The Charleston International Film Festival
1956D Maybank Hwy., James Island
When the second year of the Charleston International Film Festival (CIFF) gets underway Thursday, most people in the audience at the Terrace Theater will be hoping for a fun evening at the movies.
But for the filmmakers and screenwriters whose projects made this year's cut, the goals are different: Win, make new contacts, and move on. The festival is the busiest four-day schmooze-blitz on the local independent calendar of film fests. Charleston's event is one of hundreds that have cropped up around the U.S., but the prizes, screenings, and after-parties in this never-ending festival circuit all carry real-world consequences for people in the movie business.
Ask Charleston screenwriter Marcia Chandler Rhea. She and writing partner Margaret Ford Rogers took first-runner-up in the 2008 CIFF screenwriting contest for a script they optioned to a Hollywood producer last month. This year, they're back with a new script and a higher profile.
"Festivals are a great way to attract attention, and one of the things they do at the Charleston festival very well is promote their award winners," Rhea says. "And lo and behold, you do get phone calls."
Back to the audience. Cinemaphiles attend festivals for a chance to rub up against movie people, to meet directors and producers, to stand in a popcorn line with someone vaguely famous. But for a film festival to attract the kinds of stars that audiences crave, organizers need to offer filmmakers enough of a career payoff to make attending an out-of-town event worth their while.
Charleston's previous attempts at film festivals didn't generally deliver in those areas. But local filmmaker Brad Jayne says last spring's maiden voyage of the CIFF far exceeded expectations, attracting plenty of talent and providing the swank social scene that's important in the entertainment industry. Which means this year's festival starts with greater credibility and higher expectations.
It also means more films (more than 60, up from about 40 last year), more panels (two free discussions, plus a video-editing workshop), two new sponsors, and a second screen at the Terrace.
"You can have a successful festival as long as you have an audience," says co-founder Summer Spooner, a Long Beach, Calif., resident and full-time entertainment producer who came to town in 2008 to launch the CIFF after running the Beverly Hills festival for four years. "California is so saturated with film festivals, and so the audience is ho-hum."
The Charleston audience seemed hungry in comparison. There are so many film festivals these days "because people think they're easy to do," Spooner says. "And the truth is, you have to put in a lot of time."
Spooner sweats the details, literally rolling out the red carpet and trying to make sure the recognition the winners receive at Sunday's awards gala feels more substantial than a plate of vulcanized chicken and some chintzy certificate.
"I've always had a thing for film festivals, and after doing this for a few years, you begin to see what you like and what you don't."
Filmmakers appreciate the touches.
"What I can tell you is that it's been put together very well," Jayne says. "I've been to film festivals from all tiers, and (the Charleston producers) do it up right."
Cut to the films. Rhea says she thinks the Charleston festival makes an effort to promote local talent, a goal that Brian Peacher, the festival's local co-founder, confirms. In addition to Jayne, South Carolina filmmakers Jesse Berger, Nate Mallard, Farrah Hoffmire, John Barnhardt, David Walton Smith, Chris Weatherhead, Carolyn Bevacqua, and Devin Dukes are represented.
But the vast majority of the program comes from out-of-state sources, culled down from more than 500 submissions, and there's an art to selecting and combining blocks of films.
It's impossible to pick the highlights in advance, but there are several eye-catching blocks. Thursday opens with inventive shorts (look for Jayne's Search on opening night), and the 7 p.m. Friday block stands out with the feature-length horror film Dying Breed and the 18-minute Canadian piece Next Floor, named Best Short Film at Cannes. The 4 p.m. Saturday block delivers a lineup of six short horror and suspense films, followed by the East Coast premiere of the intense drama Anytown, plus a 9 p.m. block called Cartoons from Hell that helps give this year's lineup a darker edge. The East Coast premiere of the provocative short Interpretation at 3:15 on Sunday sets the stage for The Narrows, a mob-themed feature film starring Vincent D'Onofrio.
