Big Muddy Film Festival 2016: Let’s All Go to the (Independent) Movies!

Pictured: Filmmaker and SIU alumna Kris Swanberg, who will screen her film Unexpected at this year’s
Leah Williams

An annual festival celebrating the independent spirit in cinema once again descends on the ‘Dale, with nearly a week of films and events featured throughout the city and SIU campus.

The thirty-eighth annual Big Muddy Film Festival runs from Tuesday, February 23 to Monday, February 28, with a total of eighty-eight films scheduled to screen. The local event, which started in 1979, is one of the nation’s oldest film festivals affiliated with a university.

All the events are free for SIU students with valid student identification. For the public, tickets are available online or at the door. A full festival pass costs $20 and a day pass $5.

Both competition and non-competition films are scheduled to be screened during the Big Muddy Film Festival. More than seventy juried films have been selected. Similar to years past, the films come from all over the globe, including from Canada, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Italy, Taiwan, and the United States.

One of the festival directors, Danyelle Greene, a graduate student in media theory and research, said the Big Muddy Film Festival allows movie lovers a chance to see something new on Southern Illinois screens.

“It provides an opportunity for films to come to town that would not normally be viewed in Carbondale,” Greene said.

Many filmmakers look to exhibit their work in the Big Muddy each year, far more than the festival can accommodate. The festival received more than three-hundred submissions for 2016.

The Big Muddy Film Festival uses feature-themed film blocks, including science-fiction and family oriented animation sessions. The children’s animation block, for example, is scheduled for Sunday, February 27 from 10 to 11 a.m. in the Student Center Auditorium, and grade-school children produced some of those entries.

Festival screenings will take place within the city and on campus. In addition to the Student Center, films will be shown at the Morris Library Auditorium, the University Museum Auditorium, the Varsity Center for the Arts, Longbranch Café and Bakery, and the African American Museum of Southern Illinois.

“We wanted to get the community and the university involved,” Greene said about the off-campus screenings.

This year’s panel of judges includes up-and-coming filmmaker and SIU alumna Kris Swanberg. Her feature film Unexpected premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The film stars How I Met Your Mother actress Cobie Smulders as a high-school science teacher who finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy at the same time as one of her students, played by Gail Bean.

A former teacher, Swanberg told the Hollywood Reporter that she drew on her own experiences to come up with and write Unexpected.

“With every decision I made in the whole film, the biggest thing in the back of my mind was to make things feel grounded and realistic,” she said. “I got some encouragement from people to make [the movie] a little more Hollywood and to make those conflicts a little bit more external, but I felt like there was enough drama in what really happens. I think it’s really rare that people experience these things in a highly dramatic way, and I wanted to tell a story about things that actually happen all the time.”

Swanberg is also married to a fellow Saluki and accomplished independent filmmaker. Her husband Joe Swanberg’s acclaimed romantic comedy Drinking Buddies opened the 2014 Big Muddy Film Festival.

Welcoming back a filmmaker like Kris Swanberg to Carbondale provides a chance for current students to learn from someone who is active in the industry.

“It’s important to have an accomplished alum, who has worked within Sundance, come talk to students and interact with them,” Greene said.

Other judges include filmmakers Heather Elliott-Famularo and Rosalind Sibielski.

A complete schedule of films featured in the Big Muddy Film Festival can be found online at <>.

who: Film Alternatives

what: Big Muddy Film Festival

where: various locations at SIU and in Carbondale


when: February 23 through February 28