Here Come the “Trudies”
Thu, 03/01/2007 - 02:00
On the eve of its Annual Awards Ceremony and Short Film Festival, president Michael Colford tells NewEnglandFilm.com what the Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film is all about and how it got its distinctive name.By Ellen Mills
The shine is still on the Oscar statuettes and the memories of the Independent Spirit Awards are still fresh, but for a growing group of Boston film fans the award season isn’t over until “The Trudies” are handed out on March 18th. “Trudies” are awards given by the Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film, whose mission is to develop audiences for non-mainstream film in all its forms -- short, feature, animated and documentary. This year the Awards Ceremony will be held on Sunday, March 18th at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.
Chlotrudis Society president Michael Colford says he meets many people who tell him that they go to the movies just for escapist entertainment. “That’s fine,” he says “but there are lots of people who want to be challenged and part of our mission is to let people know that they have lots of other choices in film out there. It’s what makes our Society different,” he explains. “We are focused on audiences, not filmmakers.”
The Society didn’t begin as a Society at all, but as a house party 13 years ago. “My roommates and I used to have big parties in our apartment and the parties always had themes. One theme was ‘The Anti-Oscar Party.’ I think it was the year that Forrest Gump won best picture and it had been nominated in all these other categories. We thought hey there are other movies out there that are better -- let’s have our own award ceremony.”
Colford and his friends held the party annually for the next five years, watching it grow and become more official each time. “The year Next Stop Wonderland came out, that had been made in Boston, and some of the cast members came. We had a really large crowd, too large for my apartment,” he says. “So we thought, ‘how can we make this better?’”
Colford incorporated the group as a nonprofit, set up a board of directors, and wrote a mission statement that reads in part: “… to encourage moviegoers to seek out and support non-mainstream film, to educate audiences on viewing films actively, and to encourage discussion and exchange between those interested in independent film. “The sixth year was our first public party which we held at the Harvard Divinity School,” he says. “Then we started honoring actors or filmmakers. Now we have a full slate of awards for screenwriters, directors, actors. And we always have two or three special guests.”
The first guest to be announced for the upcoming ceremony is Don McKellar, a writer, director and actor from Canada whose credits include The Red Violin, When Night Is Falling and Last Night. Feature film nominations this year include David Lynch’s Inland Empire, Shortbus, Half Nelson, Duck Season, Caché and Sorry, Haters. Lynch is also nominated for Best Director along with Pedro Almodovar, Deepa Mehta, Michael Haneke and Fernando Eimbcke. (The full list of nominees can be found on the Society’s website: www.chlotrudis.org.)
Membership in the Society is open to anyone. Colford estimates the current membership is between 80 and 100 people, with 75 percent coming from the greater Boston area and 25 percent from out-of-state. The Society releases its nominations a week before the Academy Award nominations come out. Only members are allowed to vote for the nominees in each category, but the general public is invited to vote for a film to receive the Audience Award via ballots that are available at all public screenings.
The question that Colford is asked most often is about the origin of the name Chlotrudis. “It started as a party theme and we needed a name. We had two cats at the time, one named Chloe and one named Gertrudis and so we just combined the names to form ‘Chlotrudis.’” Colford reports that Gertrudis the cat is still alive and is named after “the fiery re-haired sister in Like Water For Chocolate.” The feline theme is continued on the group’s website and “The Trudies” are, as Colford describes them: “cats on sticks.”
Colford says they considered changing the name but “we have a name that’s hard to remember but difficult to forget. People may not remember it but if you say Chlotrudis they say, ‘Oh yeah, I know them.’” He added that guests at the Awards Ceremony have sometimes made off-color remarks about the name, which only adds to its reputation.
A few weeks before the Awards Ceremony, local audiences will have the opportunity to view the nominated short films at the Society’s 7th Annual Short Film Festival on March 2-8 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. There are 11 films in the 90-minute program, including Forgetting Betty, by Robert Postrozny and James Anderson. The film depicts one afternoon in the life of an elderly widow who is visited by her grandson. Postrozny, who spent his undergraduate years at Boston University, plays the grandson in the film with his real-life grandmother, Helen Rose, playing the widow.
The filmmakers met as acting students at the Actor’s Studio in New York City. Originally they planned to script and film a longer project with a role for each of them. “We’re actors,” Postrozny says, “and we were trying to make a film to showcase our acting. I came home with a camera once and started doing improvisations with my grandmother. She was great in front of the camera! We looked at it and said, ‘this is fantastic.’” Anderson agrees, “The one performance that stood out was this woman. There’s such integrity in her performance.”
Forgetting Betty went through the lengthy Chlotrudis selection process which culls a group of 11 final films from the hundreds of short films that are submitted. Colford says there are eight people on the selection committee and they begin watching films as individuals and then they divide into two groups of four. Each group of four chooses 90 to 120 minutes of film and then the two groups switch. Films must be approved by two separate groups. “We do not go for a consensus,” says Colford. “If everyone loves them, they tend to be nice, safe films.” Instead, the group chooses films that some members may love and some may hate. It’s a time consuming process for the committee members, but they feel it is well worth the effort for the strong program it produces.
Colford remembers that Forgetting Betty came recommended by the first group of committee members and that the majority of his group really liked the film. “Its charm was in the actress who plays the grandmother. She’s very endearing. It’s very watch-able and well executed. It’s emotional but not sappy.”
The filmmakers say that audiences respond strongly to the emotion of the film and connect the grandmother with their own elderly relatives. “You can’t ask more from a movie than to get that emotional response,” Postrozny says. Both Anderson and Postrozny have been busy taking the film on the festival circuit where it has already won Best Short in the Chicago Film Festival. Making the film was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for them. “It wasn’t stressful,” says Anderson. “We weren’t shooting to a schedule we just made it in our spare time.” He estimates that the entire process took two years and notes ironically that in the course of editing, “I cut myself out of the movie!” Nonetheless, Anderson says he “is honored to be called a filmmaker.” Both he and Postrozny plan to attend at least one of the Boston screenings.
Colford, who is a librarian at the Boston Public Library, volunteers his time to run the Society, as do all the board members. He says he became interested in films two to three years out of college through a friend who was a fan of independent movies. Now he averages one film per week in the theater and watches two or three DVDs. At the end of the year his movie-going increases. “There’s so much to see then that I probably go to the theater two or three times a week.” He, like many Chlotrudis members, also attends film festivals through the year. “My favorite is Toronto,” he says. “They are one of the biggest festivals but they’re still very public.” Society members attend as a group and rent an inn or a bed and breakfast for the duration of their stay in Toronto. Next year, Colford says they may work with the Brattle Theatre to sponsor a party at the festival.
Back home in Boston, Chlotrudis and the Brattle will be working together to present one of their primary educational components. The Society will be hosting an eight-week series of Sunday morning film screenings and discussions known as "The Sunday Eye Opener" at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge. Each week features a new film that hasn't opened in Boston yet followed by a discussion led by Ivy Moylan, one of the directors of the Brattle Theatre. Interested viewers can purchase a subscription to the entire series for $50 ($30 for Chlotrudis and Brattle Theatre members) or attend a single screening for $10. The next “Eye Opener” begins on March 4th.
Postrozny and his grandmother in Forgetting Betty.
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