Reel Diversity

Not sure if you want to hear a band, support independent film or ogle some art? Aficionados of all things aesthetic are in luck as Red Reel returns to Rock Island, Lodo's longstanding dance club.

Held the second Thursday of each month and billed as "an independent film screening and more," Red Reel is a multimedia mishmash that combines independent film with live music, painting and photography. Organizers will even throw some BMX freestyle trickery into January 9's youth-oriented, eighteen-and-over lineup.

If it all sounds slightly schizophrenic, it is -- but that' s what gives Red Reel its appeal. Though film is definitely the main event, live music and art broaden the spectrum.

The movies represent the work of local independent filmmakers; it's avant-garde, conceptual stuff not seen at your local multiplex. January's Red Reel will premiere the feature-length Sign of the Times, a comedy about four young men whose paths cross during a convenience-store robbery. The twist is that the clerk holds up the customers.

The flick is no 16-millimeter film-school project: Sign of the Times took four years and close to $500,000 to bring to fruition. Co-director/producer Brian McCulley assembled a Denver film crew for the shoot, commandeering a Perkins restaurant for diner shots and setting up an old Alfalfa's location with candy-bar displays and white paint-filled milk bottles to mirror a convenience store. (According to McCulley, the storefront was so realistic, "We had people coming in to buy stuff.") Sign was shot in 21 nights at various points in Denver and Fort Collins.

The concept was developed by Denver screenwriters/actors Tomas Herrera and Hank Harris during a trek to L.A., where they were hoping to land TV-pilot roles. Shooting began in 1998, but the producers had to wait more than a year to hustle up enough funds to complete post-production editing. McCulley shrugs off the delay as part of the process. "Being a filmmaker's one thing," he says. "Being a marketer's quite another."

So who's in this screen gem? Nobody you've heard of -- yet. However, main character Hank Harris starred opposite Christina Ricci in 2002's Pumpkin. Other players are rising stars from the Front Range Acting Studio, where McCulley's been an acting coach for the past eleven years.

The film's creators acknowledge that tonight's Red Reel will be the first screening of the project in its entirety (it was shown in rough-cut form at the Denver International Film Festival two years ago). For some local moviemakers, a feature of this caliber is indicative of the growing buzz surrounding filmmaking in Colorado.

"There's a whole surge here of what can be done in the film industry in Denver," McCulley says.

And there's a tidal wave of artistic creativity across the board that happens to fit in Reel time. "We have an amazing house here, with so much space," says Red Reel organizer Guinivere Stevenson.

Indeed, the shadowy decor and slightly industrial feel of Rock Island make for a unique setting in which to experience independent flicks. For Red Reel, more than a hundred folding chairs are set up for film buffs to sprawl on and enjoy their cocktails. Afterward, they can pad downstairs to the low-ceilinged lounge area to take in the music and artwork.

Sixteen-year-old singer/songwriter Carré Callaway will croon a few acoustic sets after the film. Painting, sculpture and photography by Denver artists Brent Klein, Mark Tyler, Denise Surina and Brian Sendler will also be on display.

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Erin Kindberg