Research Communications

OHIO feature premieres at major film festival 

Ohio University filmmaker Annie Howell debuted her feature Small, Beautifully Moving Parts to a sold-out audience at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival Monday. The film, about a pregnant tech geek who takes a road trip to reconnect with her estranged mother, was one of only 8 narrative competition features selected from an original pool of 984 submissions.

“It’s an important festival in the independent film world in that a lot of filmmakers have taken their first professional step here,” Howell said. “It’s not as much of a market as Sundance or Toronto, though, so it has more of a relaxed feeling and the pressure is not as high. It’s more social.”

Sarah Sparks (actress Anna Margaret Hollyman) takes a road trip in Small, Beautifully Moving Parts.

Staff at the 280-seat State Theatre in Austin, Texas, told Howell and co-writer/co-director Lisa Robinson Monday that their first screening was only the third sell-out performance of the 2011 event. Positive reviews for the film began appearing online within 24 hours.

Small, Beautifully Moving Parts stems from Howell and Robinson’s online and Sundance Channel comedy series “Sparks,” which explores women and technology.

“The series is very light,” Howell said, “and we wanted to do something more complex, to give the characters harder experiences.” 

The screenwriters gave protagonist Sarah Sparks, a freelance technology specialist, an unexpected pregnancy. Sparks tries to make sense of her pending parenthood by traveling cross-country to reunite with her mother, who—ironically—is living off the grid.
Filmmakers Lisa Robinson, left, and Annie Howell, right.

“It’s a story about being connected, disconnected, and then connected in a new way,” Howell said.

The duo kept the film budget lean by working with a small crew and cast of actors and by using the homes of family members in Arizona and California for locations. “We wrote the script with Google maps open,” said Howell, who noted that the project received funding from Ohio University and private donations.

The film involved three Ohio University graduate students, including Mike Gray, who served as sound location specialist during the three-week shoot. Gray had made short films but had never worked on a feature film set, Howell said. “It’s different in that you need to identify and shape how elements are working for a longer, more complex story.” 

The filmmakers hope that the next stop on their journey includes theatrical or cable television distribution, as well as screenings at more festivals.

Howell, a second-year faculty member in the School of Film, is no stranger to success in the film industry. She’s written and directed short films that have played internationally on the festival circuit, including previously at SXSW. Her work has aired on the Sundance Channel, PBS, and the Independent Film Channel. An award-winning screenwriter, her most recent script is in development with producers Jordan Horowitz (The Kids Are All Right) and Jared Ian Goldman (Solitary Man).

The filmmaker expects that the selection of Small, Beautifully Moving Parts for the SXSW narrative feature competition will provide new opportunities for her in the field.

“It really feels like a life-changing experience,” she said.

—Andrea Gibson

Visit the official Small, Beautifully Moving Parts site: