Out of Focus to showcase Lawrence filmmaking talent

Friday, March 7, 2003

Small cities constantly face losing creative minds to the promising lures of a larger metropolis. But Jeff Ruggles hopes to channel the hidden talents of local filmmakers out to the public and establish a thriving indie scene in Lawrence.

Out of Focus will be a monthly, non-competitive showcase of the best films and videos in the area. The showcase gives aspiring filmmakers an outlet to present their work for a paying audience on a regular basis.

"For every filmmaker I've heard of, I know there are five in town that I'll never see," says Jeff Ruggles, a Kansas University senior and Out of Focus coordinator. "I want to see what these filmmakers are doing creatively and I know others do too."

Out of Focus attempts to help Lawrence set a precedent as a city that harbors flourishing film talent.

"The tendency is for people to put things together in Lawrence then go to a bigger city," he says. "The hope is that ultimately people don't feel like they have to leave."

Currently there are only two avenues to showcase local efforts. Harvest of the Arts and The Kan Film Festival occur once a year. But Out of Focus will host a space where the creator interacts with the audience. An emcee will present each film, and at the end the filmmaker will be invited to partake in a short question and answer session.

Chris Martin, KU senior and co-coordinator, hopes Out of Focus will become a lively social event.

"We foresee it as a meeting place for people in the film scene to gather and take a look at a diverse selection of films from many genres," he says.

Ruggles approached Martin (both are majoring in film) to help with the idea because of his experience hosting the KUJH public television show "Out of Focus" that screens local films on the college station. Five episodes are currently in rotation with more to follow. The film showcase will adopt the name of the TV show to keep close association.


Matt Jacobson/Special to the Journal-World

Out of Focus organizers Jeff Ruggles, left, and Matt Toplikar are attempting to provide a monthly forum for area filmmakers.

Martin says the live screening has advantages over the small-screen version. The forum allows filmmakers to show unedited cuts along with providing a larger block of time to present films.

Out of Focus is looking for a diverse program of short and feature films and is open to anyone. Ruggles and Martin, along with Matt Toplikar, a KU sophomore and Liberty Hall employee, will decide which local submissions to present.

As to the future, Martin is debating whether to pursue a career in the coastal cities or stay around and foster the independent scene.

"I've seen it (interest in film) grow firsthand here," Martin says. "With the dawn of the digital age, filmmaking has become much more accessible and it's an exciting time to be involved in the local scene."

Ruggles plans to stay in the Kansas City area to continue his involvement with the film showcase.

What: "Out of Focus" Local Film and Video showcase.When: Starts March 10. Continues on the second Monday every month.Where: Liberty Hall, 642 Mass.Ticket price: $3.Ticket information: 749-1972.ยข www.outoffocus.org

"I've had my moments when I said, 'God, I need to get out of here and go to a city.' But I don't plan on leaving anytime soon."

He adds, "This is a first step for sure. But Lawrence is a great place with a lot of creative minds and we want to get them together."