Film: Close Up

Actor Bob Elkins brings festival acclaim home

Apr 2, 2003 at 2:06 pm
Bob Elkins won an acting prize at the Dublin Film Festival for his role as a panhandler in Homefree.

The biggest spotlight moment in actor Bob Elkins' career takes place over 3,000 miles away from his Northern Kentucky home. In early February, Elkins won the Best Actor award at the 2003 Dublin Film Festival for his role as a homeless man in the independent short film, Homefree. While the award itself belongs to Elkins, he insists that the honor belongs to all local independent filmmakers and artists.

"It's not just a big deal for me. The point is it's a big deal for the Greater Cincinnati film community," Elkins said, speaking casually at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood. "There is an active, underground film community here, and it's a victory for them. I mean, it's nice for me, but it's a victory for the film community, because the film community gets so little publicity."

Homefree tells the comic adventure of a homeless man (Elkins) who enrolls in a class where he is taught the art of panhandling. The class is taught by Oz, an intimidating, homeless pimp of sorts, who admits Elkins to the class after he repeats the secret, Wizard of Oz-inspired, phrase. The film is funny and cynical, but Elkins manages to evoke empathy and believability around his character.

In the film, Elkins wears ragged clothing and carries a sign advertising that he "will work for food."

Sitting in the bookstore café, Elkins looks gentrified, almost lordly. His white hair is smoothed back. There is a twinkle in his blue eyes, surrounded by deep creases that I guess are from years of smiling.

Homefree is an 11-and-a-half minute film by Cincinnati filmmaker Greg Newberry, a low-budget follow-up to his previous short film, Beemer Baby. Local film groups have screened Homefree over the past year. It also won a Cincinnati-based Telly award in the non-broadcast production category.

Newberry's film has been shown at several festivals in the U.S., but made its U.K. debut at the Dublin Film and Music Fleadh. Although the Dublin Fleadh is a relatively small event, Newberry was thrilled by the international recognition.

"This film is short, only 11 minutes long," Newberry said. "It was a total volunteer effort, with a budget under $500, shot on digital video, up against high production films, some on 35mm. It was pretty amazing to even get into the festival."

While the Dublin Award has put a bounce in Elkins' step, he still faces the same challenge felt by all local actors — finding work. It's tough, being so far from Hollywood.

"We're outside that loop. But we're inside our own," Elkins says. "People react to you differently. It's a family. Once you get into the family, it's really small."

Local screenings: The Southern Ohio Filmmakers Association (SOFA), the family Elkins refers to, meets the third Tuesday of every month at 8 p.m. at the 20th Century Theater, 3021 Madison Road, Oakley. For more information:

The Banff Mountain Festival, a series of mountain culture films, returns 6 p.m. Saturday at the Cincinnati Museum Center's Riekert Auditorium. Info: 513-793-9453 ... Cincinnati Opera Artistic Director Nic Muni presents the music documentary The Turandot Project 7 p.m. Thursday at the Cincinnati Art Museum Auditorium. Info: 513-251-6060

Amy Miller is an intern at CityBeat. Close Up reports on local film news the first issue of every month.