Copa Shorts Film Fest Executive Director and Volunteer Coordinator Gina D'Abella celebrate the launch of the new event at Elements Event Center. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

With 56 movies and a table read of four screenplays, the Copa Shorts Film Fest debuted during the weekend, drawing movie-makers and some fans to UltraStar Multi-tainment Center.

All films were 20 minutes or shorter, making for a quick and often quirky experience, with various skill levels on display.

For the filmmakers, it was an opportunity to network and compare notes.

“We wanted to go to festivals that were starting out,” said Emily Skyle, a news anchor-turned-filmmaker who brought the comedy Dear George. “We wanted an eclectic mix. When we first submitted here, we didn’t know how it would be received.”

It turned out Dear George was quite well received at other festivals, winning a top award in a Nevada festival, before it was screened in Maricopa. Skyle said she was pleased to see Copa Shorts was in a movie complex and “not in someone’s basement, though that’s respectable, too. But we knew it was going to get a beautiful viewing here.”

After shifting out of journalism and into improv comedy, she became a screenwriter. With Dear George, however, she did not feel she could trust another director with the quirkiness of the characters and the story. So she became director and producer as well.

Filming in Reno, Nevada, she had a $5,000 budget. An airplane was donated to them, a big way to stretch a small budget, and Reno allowed them to shut down streets for filming. She said she is proud the little film has achieved what it has while going up against films with budgets approaching $100,000.

Melanie Watts, a Maricopan whose daughter Izzy played the central character in Belly Flop, said she was amazed at what some filmmakers created on tiny budgets, even as low as $50.

“I know Izzy’s film was like $20,000,” she said. “They did it all on Kickstarter, and they had someone ‘give’ them the house, and maybe that was because they were doing it in L.A.”

Belly Flop was the judges’ pick for Best of Fest. Izzy Watts was 9 years old during filming and is now 13. She picked up the award for filmmakers Marc Gaudioso and Amy Ball. The Audience Choice Award went to the dark comedy A King’s Betrayal, about the brief life of a piñata.

“It went well. We had a goodly number of filmmakers show up, though I would have liked to have seen more people come,” festival co-director Shelley Gillespie said. “We had all of our screenplay finalists show up. We had one who forgot about the time zone change but he came in right when they were starting to read his screenplay.”

It was a rainy weekend for the festival, which turned some Maricopans into moviegoers while keeping some filmmakers from showing up.

“We had some people come in from L.A. in spite of the weather, and I was really surprised,” co-director Roger Gillespie said. “Of course, some couldn’t come because of the weather where they were. The ones that did come were very impressed.”

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