

The 59th CIF+VF opens on November 16 with Filmmakers Forum: An Evening of LGBT Shorts at Studio 35 Cinema, then moves to the Canzani Center at the Columbus College of Art & Design from Thursday November 17 through November 19. The festival will also feature award-winning student films and kid-friendly cartoons from around the globe. The CIF+VF will close out the week on Sunday, November 20 at the Gateway Film Center with a film that premiered in L.A. just last week—Marissa Miller Wolfson’s, Vegucated. The guerilla-style documentary follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to go vegan for six weeks.

According to Susan Halpern, longtime filmmaker and the executive director for the CIF+VF and Columbus Film Council, the Chris Awards has the reputation of being better known internationally than here at home.

“It’s funny, because it’s incredibly well known amongst filmmakers around the world and it’s just starting to become well known right here at home,” said Halpern. “It’s like (the festival is) the most famous Columbus event that Columbus doesn’t yet know about. We show films you can’t see anywhere else in Columbus.

GCAC recently spoke with Lucretia Knapp, a film and video artist whose short video, Looking for Michael, will be presented November 19 at the CIF+VF’s Movies+Mead night at the Canzani Center. Movies+Mead, Animation and More 4 Adults night, presented in partnership with Brothers Drake Meadery, will feature animation, experimental films, quirky short films and an awards ceremony for visiting filmmakers.

Knapp is an Ohio State University alum and a former OSU instructor in video production, still photography, computer graphics and film theory. After being instructed as an OSU undergrad student in a journalism course to “write only the facts, without embellishment,” Knapp dropped the class and headed straight to the Photography and Cinema Department.

“It was a love of storytelling and performance that initially brought me to film and photography,” said Knapp. “And, I would say, a desire to be heard.”

Knapp’s work has exhibited nationally and internationally, most recently in film and video festivals in Hong Kong, Paris, Torino and Melbourne. Her writing has been published in Out In Culture: Gay, Lesbian and Queer Essays On Popular Culture, Cinema Journal and most recently, in the second edition of A Hitchcock Reader.

Knapp said she is particularly excited to have her work screened at the CIF+VF. “I grew up in southeastern Ohio and graduated from Ohio State when there was still a Department of Photography and Cinema. I still have a solid network of friends here that I rarely have the occasion to see.”

Knapp was at a residency in California and experimenting in the virtual 3D world of Second Life when she started working on her short film, Looking for Michael.

Looking for Michael wasn’t a planned project but grew out of the events that followed the death of Michael Jackson,” said Knapp. “In that sense it has an element of documentary, capturing the moment, bearing witness, but in a virtual or fantastic world.”

After completing the project, Knapp realized that the video was challenging to place within a festival because of its mix of genres: documentary, fiction and narrative with experimental elements.

Looking for Michael is a reflection on collective grieving, but at the same time includes humorous touches,” said Knapp.

Looking for Michael has screened at Open Screen, an artist community event in Northampton, Massachusetts. The video short’s presentation at the CIF+VF will be its film festival debut.

Knapp currently teaches Film Studies at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and at the International Center of Photography in New York.

On teaching, Knapp said, “Everyone has at least one story to tell. I am blessed if that moment happens or begins to happen in my classroom.”

To learn more about Knapp and her work, visit her Web site.

The Columbus Film Council , producer of the CIF+VF, has a mission that goes well beyond putting on this acclaimed festival every year. As part of their efforts to support and raise the profile of emerging and established media talent, the CFC recently joined forces with GCAC in presenting the Greater Columbus Arts Council Media Fellowships. As part of this exciting partnership, the CFC will present the fellowship awards to the 2011 recipients at the CIF+VF’s Chris Awards Ceremony on November 19 at the Canzani Center.

Executive director Halpern has had a particular interest in helping to reinstate GCAC’s opportunities for funding media work. Halpern, originally from New York, came to Ohio for graduate school at Ohio University in Athens. She later transferred to The Ohio State University. She was also the last artist to receive a film/video fellowship from GCAC back in 1988.

Halpern had recently graduated from OSU when she received both the GCAC Fellowship and another individual artist fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council.

“I was planning to move either to NYC or the west coast because I thought that as a filmmaker that's where I had to be,” said Halpern. “Receiving this kind of support straight out of grad school made me rethink leaving Ohio.”

Twenty-five years later Halpern is still here.

Halpern remarked that she’s particularly excited that the GCAC Media Fellowship finalists are eligible to apply for GCAC's Dresden Exchange artist residency program in Germany.

Upon receiving the GCAC and OAC fellowships, Halpern was able to quit her job and focus on her media work for a year. The financial freedom also allowed her to travel by accepting residencies at the Headlands Center for the Arts in California and later at the Banff Centre in Canada.

“The fellowships allowed me an incredible opportunity to get my work out there."

Halpern said she’s happy to be able to pay it forward in helping with the GCAC Media Fellowships.

“I was mentored by the experienced filmmakers in Ohio when I was first out of grad school and now it is my turn to return the favor,” said Halpern. “I'm thrilled that the Columbus Film Council can help the film community in such a great way.”

Halpern said the quality of the work by the GCAC Media Fellowship applicants was outstanding.

“I really am proud of Columbus. The work that I saw could easily compete internationally.”

Thursdays @ the Meadery presented by Brothers Drake Mead.

"Open Stage Wednesday"
New Harvest Cafe and Gallery & Urban Arts Center
November 2, 2011

Artful Teaching: Work by College and University Painting Faculty
Ohio Arts Council's Riffe Gallery
November 3, 2011 — January 8, 2012

Ohio State Theatre Presents Living Out
Studio One Theatre -- Vern Riffe Center
October 27, 2011 — November 6, 2011

CCAD Visiting Artist: Simonetta Moro
Canzani Center Auditorium
November 7, 2011

Acrylics on Canvas by Matthew Hale
Reed Arts
September 12, 2011 — November 12, 2011

PBJ & Jazz: Vernon Hairston Trio
The Lincoln Theatre
November 12, 2011

Columbus Views
Columbus Museum of Art
November 18, 2011 — March 11, 2012

Rebuilding Haiti
Ross Auditorium - Alumni Hall, Franklin University
November 22, 2011

Family Fun Day: Sweet Turkeys
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
November 23, 2011

Thursday @ The Meadery
The Meadery
June 9, 2011 — December 27, 2012