This weekend marks the 3rd Annual Dixie Film Festival, an event founded by Randy McDowell, an energetic young filmmaker who splits his time between Georgia and California. In its 2nd year at Georgia State University’s Cinefest Theatre, the Dixie Film Festival has plenty of room to grow but I have to say that I’m impressed by Randy’s chutzpah and the intensity that he and his staff have put into the festival this year. Last night I attended a screening of the film Hot Tamale, directed by Michael Damian of ‘The Young & The Restless’ fame, and was delighted to observe the very first presentation of The Magnolia Award to actor James Best, for 50 years in the film business (you can view the video I shot over on YouTube). Mr. Best also screened a short period piece entitled ‘Hell Bent for Good Times’ (I only spotted one anachronism).
It was great fun to see James Best receive the Magnolia Award for well over 50 years of work in the film business; he’s as personable and good-natured as you might hope and I was disappointed that the screening ended so late because I would have thoroughly enjoyed asking him questions about working in the Golden Age of Television with some of my favorite cowboys like Gene Autry and Jimmy Stewart. During all those years I worked as an Assistant Propmaster I pointedly avoided initiating conversations with actors about their past work as it seemed an unspoken rule that it was somehow unprofessional (the same reason I never ‘scored autographs’ for you guys). Looking back, I could kick myself and when/if I decide to get back into the business I’ll be sure to spend time prying war stories out of people like Mr. Best, after all, everyone loves to tell our stories from set.
While ‘The Dixie’ is gaining notoriety, it’s obvious that the Dixie Film Festival is still in its infancy and I’m not at all convinced that Georgia State is the best venue for the event as its urban setting must certainly intimidate people who are uncomfortable with visiting downtown Atlanta after dark. Locating an appropriate venue is a challenge for any film festival, regardless of how long it’s been around. The venerable Atlanta Film Festival has faced plenty of venue issues over the years, dithering between downtown and the exurbs.
Just like the independent films they screen, film festivals sometimes live in a perpetual swoon without a permanent corporate or celebrity champion. I am truly not well informed about the indie film scene, but I do know that Tribeca was an overnight success, in large part due to Robert De Niro’s leadership, but in no small part due to the passion of the community, stirred because of the attack on the World Trade Center.
In the already crowded market of independent film, festivals are also becoming a commodity. Where distributors can pick and choose the projects they wish to represent, filmmakers can be equally as choosy when deciding where they want to screen their films and I believe that it’s becoming important for festivals to provide a clear definition of their mission and their audience; a film about women’s issues would hardly be appreciated at a festival dedicated to wildlife films.
Part of Dixie’s challenge is to provide potential submitters with an idea of the audience it will provide them. It should be able to answer questions like: “Who is your audience?” and “Why would I want my film screened there?”
Ultimately, the success of any particular film festival relies on the active support of the local filmmaking community. If people really want something to succeed they’ll make sure that it does.