Hollywood never learns. Every summer new blockbuster movies are released with all the flash and effects that a seven-figure budget can muster. These movies always receive the same criticism: the effects are achieved at the expense of characters and plot.

As long as these behemoths keep making money, L.A. filmmakers will keep playing with their digital toys. But there’s a director closer to home who understands the value of storytelling, and his know-how is starting to pay off.

For the past decade, Christopher Forbes has been making movies in the Southeast. Based in Augusta, Ga., Forbes has shot films whose budgets have ranged from $15,000 (the director’s first independent feature, 2001’s Resurrection Mary) to 10 times that amount. Most of his films have been shot on high-def video, with a considerable amount of the shooting taking place in the Lowcountry. To celebrate the release of two of his films, Cinebarre is screening some of Forbes’ most recent work this weekend in Mt. Pleasant.

“Sometimes it’s easier to get people interested in a group of films of a similar nature,” Forbes says. The three films to be screened — Long Shot, Perfect Disguise, and Firetrail — all have a Western or Civil War theme: lots of horses, guns, and desperadoes.

A number of actors from the films live in and around Mt. Pleasant, so Forbes saw a Mt. P screening as the perfect way for them to see the film without having to drag themselves halfway across the country for a premiere. “It’s about giving everybody a chance to see the films,” the director adds. And with 50 moviegoers already confirmed for the screening, a repeat showing isn’t out of the question.

Aside from the local angle, Long Shot has an extra draw: it’s the last film completed by David Carradine, who passed away last month. The film’s West Coast distributor brought Carradine on board to add box office pull.

“We only had him for a couple of days,” Forbes says. “He’s in six or seven scenes.”

Still, the crew got a lot done in a short period of time. “We work very fast to begin with, and he was pretty much used to that,” Forbes says. “He didn’t have a lot of prep. He got here, took a look at the screenplay, and was good to go on a two-page scene.”

Costar, cowriter, and Summerville resident Jim Hilton played host to Carradine during the shoot. “He sat in his trailer with me, went through the script for five minutes, then told me, ‘I never had much use for these things. I know the story, just let me roll with it.'”

Hilton couldn’t refuse his childhood hero, and was very pleased with the result. “He was stellar. I was thrilled to death just to work with him.”

One critic described Hilton as having “the movements of a young John Wayne and the baritone voice of Sam Elliott.” Forbes agrees, “Everything about him screams Western.”

Needless to say, Hilton is Forbes’ leading man of choice. In Long Shot, Hilton plays Wild West sharpshooter Will Drayton, hired to rid a town of a band of outlaws who turn out to be his old Civil War comrades.

“It’s not exactly a hero film,” Forbes explains. “There’s more of a gray area like a Clint Eastwood film. We’re not exactly sure whether the character is good or bad.”

Perfect Disguise and Firetrail are both set during the Civil War. The latter is Forbes’ most epic to date, following Sherman’s march through South Carolina. “But the film’s really about the struggle of the average person going through a situation like this when society’s falling down around them,” Forbes says.

This focus on character is one of Forbes’ greatest strengths. But for the director, the story is king. He says, “Any time someone sits down to watch a feature, they’re looking for a story the first time through. The second or third time they might look at how it’s done technically. But a film’s always gotta have something going on in that story.”

Forbes already has another film in post production (The Ballad of Uchee Creek), and he feels like his low-budget formula has finally clicked. “These are real movies,” he says. “They don’t look like local films.”

And the beauty of it is, they were all done for the cost of a Transformers sight gag.

Hollywood, are you listening?