It's possible to predict how an article about this year's Charleston International Film Festival (CIFF) will play out. Yes, it'll talk about the films and the other events. But it'll probably focus more on the squabble between the organization and March's Charleston Film Festival (CFF), organized by former Terrace Theater owner Michael Furlinger.
But that's not what Summer Spooner and Brian Peacher, CIFF's founders, want. They don't want to be negative or accusatory. They just want to establish the difference between themselves and Furlinger's event. They want to end the filmmaker confusion and the media confusion (that even the City Paper has been guilty of, unfortunately) that they've had to deal with, and clarify themselves for their audience. After seeing a City Paper article about the controversy with more than 50 contentious comments, they decided as a team — composed of Spooner, Peacher, and locals Mark Gorman, Tracy Roberts, and Ron Krauskopf — to stay out of the argument.
The California-based, newly married duo of Spooner and Peacher is supportive of other film festivals in the city, but Spooner says in a perfect world, CFF could have been named differently (and more distinctively) or held at a different time of the year; Peacher says he doesn't think it benefited anyone involved in the matter for CFF to be held three weeks before an established festival. They also wish Furlinger could have done more dissimilar programing to what CIFF had brought to the Terrace in the past.
But they don't see the situation as a competition. CIFF is a nonprofit, and they're here to do something for the Charleston community and bring their films to the general public. Over four days, April 8-11, they will screen features, shorts, documentaries, and animation. They'll offer the public free panels and workshops with industry professionals. After-parties will give the filmmakers and festival attendees the opportunity to network with their peers or their fans. And the event wraps up with an awards gala and dinner at the Frances Marion's Gold Ballroom.
In its third year, CIFF isn't focused on local filmmakers necessarily. Yes, you're going to get films like Haunted Charleston, a documentary revealing the most haunted spots around town, or the short Brief is Love, Life is Long, shot in South Carolina. But you'll also see the Belgian short Een Kleine Duw (A Gentle Push), about a nine-year-old's last day of school, and the award-winning Diploma, an Israeli film that showed at Cannes.
Movies for the festival are selected by a committee. Some of the features shown won't have their theatrical release until after the event. The opening film, The 5th Quarter, an uplifting sports feature based on a true story and starring Aiden Quinn and Andie MacDowell, won't have mainstream distribution until the fall but will premiere at the International Film Fest. Rick Bieber, the writer and director of The 5th Quarter, was a winner at the first CIFF, so he wanted to showcase his film in Charleston.
Personally, Peacher is a shorts fan. The majority of the festival is shorts, because, Spooner says, you can cover more ground and people respond to them the best. Spooner recommends the 9:30 p.m. block on Saturday, which she thinks will be really relatable to the audience (they say their demographic trends between the ages of 20 and 40).
"Really, they are all equally important," Peacher says. "Every film comes together to make the four days, and it's the filmmakers that make the festival what it is."
More than 60 filmmakers are coming to this year's festival, flying in from all over the country. This is more than any year before, with all but one block of films having one or more filmmakers present.
"This is a great trend and means more audience interaction and Q and A's, and just makes the festival bigger and better with more filmmakers there," Peacher says.
CIFF is also involved with local organizations, including the Coastal Conservation League. Half of the ticket sales for Sunday's 11 a.m. block will go to local conservation groups; the block features the documentary Tapped, about the privatization of water.
"The film festival is, in a way, a platform for other nonprofits with a positive message and to bring important social issues to light," Peacher says.
This year, all films will be screened at the American Theatre downtown, a move that should be beneficial for CIFF attendees since it will put them within walking distance of some of the Holy City's best restaurants and shops. The move has also allowed CIFF to keep its ticket prices low, at $9 per block at the door (or $99 for the entire festival).
CIFF grows every year, and the couple says their process is getting better. They take the feedback from attendees and implement whatever makes sense or is easy to execute.
Growing also means getting more submissions, so CIFF has a bigger group to choose from — and more people to reject. Peacher says he hates sending out "no" letters. It's the filmmaker's baby, after all.
Of course, when the lights come up, the evening doesn't end. The first three nights of CIFF feature exclusive after-parties. (Attendees need wristbands from the festival or need to be on a guest list.) Held at Chai's, Shine, and Club Pantheon, these gatherings will feature open bars sponsored by companies like Sailor Jerry Rum, Stella Artois, Hendrick's Gin, Stoli Vodka, and Palmetto Brewery. There will also be live DJ sets, and the band Snow in Africa (from California) will perform on Saturday.
On Sunday, the Gold Ballroom Awards Gala will take place at the Frances Marion Hotel. The three-course seated dinner is also an awards show, with honors given in all categories. Tickets are $99. At last year's gala, Akim Anastopoulo, Matt Slechter, and Nate Mallard, the producers of one of this year's films, Republic of Pete, met. The feature was written and directed by Jesse Berger and will be shown during Friday's third block, which starts at 9 p.m.
Spooner and Peacher believe the uncertainty over the last few months has been negative for everyone. But they've learned to take the high road — and to work harder at protecting themselves. For now, they're just going to do what they've been doing, and they're confident their festival is going to get bigger and better every year.