Snowtown Film Festival will feature wide range of local and national films

WATERTOWN — Two local filmmakers say the Snowtown Film Festival on Friday and Saturday will be a shot in the arm for a fledgling local film industry.

“I never thought in a million years that Watertown would have something like this,” said Carthage native Clay J. Dumaw, who directed and co-produced last year’s “Hold ’Em,” which was shot locally. “A few years ago, no one around here was doing anything film-related.”

“Hold ‘Em” was written by Carthage resident Richard Cooke. The film will close out the festival on Saturday night.

Also to be screened at the festival will be “The Coldest Winter,” a 2005 World War II drama shot in Northern New York. Michael E. Mustizer of Watertown was its writer, director, art director and director of photography.

Mr. Mustizer said a lot has changed in the film industry in the decade since his film was released.

“I did it at the dawn of the digital age, right when high definition hit,” he said. “It made it difficult to promote, but I did end up getting distribution for it.”

Mr. Mustizer, who now focuses more on writing than filmmaking, said there is a growing circle of local filmmakers.

“Watertown has a real strong musical community,” he said. “It now looks like the film community is starting to come around. There’s a lot of young people trying to make movies.”

Mr. Dumaw said technology is helping to fuel that trend.

“We’re at the point where the same technology that everyone uses in Hollywood is available to the consumer now,” he said. “You can walk into any electronics store and get a camera with resolution and with results that look just like real film. So you see a lot more people trying new things now. It’s exciting to me. I compare the transition to when 16 millimeter (cameras and film) became popular in the ’60s and ’70s.”

Mr. Mustizer and Mr. Dumaw said they are glad to be part of the inaugural Snowtown Film Festival, which was created when a local group of film buffs approached the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce and the Watertown Parks and Recreation Department to partner with them to present it during Snowtown USA.

“It’s going to give focus on some cultural stuff that we’ve been lacking,” he said.

The city and the Chamber of Commerce, along with a cadre of volunteers, have brought back the Snowtown festival after a 16-year hiatus.

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The Snowtown Film Festival will open Friday with “Fargo,” a quirky, darkly humorous 1996 film that features snow and cold as a backdrop.

“Fargo” will be preceded by a “red carpet reception” that begins at 6 p.m. The movie starts at 7:15.

The film fest continues on Saturday with several movies — ranging from a war drama to a silent classic — and a lecture. The event is in the auditorium of the Dulles State Office Building, 317 Washington St.

“Fargo,” rated R and shot in Minnesota and North Dakota, was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. It concerns the plan of a car salesman (William H. Macy) to kidnap his wife and how it falls apart due to his and his henchmen’s bungling and the persistent police work of the pregnant Marge Gunderson, played by Frances McDormand, who won an Academy Award for best actress in the role.

Despite the film’s claim that it is based on “a true story,” the Internet Movie Data Base says that the Coens added that disclaimer so viewers would be more willing to suspend their disbelief.

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards. In addition to the best actress nod, it won for best original screenplay. It has also been named one of Time Magazine’s “Top 10 Freezing Cold Movies.”

The opening night movie and reception, both reserved for those over age 18, will include hors d’oeuvres from Embellished Catering, Henderson Harbor, and drinks from the Paddock Club, Watertown. The cost is $15.

A committee of volunteers has been working since last spring to pull the festival together.

“A lot of detail has gone into it,” said committee member Kylie S. Peck. “We’re pretty happy with what we’ve come up with.”

Saturday’s events will consist of films, a lecture and about a half dozen shorts of under 30 minutes that were submitted for a festival contest. Awards in the contest also will be presented Saturday.

First up Saturday is Mr. Mustizer’s “The Coldest Winter.” The film has are two story lines. Both take place during the Battle of the Bulge, which occurred in December 1944 in Ardennes, between eastern Belgium and northern Luxembourg. The first tells the tale of an American soldier and a German soldier, both seriously wounded and left for dead. They find themselves in a game of cat and mouse, fighting for survival against their wounds and the weather.

A second story line follows a naive, frightened captain, fresh from his desk, sent to track down missing intelligence. He trudges through the forest with a newly demoted sergeant-turned-private from a black Army unit, a battle-hardened sergeant and a private.

The film, Mr. Mustizer said, is available on Amazon Instant Video for $1.99.

Capping the evening will be Mr. Dumaw’s “Hold ’Em,” about a sinister, high-stakes poker game where “the entry fee is your life.”

