SYCAMORE – Michael Dunker never expected to come home under these circumstances.
Dunker, a 1999 Sycamore High School graduate, has been busy in Los Angeles shooting Rent-A-Center commercials with Magic Johnson, discovering the perks of working on McDonald’s commercials and realizing the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” really isn’t all that interesting.
Despite all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, it is Sycamore that came calling and delivered the most exciting professional opportunity in Dunker’s career – a featured spot for his original short comedy “Hard” in the inaugural Sycamore Film Festival.
The hometown filmmaker will have the chance to mingle with respected names in the film industry, including Tony Award winner and Academy Award nominee Mark Medoff, Barbara Turner and Ron Lazzeretti during the Sycamore Film Festival.
“I think it’s amazing what Sycamore has done. ... I never thought I would be able to come home and see an event like this, let alone be a part of it,” Dunker said. “We need the arts. We need paintings and music and film. ... I’m just glad I can come back and let kids know they can do this, no matter where they’re from.”
Shela Lahey, the driving force behind the festival, expected a smaller, 12-film event when she started planning more than a year ago. As time passed and
she found more community support, the festival has grown to include 32 films and span four days, starting with the premiere of a documentary about Sycamore at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Sycamore State Street Theatre.
While the festival has attracted plenty of tourists – Country Inn & Suites, Stratford Inn Hotel and Holiday Inn Express are filled – Lahey said “The Sycamore Documentary” is the featured premiere because she wants this to be DeKalb County’s event and for all the proceeds to enhance the local arts.
In pre-screenings to Sycamore residents and officials, Lahey has seen tears, laughter and even surprise when people learn something about the city they never knew from the 45-minute film, which features 42 residents.
“Everybody that’s interviewed is the narrator, they’re telling their stories that have made this rich history,” Lahey said. “It’s a wonderful way to preserve our history.”
After the premiere of “Sycamore,” a concert by Back County Roads will follow – one of the many examples of other activities the festival will offer. Sept. 23 features a concert by The Fleshtones at Blumen Gardens. Sept. 24 has discussion panels with directors, authors and artists; a Donkey Kong contest in celebration of the video game character’s 30th birthday; and a block party on California Street with live music that lasts from 4-11 p.m.
Rich Para, owner of Sweet Earth on West State Street, said it’s great to see a community event that will bring in so many people and bring everyone together. Any time an event such as this happens, he said local businesses do what they can to support the cause. In this case, Lahey said she has received so much support she will spend only $60,000 on a festival that should have cost at least $500,000.
Sweet Earth is carrying all of the Sycamore Film Festival merchandise, including T-shirts, hats and pins.
“It’s a very close-knit business community here,” Para said. “Any time something like this happens, we all meet and try to help each other out. That cohesion is how local businesses happen.”
All proceeds from the event will go to the Sycamore High School arts program, possibly in the form of a scholarship, as well as other community art organizations, Lahey said.
Films will be shown all day at the Sycamore State Theatre Sept. 23-25. Tickets are $5 per film, $15 for an all-day pass and $65 for a VIP all-access pass that includes admission into every film, all weekend, as well as every concert and event.
On the Web
For more information about the filmmakers and a schedule of the movie showings, visit www.sycamorefilmfestival.com.