Reel to Tweel: Filmmaker scores at LA film fete
Sometimes, the first time is the charm. Out of a pool of over 2,000 submissions, Charlottesville native J. Clay Tweel felt lucky just to have his directorial debut shown at the Los Angeles Film Festival. But he was astounded to learn that his picture was the feature documentary winner.
“I was literally speechless,” Tweel laughs. “I had no idea that I would win the award or that it was even possible. Documentaries like Make Believe don’t win a lot of critical awards because it’s not about a social issue.”
While Tweel’s family was present for the premiere earlier in the week, they received the news of the win on Saturday, June 26 after the awards brunch. Tweel’s father, local lawyer Ron Tweel, was floored.
“You always hope for these things, but it was shocking," says the elder Tweel. "I’m still grinning frankly.”
In addition to the honor of winning the Jury Award for a feature documentary, Tweel received an unrestricted check for $50,000 presented by Academy Award-nominated actress Gena Rowlands. However, the recognition may prove more vital than the prize money.
According to indie documentarian Chris Farina, distributors take a close look at film festival winners, so a win at any festival is a great launching point–- particularly one with 80,000 attendees.
Make Believe emerged from producer Steven Klein’s personal encounter with boys in a magic shop as well as his own past endeavors as a teenage magician. The film follows the lives of six teenage magicians as they make their way to Las Vegas to compete in the annual World Magic Seminar.
Filmed over 18 months with teens from the U.S., South Africa, and Japan, Make Believe not only provides a glimpse into the world of competitive magic but also develops into a coming-of-age story.
The documentary was shown three times during the festival, with Tuesday, June 22 being the world premiere. Although there were no pre-screenings for Make Believe Tweel noted that the audience reacted better than he had ever hoped.
Fresh off his big win in the City of Angels, where he now makes his home, Tweel says he's already developing another documentary as well as several ideas spun off Make Believe, including the possibilities of TV and narrative features.
"It was a very interesting experience for me because I get so lost in the material that I forget how charming and amazing the characters really are.”