“Hold ’Em” DVDs can be purchased through Mr. Dumaw’s film company, Clay Pigeon Studios, for $12.99. Copies of Mr. Dumaw’s first movie, “Get Out Alive,” are also available on the site for the same price.

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The schedule of the 2015 Snowtown Film Festival, at the Dulles State Office Building:


6 p.m.: Reception at the Dulles State Office Building for those 18 and over.

7:15 p.m.: “Fargo,” rated R.


10 a.m.: “The Coldest Winter,” followed by a Q&A session.

The film has not been rated by the Motion Picture Association of America, but Mr. Mustizer says it would merit a PG-13, for language and violence.

Noon: Lecture with Norman Keim, author of “Our Movie Houses: A History of Film and Cinematic Innovation in Central New York.”

1 p.m.: “For Heaven’s Sake”

Harold Lloyd stars in this 1926 silent movie. Jason D. Comet, owner of Comet Music Studio, Watertown, will provide live organ accompaniment and give an introduction.

2:30 p.m.: “Climb to Glory: Legacy of the 10th Mountain Ski Troopers”

This 2013 film tells the story of the 10th Mountain Division ski troopers and how they promoted the U.S. ski industry following World War II. Warren Miller produced the 45-minute documentary in association with the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum.

The film festival committee partnered with the Northern New York chapter of the Association of the United States Army and the Fort Drum chapter of the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division to present the film.

Mr. Miller’s films are renowned for their photography and storytelling. They have a cult following among fans of winter sports.

“We’re so proud of the achievements of the 10th Mountain Division and it’s an honor for us to help showcase their history at this event,” retired Col. Michael T. Plummer, a member of the local AUSA board of directors said in a news release.

Following the movie, Mr. Plummer and local historian Douglas Schmidt, both of whom are veterans of the 10th Mountain Division, will host a question-and-answer session on the division. Mr. Schmidt’s great-grandfather also served in the division during World War II.

The film is “family-friendly,” according to Mrs. Peck, the festival committee member.

4 p.m.: “Northern Light”

This 2013 award-winning, 105-minute documentary is set against the backdrop of a town’s annual snowmobile race in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and “explores the American working class experience.”

Parental discretion is advised for language.

Among other awards, it was named most innovative feature at the 2013 Visions du Réel, Switzerland, and winner for best cinematography at the 2013 New Orleans Film Festival.

“Vistas of snowy expanses are juxtaposed with intimate observance of two working-class families in the build-up to an annual 500-mile endurance race,” Steve Dollar wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

6 p.m.: Short film submissions screening and awards ceremony.

7:30 p.m.: “Hold ’Em”

The 2014 film is produced by Carthage native Clay J. Dumaw, who will give an introduction.

The film is not rated. Viewer discretion advised for violence and language.



By Chris Brock, Times Staff Writer

Carthage filmmaker to debut his second film, “Hold ’Em,” in July at Syracuse theater

The main cast of ‘Hold ‘Em,’ from left: David Iannotti, Richard Cooke, Peter Doroha, Jay Storey, John Henderson, Eric Scordo and Dalton Beach. RICH KRAEMER

The main cast of ‘Hold ‘Em,’ from left: David Iannotti, Richard Cooke, Peter Doroha, Jay Storey, John Henderson, Eric Scordo and Dalton Beach. RICH KRAEMER

Following the surprising success of his first movie, a strong follow-up film was literally in the cards for Clay J. Dumaw.

Mr. Dumaw’s horror film “Get Out Alive,” released in 2012, which he wrote and directed and shot locally, consumed two years of his life. Now, with added confidence, he has released the thriller “Hold ’Em” with plans already in the works for his next film.

“In the first film, we were just trying to figure out, ‘Can we do this?’” said Mr. Dumaw, a 2007 graduate of Carthage Central School.

“Get Out Alive” has made back its approximate $10,000 budget, mainly through downloads on It was mostly shot in Carthage. Mr. Dumaw’s new movie, “Hold ’Em,” was shot in Watertown and Carthage last summer.

“Hold ’Em,” which premieres July 10 in Syracuse, features a World Series of Poker-meets-“Hunger Games” scenario. Its tagline: “The entry fee is your life.” It features amateur local actors and another, Jay Storey, with professional experience. He plays Nathaniel Savage, the sinister host of the high-stakes card game, in “Hold ’Em.” Mr. Storey, who grew up near Calcium, was also in “Get Out Alive.”

