Capital City Film Festival director Dominic Cochran calls the 55 submitted and curated films the festival’s “strongest line-up so far,” opting to include a couple that have already been out for awhile.

“’The Invisible War’ is already on video, but we wanted to show it in the context of having a discussion,” Cochran said. The Academy Award-nominated documentary deals with the subject of sexual harassment and rape in the military. “Instead of just watching it in the vacuum of home, we’ve invited the local group Coalition to End Domestic Violence to lead a conversation after the film.”

Last year Cochran hinted the festival could spread to two weekends, but this year it was kept to one.

“We have the ability and enough content to spread it out, but we want to leave ‘em wanting more,” he said. “I’d rather have a solid four-day festival than a pretty good two-week festival. It remains a long-term goal, though. My focus this year was on expanding the Fortnight Film Festival and adding more prize money.”

The Fortnight Film Festival tasked local filmmakers with creating a 10-minute-or-less film within two weeks. To ensure the movie was made in the allotted time frame, the filmmakers were given four elements at the onset that needed to be included. Of the 30 groups that started, 21 submitted films, and of those, the 15 best will be screened at showcase. This year’s crop includes a twisty existential drama, a musical romantic comedy and a “Robot Chicken”-like ode to idioms.

Last year the top three winners split $3,000 in cash prizes; this year they’ll split $5,000, with another $500 going to the audience favorite at the Fortnight Showcase on Sunday. Fourth prize will be selected by measuring audience response.

Hocus pocus focus
Capital City Film Festival bows with doc on student illusionists
BY Shawn Parker

Since the late 19th century, when illusionist cum filmmaker Georges Melies moved from crafting stage spectacles to innovating some of the earliest film special effects, magic and movies have been inherently — if not overtly — linked. Maybe there is a bit of abracadabra in the air this spring, because movies featuring or focusing on magicians seem to have captured the current zeitgeist, including recent blockbuster “Oz the Great and Powerful” and the upcoming “Now You See Me,” which features bank-robbing illusionists.

Filmmaker Judd Ehrlich, whose film “Magic Camp” opens the third annual Capital City Film Festival on Thursday, isn’t the least bit surprised.

“Filmmaking is a bit of the art of illusion,” Ehrlich said. “You’re telling a story, and to make things seem seamless, you play with time, compressing a week or a month or a year or a lifetime into 90 minutes. You employ a whole bag of tricks to make it work.” 

Ehrlich, 41, a Manhattan native, grew up a few blocks from the legendary Tannen’s Magic Shop, which has been inspiring wonder since 1925. Ehrich also attended Tannen’s Magic Camp, the focus of the documentary. Past graduates or counselors of the camp include David Blaine, David Copperfield, Criss Angel and Adrien Brody, who attended when he was 13. Only a casual devotee of the mystical arts, the young Ehrlich was caught off guard by what he saw when he arrived at Tannen’s.

“People had their rabbits and animals in cages,” he recalled. “And business cards, which basically just added “Ini” to their last name.”

Ehrlich rode out the weeklong camp session never to return, but for many attendees — ranging from pre-teens to college freshman — magic camp is one of the few places they feel at home. 

“For a lot of these kids, they might be the only magician in their hometown,” Ehrlich said. “(Magic) gives them a sense of control they might not feel in their everyday life.”

Most of the apprentice sorcerers depicted in the film seem, at best, mildly socially inept, but quickly come out of their shells as they are surrounded and encouraged by likeminded prestidigitators.

“When you think ‘magician,’ you always think ‘secret’,” Ehrlich said. “But camp is such a safe place. The kids feel like there are no secrets, and they can talk about their life and be themselves.”

The film features a host of eccentric campers. A devout Christian, struggling with those who don’t share his faith. An older teen with Tourette Syndrome, who incorporates Michael Jackson dance moves into his routine. A gifted young magician whose father is struggling with a life-threatening injury. And a sleight-of-hand master named Reed Spool, who dropped out of high school, and — although massively talented — seems to be drifting.

Spool will join Ehrlich at the film’s screening on Thursday for a talkback session. Ehrlich is excited for audiences to see how the young man has changed and grown. Also appearing is magician and camp counselor Hiawatha Johnson, who has a caring but drill sergeant-like relationship with the campers in the film. Although you can pick the brains of these magic camp alums about what it’s like to pull a rabbit — or in Spool’s case, a thimble — out of the proverbial hat, Ehrlich hopes the film resonates a bit deeper.

“Kids get obsessed when they first begin, wanting to know the secret of the trick and how it’s done,” Ehrlich said. “What you find at camp is that it’s not so much the technical aspect, (but) finding out who you are as a person. That makes you a stronger performer.”

Ehrlich lists multiple filmmaking magicians — or magical filmmakers — from Orson Welles to Woody Allen to Steve Martin. Who knows? “Magic Camp” may just showcase the next in that line.