Festival to honor N.C. film pioneer

The newest things at the third Charlotte Film Festival are a man who'll be 72 this month and a movie that'll turn 81 next Tuesday.

Sure, the annual fest will offer its usual blend of narrative features, documentaries, student films and shorts, screening them Thursday through Sept. 28. As usual, there will be a daylong series of panels by filmmakers and three nights of revelry by filmgoers. (Get details at www.charlottefilmfestival.org.)

But the big news is a Lifetime Achievement Award for Earl Owensby, the Cleveland County filmmaker who opened a studio in the 1970s in Boiling Springs, and the showing of “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans,” an Oscar-winning silent film in which a married farmer falls under the spell of a woman from the city, who asks him to drown his wife. Charlotte pianist Ethan Uslan will compose and play the score.

“I'd never heard of Earl until this year,” said festival founder Louis Gurgitano, who'll present Owensby with his award at the opening gala. “I was impressed that he'd run a studio and was impressed with the amount of stuff he'd done. A lot of people here want to go to Hollywood, but he stayed and built everything in North Carolina. That took a lot of courage.

“I'd wanted to do a silent film since seeing the ones Sam Shapiro programmed (for the Public Library) at ImaginOn. Ethan did music for those and really knows what he's doing.”

The festival has added two less flashy but equally valuable components. The first is a work-in-progress lab for a documentary titled “The Electricity Fairy.” Director Tom Hansell will show his unfinished film Sunday afternoon and take feedback from the audience; it examines a proposed coal-fired power plant in the mountains of southwest Virginia.

The second is a connection with Filmland, a production company from the Mecklenburg region of Germany. That region also has a film festival, and the two fests plan to exchange one film every year. Charlotte has “Nacht vor Augen,” a thriller that won't even be out in Germany until next month. It's about a 25-year-old soldier who returns from Afghanistan to the Black Forest, where his girlfriend and mother notice he's not the man he was.