For his follow-up project, Mr. Dumaw wanted to focus on a more coherent script with better characterization and sharper dialogue.


The idea for the movie was pitched to Mr. Dumaw by fellow Carthage resident Richard E. Cooke, who plays “Hold ’Em” main character Jake Emerson.

Mr. Cooke enjoys watching sports, including the “odd ones” like curling and darts. But the pressure of televised high stakes poker always intrigued him.

“It’s you versus the other guy and you have to bluff the other guy out,” Mr. Cooke said. “There’s so much pressure and you are on TV with millions of dollars on the line. It dawned on me: What if it was even worse? What if these guys were playing for their lives? I just wrote that idea down.”

Mr. Cooke learned about Mr. Dumaw’s first film through social media and the two developed a friendship. Mr. Cooke took his movie idea to Mr. Dumaw.

“He only had the bare idea for it, but I was like, ‘If you turn that into a screenplay and hand it to me, I will make it,’” Mr. Dumaw said.

Mr. Cooke went home and wrote the script in two days in longhand. The pair then tweaked it.

But the film ended up dealing out something else for Mr. Cooke. As he and Mr. Dumaw searched for an actor to play the lead character, Jake Emerson, Mr. Cooke said he’d like to give it a shot. He had no acting experience.

The results are impressive. Mr. Cooke obviously feels comfortable in front of the camera.

“When we started shooting, Clay said, ‘You are pretty natural at this,’” Mr. Cooke said. “Then a few other people said it. And lately, I’ve gotten a lot of that.”

Mr. Cooke, who attended General Brown Central School, said he developed his sense of acting through the resolute watching of movies.

“I didn’t just watch them, I studied them,” he said. “I studied mannerisms, personalities and things like that.”

Mr. Cooke is glad he took a chance on acting in “Hold ’Em.”

“I always knew I could do it,” he said. “But I was scared about how other people would take it. I had self-image issues.”

learning from mistakes

Mr. Dumaw said he learned not to make the same mistakes with “Hold ’Em” that he made in his first movie. For example, he said he over-relied on a tripod for “Get Out Alive.”

“Those shots were really static and boring,” he said. “As it went on, we were running out of time, so we had to shoot with a hand-held (camera) out of necessity and less time to set up. But we noticed the hand-held gave it a cool look.”

There are only two shots in “Hold ’Em” that are from a tripod-set camera.

Mr. Dumaw said he also learned to make better use of his schedule and resources.

“In the last movie, I wrote it without thinking about what resources that I had,” Mr. Dumaw said. “When we wrote this script, we made a list of the stuff we had.”

The items ranged from a warehouse (at Slack Chemical in Carthage) where the card games are held to vehicles and a card table.

Local viewers of “Hold ’Em” will recognize the settings in the film — from Watertown’s Thompson Park to Public Square. Mr. Dumaw said the film crew managed to raise some eyebrows, and recalled one scene that was filmed at 2 a.m. on a Saturday last year.

“It was right when all the bars were getting out and we had to shoot around all these drunk people who kept jumping into the shots,” he said. “We have so many outtakes of drunk people photo-bombing.”

building on success

The entry fee for attending the premiere of “Hold ’Em” in Syracuse will help the filmmaker pay to enter the 82-minute movie in film festivals and send it out to agents.

“Right now, I just do it because it’s fun,” Mr. Dumaw said of his filmmaking. “But eventually, I want a career in it.”

Mr. Dumaw will be the cinematographer on a production in St. Louis later this month. It’s an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The End of Something.” David Fichtenmayer, the lead actor from “Get Out Alive,” is producing it.

“He liked my work, so he wanted me to work on his film,” which will be shown to Warner Bros. executives, Mr. Dumaw said.

Mr. Cooke said he hopes his movie career advances. He plans to pursue acting professionally. His inspiration is his sister, Norma Jean Riddick, a General Brown graduate who is a successful actress and comedian in Los Angeles.

“Only a few people knew I wanted to get into acting,” Mr. Cooke said. “It was always a daydream. I’m 39 now. But it doesn’t mean I can’t give it a shot and try.”

Mr. Dumaw and Mr. Cooke plan to work together on Mr. Dumaw’s next film.

“I can’t give away too much but it’s a comedy; complete polar opposite of what I’m doing right now,” Mr. Dumaw said. “I’m trying to get away from the scary stuff because I feel like I’m getting pigeon-holed. I like scary movies but I’m not obsessed with them. I actually prefer to do funny stuff.”


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