Local tourism has been generally downbeat, but none of the festival's organizers are going out of their way to lower expectations. If anything, the mood around the event seems optimistic, with local talent voicing the eternal hope that a string of successes could boost the Lowcountry's film scene.
"It's hard to gauge (the festival's national reputation) right now, because we're so new," Spooner says. "We were mentioned in Variety last year, but there are so many oodles of film festivals. I consider us one of the best new festivals."
Raising the festival's profile should be a priority, she says, "but the most important thing right now is finding good movies and packing those theaters."
The Complete Schedule of the 2009 CIFF
For more information, including how to buy tickets, go to www.charlestoniff.com.
THURSDAY, APRIL 23
7 p.m.: Search (19 mins.); Black Balloon (97 mins.)
7:30 p.m.: Soulmates (18 mins.); Chasing Shadows (72 mins.)
9:15 p.m.: The Beneficiary (18 mins.); Help (40 mins.); Spielzeugland (Toyland) (14 mins.); A Day in a Life (21 mins.); Kidnapping Caitlyn (10 mins.)
9:30 p.m.: Toumai (4 mins.); High Hopes (4 mins.); Fix (93 mins.)
FRIDAY, APRIL 24
3:30 p.m.: Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre (57 mins.)
4 p.m.: Lover's Walk (15 mins.); Goodnight Irene (98 mins.)
6 p.m.: The Merkin Man (20 mins.); Big Fat Lazy Sun (16 mins.); The 8th Samurai (29 mins.); A Thing of the Past (15 mins.); La Loteria (19 mins.)
7 p.m.: Next Floor (12 mins.); Dying Breed (91 mins.)
8:15 p.m.: Wish (8 mins.); The End (81 mins.)
9:15 p.m.: 2095 (24 mins.); Fatal Flaw (22 mins.); Wig (21 mins.); Back to Me (26 mins.); Clones Gone Wild (17 mins.); It's Just Lunch (7 mins.)
10:45 p.m.: Hot Dog (6 mins.); Idiots and Angels (78 mins.)
SATURDAY, APRIL 25
11 a.m.-12 p.m.: Script to Screen panel
12:30 p.m.: Una Vida Mejor (13 mins.); S.O.B. and the Legend of Alan Schafer (56 mins.)
1:30 p.m.: Finding Pura Vida (35 mins.); Drop Zone Tahiti (55 mins.)
2:15-3:15 p.m.: The State of Film in South Carolina panel
3:30 p.m.: Born of Metropolis IV (7 mins.); Golden Blade III: Return of the Monkey's Uncle (90 mins.)
4 p.m.: Locker 13: Down and Out (15 mins.); The Replicant (13 mins.); Cam2Cam (26 mins.); Excision (18 mins.); Bottled Up (20 mins.); Room to Breathe (12 mins.)
6 p.m.: Gimme Shelter (5 mins.); Kassim the Dream (87 mins.)
7 p.m.: All for Liberty (87 mins.)
8:15 p.m.: Nine Fourteen (19 mins.); Anytown (84 mins.)
9 p.m.: The Predator's Return (14 mins.); Parts (22 mins.); Doves (24 mins.); Beholden (25 mins.); First Time Long Time (14 mins.); The Outlaw Emmett; Deemus (8 mins.)
10:45 p.m.: Cartoons from Hell: Fantaisie in Bubblewrap; Lupo the Butcher; Puppet; Shut Eye Hotel; Bar Fight; The Box Man; Son of Satan; Ah L'Amour; Seventeen
SUNDAY, APRIL 26
12:30 p.m.; Oyster Man Mike (7 mins.); Burning the Future: Coal in America (89 mins.)
1 p.m.: Little Yellow Painter (3 mins.); Arc of a Bird (11 mins.); Batter Up (12 mins.); Secrets to Love (64 mins.); Speed Relationship-ing (3 mins.)
3:15 p.m.: Interpretation (7 mins.); The Narrows (106 mins.)
3:30 p.m.: Love and Roadkill (14 mins.); Gospel Hill (98 mins.)