Film festival celebrates its 15th year, features Michael Rooker

Ernest Borgnine and George Lindsey listen to the awards ceremony at the 15th Annual George Lindsey UNA Film Festival. Lindsey returned to the festival after an absence due to health complications.

The 15th year of the George Lindsey UNA Film Festival was held March 1 to 3, with several actors from Alabama and personalities in the entertainment business spotlighted in the festival.

One of the highlights of this year’s festival was when actor Michael Rooker, who started his career with independent film “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” and starred in baseball film “Eight Men Out” and the Kevin Smith-directed “Mallrats,” spoke frankly to members of the UNA community in the GUC auditorium March 2.

“I would never tell anyone not to pursue their dreams,” Rooker said about what he learned as an actor. “You’re born to do it, or at least try. It’s got to be you to say that it’s enough.

“But you also can’t just give up. You got to keep working at it. Most of my job now is looking to find work.”

Rooker is known most recently for his success as Merle Dixon in the television series “The Walking Dead”—a character that only appeared in three episodes but has a large fanbase.

“Merle’s coming back,” Rooker said. “You don’t want to know when. You don’t want to know how and to what capacity … but Merle’s coming back, and what can I say? Shit happens.”

Earlier that same day, after the dedication ceremony for the new George S. Lindsey Theater and Ernest Borgnine Performance Hall, Borgnine also shared with UNA students.

Borgnine, star of numerous films and television shows, including “McHale’s Navy” and his recent role as Mermaid Man in “Spongebob Squarepants,” pulled aside several of the university’s theater students and told them the truth he found about the entertainment business.

“It’s an awful business to be in because one day you can go hand-to-mouth,” Borgnine said. “Then, you’ve got people that take advantage of you. One day, you can wake up and have nothing.”

With longtime friend George Lindsey, Borgnine covered the highs and lows of his career and what he learned from it: from winning an Academy Award for “Marty” to trying to find work as an actor.

“I was starving, but I refused to do free readings,” Borgnine said. “You have to have dignity in this business. If you don’t, then, hey, man, you’re lost.”

Borgnine was also just as direct as Rooker about the state of the entertainment industry.

“Everyone thinks they can act,” Borgnine said. “They can’t.”

Though not an actor, Vice President of Program Planning and Acquisitions at E! Entertainment Mark Scholnick also shared his experience with students in two sessions, one for students looking to head to Los Angeles and the other showing students and the community how to pitch a show idea.

“A leader has to have a clear vision of what they want,” Scholnick said during a session preparing students entering the entertainment industry. “If you have a vision, you need to communicate it.

“And if you want to be a teacher, you need to know how to teach. And with the new media like Facebook and Twitter, you have to be able to communicate.”

Scholnick also told students that one of the things that helped him out was to keep a life outside work.

“Work hard, but you also need to have a life,” Scholnick said. “It’s so important to have an interest outside of work. I promise you, you’ll have a much better life with a life outside of work.”

Borgnine said that one of the main reasons he supported the festival was to help students.

“Hey man, maybe you can learn something,” Borgnine said to small group around him. “If we can help you out through a discussion like this, then hey, it’s all worth it.”