Media Librarian Celebrates 25 Years with State Film Festival

Steve Fesenmaier writes "I was hired by state librarian Fred Glazer, director of the West Virginia Library Commission, in June 1978, right out of library school. He had used federal funds to start the last new 16-mm film library in the world in 1976 after doing a survey of the state's public libraries. They overwhelmingly told him they wanted access to the great educational films other states had had since the boom after WW II.A local librarian had built the program from scratch, turning the state's librarians into a preview committee. He purchased 1,500 films including many famous features including "Harlan County, USA." But the pay was a lot better on the vendor side, so after 18 months he switched. Glazer needed a new dept. head in a hurry, and I had just finished my MLS course work after working at the University Film Society since 1972. After visiting friends in Berkeley, visiting family in Phoenix and New Mexico, and attending the Telluride Film Festival, I flew to Charleston to start a new career and life on Sept. 14th, 1978.

During the coming years I purchased almost $2 million worth of 16 mm films, co-founding the West Virginia Intl. Film Festival in 1985 with other local supporters. I programmed the first festival with films from New Yorker Films, calling it "Six Films from Five Continents." During the next 19 years I brought many of my NYC film distributor friends like Bill Sloan from MOMA, Linda Duchin from October Films, Dennis Doros from Milestone Films and filmmaker friends like Les Blank to the festival. WVIFF started a spring festival, premiering many of the new documentaries and indie feature films purchased for the WVLC collection. In 1987 the US Dept. of Education selected the program as the model statewide program, published a book, "Check It Out," and National Public Radio did a 10 minute story on the day after Thanksgiving, interviewing vets, college profs, and others about the unique program.

In February 2001 I co-founded a second film festival with Sutton film fan Kevin Carpenter. During the years the WVIFF had turned its focus to national and international films, not making time for many of the locally produced films. Kevin and myself thought it was time to spend time on local filmmakers who had been making features, shorts, documentaries, and all of the many types of films filmmakers elsewhere were also producing. We honored Hollywood legend Clyde Ware, a native of the state who had helped create the popular Western TV series and films of the Sixties including "Raw Hide," "Bonanza," and who had returned home with a then unknown actor, Martin Sheen, to make two independent features in the early Seventies. Awards were given to films that latter won national awards, and the people of central West Virginia - Sutton is the geographic center of the state - had a chance to meet many of the best filmmakers the state had produced. Daniel Boyd, leader of the only college-level film program in the state, screened his three features, other WVians working in Hollywood returned to show their indie productions, and the WV Filmmakers Guild was re-energized.

This weekend marks the fourth WV Filmmakers Film Festival. I arranged for the only showing of a restored print of the state's greatest indie film, "Matewan," directed by John Sayles in 1986. I worked on the film with Sayles and his staff for 4 years, programming the premiere in Beckley, WV for the locals who appeared in the film. IFC has restored the film as part of its John Sayles Film Festival, showing in theaters around the country. For the first time the WVIFF has sponsored an event - the showing of "Lost in La Mancha," about Minneapolis native's failed attempt to make "Man of La Mancha." Also for the first time the WV Film Office has become involved, sponsoring a luncheon for the state's filmmakers who were again holding a Guild meeting, and sponsoring the new "WV Filmmaker of the Year Award."

Carpenter, as president of the board of the Landmark Studio of the Arts, has done all of the local work, getting equipment, finding local and state sponsors, hosting the actual screenings, and even directing his own horror film to have its world premiere at the end of the event. He has been taking graduate film courses at the local state college, planning to be one of the first people to earn his MA in film from the newly created degree - the first graduate degree at the state college. ( I have served on the advisory board since 1980.) While I did the programming, graphics, press releases, etc., Kevin has turned his hometown into the center for WV filmmakers.

Recently Library Journal's AV edition chose my work in WV as a model for other librarians who want to increase AV circulation in their libraries. They noted that librarians should support their local filmmakers like I do in WV. Almost from the first year I came to WV, I have been publishing an annual list of "New Films on WV and Appalachia" in Goldenseal, the state's folklife magazine. I have also been writing about the filmmakers in various statewide newspapers including "Graffiti" for 11 years. I learned how to promote local filmmakers in Minnesota, sponsoring the world premiere of one of the first indie feature films, "Loose Ends," starring Chris Mulky, who has acted in many TV series like "Twin Peaks" and directed by David Burton Morris who latter directed "Patty Rocks," a indie feature that beat out Spike Lee's first film, "She's Gotta Have It" for best indie film of the year.

During the last ten years computers have become more and more part of the world in public libraries. Unfortunately, a lot of money, time, and support once spent on the "AV Revolution" has been sacrificed to databases. My own budget was cut from $80,000 down to $50,000 because WVLC had to acquire databases for the agency. Book budgets, personnel budgets, and just about every part of the public library budgets in this country have been sacrificed to the American computer industry. But thanks to the Benton Study several years ago, and a widespread return to asking what patrons really want, libraries, including ones in WV, are once again seeing that in communities with no movie houses, they have a special obligation to become "library cinemas" once again. In WV Bryson Vannostrand, founder of our first micro-cinema, has designed a new library for Sutton. Hopefully the new library will become the state's second micro-cinema, finding the funds to purchase good video projection equipment. And hopefully all of WV's 176 public libraries will find the funds to purchase some of the many new films being made about the state and its amazing history. This year we are returning to my first days in WV, showing the film by the first filmmaker I brought to the state in spring 1979, Karen Kramer's "The Jolo Serpent Handlers" and local filmmakers Susan Burt/Doug Chadwick's 1979 music film, "True Facts In a Country Song." I programmed the world premiere at the state Cultural Center, helped chose the name, and had the party jointly with my 30th birthday December 1.

I want to thank everyone, especially WV's many filmmakers and a few librarians, who have supported each other and myself during these twenty-five years. I have to mostly thank my colleague and assistant, Frani, who also became my wife in March 1980 during a Les Blank film festival held at the Dunbar Public Library. She deserves 90 % of the credit for keeping me going despite enormous negative forces, both inside the agency and elsewhere in state government. I also have to thank Sandy Berman who became my friend during a time of severe crisis and daily shows me more support than anyone except Frani. He is the big brother I always wanted. Local librarian Yvonne Farley and publisher/musician/writer Mike Lipton have been two of my greatest supporters through thick and thin, showing true moral courage when no one else did. Allen Johnson, library director in Pocahontas County, has become a recent library friend who also shows unusual intelligence and moral strength. I have to thank Linda Duchin, my oldest NYC film friend, who has helped me in many, many ways, from selling me the first copy of "A Room with a View" even before it ran commercially, to showing me around NYC including taking Frani and I to the World Trade Center the first time, and giving me FREE access to many films, most recently the Belgium masterpiece, "The Promise," shown at the First Belgium Film Festival in Charleston. I also want to thank Gordon Simmons, a fellow philosopher and lover of WV's many creative people; Bob Gates, WV's only activist filmmaker who has been my friend from the first week I was in the state; Susan Hayden, a colleague at WVLC who shares my love of film and social activism; Jim Haught, a local writer and reporter who started the first film festival in the state, showcasing our films long before anyone else; Ray Schmitt and BJ Gudmundsson, new WV filmmakers who appreciate me as much as I appreciate them; and Kevin Carpenter, my local film fan who unlike anyone else did something to help the art. When John Sayles showed up in Charleston in spring 1984, he walked into my office and said, "What's wrong with those people?" Only this summer did the state finally hire a Film Office person, after 8 years of hell for myself and all of the state's many filmmakers, who also loves the state's filmmakers. The previous director told me that last time I spoke to him, "Steve, you are nothing but a social worker for those filmmakers. You actually have convinced them they can DO SOMETHING…….they are all total failures like you!" I co-founded the WV Film Office, and was asked to take the position several times. I want to work with local filmmakers - and local librarians. I hope all other librarians around the world will come to share my enthusiasm for local filmmakers - as well as writers.

websites -

WV Filmmakers Film Festival 2003 -

My Graffiti column - Film Nuts d=1368

WV Intl. Film Festival site -

WVLC - Library Development ent.htm
( In 1997 the new director of WVLC merged several depts. at WVLC into one program, Library
Services, and in 1999 transferred me to a new position as research librarian. All 16 mm films, videos,
DVDs, books, were merged, the two websites I have made - for WV/Appalachian films and for all
videos - were removed from the WVLC website. I work as the State Data Coordinator, but in
August 2001 was returned to my "film advisory" role at WVLC. After not doing the Goldenseal list
from 1997-2000, for the last three years I have returned.)"

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