John Paul Kinhart knew his movie would cause a stir, but he didn’t realize quite how much. On Sept. 25, the documentarian—whose debut feature, Non-Player Character, screens Oct. 8 at the Creative Alliance—participated in his third CAmm Slamm, the annual 48-hour film contest held by Creative Alliance MovieMakers. Starting on Friday night, Slamm participants have 48 hours to write, shoot, and edit a 10-minute short, which is then shown at a Sunday night screening. The audience votes for the best entry, with the winner receiving $250.
Kinhart and his partners, Dan Pittore and Sara Cole, didn’t even place their first two years, so they decided to do something different. They bought tickets for everybody they knew in order to stack the audience and guarantee themselves a prize. Then they documented this whole process and submitted it as their short.
When CAMM director Kristen Anchor announced that Kinhart and company had won the contest, the reaction among the audience members, many of whom had spent the last two days tirelessly working, was decidedly mixed.
“I definitely understand why people are angry,” says Kinhart, a 25-year-old Maryland Institute College of Art graduate who was a painting student before friends turned him onto video. Kinhart voluntarily withdrew from the competition, but that didn’t stop people from complaining. Since the contest, Kinhart has received e-mails both supporting and criticizing his actions. One participant, a group of filmmakers called Better Hollywood, posted an angry riposte on its blog (www.betterhollywood.com).
“I don’t think I’ve ever done something that has had that effect on people,” Kinhart says. “It’s not a good feeling at first.”
Of course, having a thick skin is important when making documentaries, a genre often drawn to controversy. One of Kinhart’s first jobs was cinematographer for a movie made by MICA teacher Patrick Wright about the polemicist Ann Coulter. But Kinhart’s own films have taken on much less divisive topics. For his first feature, Non-Player Character, Kinhart followed around a role-player, a ventriloquist, and an improv comedian to explore how they use imaginary personas—“non-player characters” in role-playing parlance—as part of their craft.
Non-Player premiered in April at the Johns Hopkins Film Festival and then won Best Documentary and an Audience Pick Award at Pencil Head’s Dusk Til Dawn Film Festival in Houston in August. It is also one of two local documentaries screening at Creative Alliance’s biannual juried screening Oct. 8. Currently Kinhart is working on a documentary about legendary Maryland underground horror director Don Dohler (“Fast, Cheap and Out of This World,” April 23, 2003), which he hopes to finish this fall.
For Non-Player, Kinhart worried that audiences might look down on the adult role-playing game enthusiasts, but so far the reaction has been positive. And given his recent CAmm Slamm experience, Kinhart recognizes the irony in his documentary winning an audience award in Houston.
“To my knowledge I don’t think that anybody I knew was there,” Kinhart says. “I’m pretty sure I won that one legitimately.”