Film fest returns to its roots

Sunday, March 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:45 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Rural Route Film Festival, born in New York City, is the brainchild of former Columbia resident Mike Schmidt and his friend Alan Webber.

But the festival’s subject matter takes viewers a long way from the Big Apple: cattle auctions and oil wells, prescription drug abuse in Kentucky, Texas camel treks and a farmhouse in rural West Virginia that doubles as a “pay-as-you-go” dental clinic.

The July 2003 inaugural event filled a pub in Brooklyn, N.Y. Selected films have been screened in Atlanta and New Orleans, and Schmidt has lined up future dates in Abingdon, Va., and Flagstaff, Ariz.

But, for Holly Roberson, one of the owners of Ragtag Cinema Cafe, 23 N. Tenth St., where six selections of the Rural Route Film Festival will be screened tonight, Columbia — a place surrounded by rural communities — may be the perfect setting.

“Of all the venues Schmidt is visiting, Columbia sits best with the theme of the festival,” she said.

Columbia is at the top of Schmidt's list of locations

Schmidt said that when he and Webber began planning where to screen the festival, Columbia and Ragtag were at the top of his list. Schmidt spent time at Ragtag when he lived in Columbia, where he sought a reprieve from the hectic pace of his work in film production. He first came here in 2001 and ended up working at a feed mill.

Since moving back to New York, where he now works for Kino International, a film distributor, Schmidt has stayed in touch with David Wilson, Ragtag’s manager. Schmidt said he is inspired by Ragtag, whose recent True/False Film Festival drew thousands of viewers for a weekend of documentary films.

“It was impressive that Ragtag aspired to be a place to promote films by screening them instead of making them,” he said.

Ragtag’s focus is bringing to town films that might not otherwise be shown in Columbia, Roberson said. She describes the Rural Route Film Festival as a “unique compilation.”

“We don’t see many films about rural life,” she added.

Schmidt and Webber have been the movers behind the festival by choosing the films, promoting the festival and screening it in different cities. They are currently accepting entries for 2004.

“It was basically Alan’s concept, and we both coordinated it,” Schmidt said.

Sceening at Ragtag tonight

Tonight’s screening at Ragtag begins at 7 and will feature six films from the festival’s original 25 entries. Live music from John White and Jordan Wax will kick the night off, and Schmidt will answer questions after the screening.

“I think it will be a festive event,” Roberson said.

For more information about the Rural Route Film festival, go to

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