By SHANNON WATKINS
“Feel good” and “zombie” aren’t film genres that collide too often. Barry Keller isn’t all that concerned, though.
The local amateur filmmaker is content to forge his own quirky path. It’s one that apparently strikes a chord; his earlier short film, “Spoke,” won the Audience Choice Award at the Virginia Bike Shorts Film Festival in Roanoke last year, held at the Taubman Museum of Art. The award involves a $100 prize.
“Spoke” is about a man, played by Keller himself, learning to reach out to others again after tragedy.
His current offering, “Smile,” showcases the undead. “It’s a short, fun film about a zombie learning to ride a bicycle. Very kid-friendly, not at all scary, should make you laugh,” Keller said. Like its predecessor, it is being submitted to the Virginia Bike Shorts Film Festival, which allows for short films in any genre as long as they feature a bicycle in some way.
The film was shot last weekend around New River and according to Keller is mostly done. In keeping with its homemade status, it stars actors who aren’t really, well, actors.
“Everybody we have is always a regular Joe,” said Keller. “We don’t have professionals. They just give us their time.”
He and his cinematic partner, Joseph Caldwell, have been working together on short films over the years. Both men have regular day jobs and pursue filmmaking as a hobby.
“Usually he’s the writer and we’ll tag team directing. On ‘Spoke’ it was 100 percent him. But I directed this one completely,” says Keller. “(Caldwell) wore all the other hats—producing, writing, everything else.
“Joe graduated from college in L.A. and actually studied it properly. I’ve just picked it up and learned from experience,” Keller said.
Keller, in his early thirties, says he started young. “As a teenager I bought a little camera and started making little kid movies, just running around the yard.”
It’s not easy to make films as a side project, but Keller does OK. “I’ve managed to make moving elements I’ve had to use so I could save money on equipment. I’d encourage other amateur filmmakers to try that.” His crafting efforts include building steadicam harnesses, jibs, dollies, rollers, tracks, and sliders, all of which can help move the camera smoothly and achieve difficult angles.
Keller is evasive about himself. Like many creators, he prefers to keep the spotlight on his work. He does let on that he lives in the Radford area, loves the mountains because “you have the opportunity to do all kinds of things, extreme sports, outdoor activities,” and the New River Valley in particular since “if you need something, it’s not too far away.”
Other potential auteurs and budding cineastes will be pleased to hear they’re not alone. “Very recently I’ve run across people who are into films around here,” says Keller. “It’s really picked up a lot.”
With or without a supportive film community, though, Keller won’t be giving up anytime soon. “I can’t stop doing it,” he says. “It’s in my blood.”
To view the corpus of Keller and Caldwell’s work, go to http://vimeo.com/rocketcircus. To learn more about the Virginia Bike Shorts Film Festival, go to www.vabike.org/submissions-bike-shorts-film-festival/.