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The seventh annual Black Hills Film Festival is upon us, with a wide range of features, documentaries and shorts showing the variety a local film festival can attract.

'Misfortune'

Los Angeles-based director Desmond Devenish's Tucson-set crime drama "Misfortune" starts at 7 p.m. Friday at Hill City High School Theater, 341 Main St. The film concerns a young man (Devenish) who learns that his father's killer (Kevin Gage, best known for playing the vicious Waingro in "Heat") has been released from prison, setting off a cat-and-mouse game in a search for a family inheritance in a harsh desert landscape.

"The idea came to me after financing for a previous film went south," Devenish said. "I wanted something that metaphorically had to do with my losing money and finding redemption."

Devenish and producer Roger Steilen connected through the Tucson Film Office, with Steilen moving from providing cars and lighting equipment to taking Devenish under his wings for the shoot.

"I've worked in this business for 30 years, and his enthusiasm got me fired up," Steilen said. "I loved the script, so I poured everything I had into it."

Devenish cited desert-set crime films like "No Country for Old Men" and "Red Rock West" as influences, as well as the films of John Ford.

"One of the most important attributes is location, visual storytelling," Devenish said. "I wanted something with authenticity, something with those panoramic views of vast desert vistas."

The choice to shoot in Tucson paid off not just in the authenticity, but in serendipitous events: in a difficult scene where Devenish and Steilen had only one opportunity to film a car crash, the crew pulled it off with a surprise to add to the shot.

"A white owl flees out of a tree while we were shooting, and it added something really unexpected to the scene," Devenish said. "It felt like a steward for the whole film."

'SMART'

Also hailing from Los Angeles is documentary filmmaker Justin Zimmerman, whose film "SMART" chronicles the work of Los Angeles Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team (SMART), which rescues animals in distress. The film premieres at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hill City High School.

"We equipped them with GoPro cameras and went out on field work to show how these people risk their lives to save animals," Zimmerman said. "It's truly insane just how much they give themselves to their work."

Zimmerman said that he was influenced by the works of Errol Morris ("Fast, Cheap & Out of Control") and Steve James ("Hoop Dreams") and sought to show the SMART system while documenting the team members' lives and letting them speak for themselves.

"I wanted to show who they are, why they're doing what they're doing, and what's at stake," Zimmerman said. "I wanted to do it without bias and show how it can be a difficult process."

Zimmerman said that he was happy, however, to see responses from charitable organizations that hosted screeningns of the films.

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"It's the best of both worlds to me," Zimmerman said. "I think we've created a really compelling story about people, and we've shown people how they can contribute to taking care of animals, whether it's adopting or volunteering."

'Synergenix'

Where Devenish and Zimmerman are bringing their first features, Dakota State University senior Breanne Butters is premiering her first animated short, "Synergenix," in which several animators created individual characters dance to "Whiskey Dream VIP" by Rudebrat. The title is a combination of the words "synergy" and "energetic." 

"We were really influenced by a lot of animators from Adult Swim and by 'Megalizer II' by Vic Chun and Mohamed Fadera," Butters said. "It was a good chance for a lot of animators to collaborate and get creative."

The film, which will play at 7 p.m. Saturday at Hill City High School, was made with 2D flash animation, which Butters said gave them a good deal of creative freedom.

"It offers a lot of flexibility, where each of us could animate whatever way we wanted," Butters said. "Every character is unique in the way they move, so every17 seconds is a new experience brought together with a song." 

For a full schedule of films at the Black Hills Film Festival, visit blackhillsfilmfestival.org.

Contact Max B. O'Connell at 394-8427 or max.oconnell@rapidcityjournal.com

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