A look at the first Charleston International Film Festival 

Movies You Can't See Anywhere Else

Charleston International Film Festival
Thurs.-Sun. May 1-4
$8 per block
Terrace Theatre
1956 Maybank Hwy., James Island
(843) 762-9494

Local movie lovers rejoice.

The Charleston International Film Festival starts on May 1, ushering a collection of feature-length dramas, documentaries, shorts, and animation with an emphasis on quality rather than sheer star power.

So don't go to the Terrace Theatre this weekend seeking Hollywood's elite. Instead, you'll find an exceptional collection of independently produced films.

The festival has been organized by Lowcountry native Brian Peacher and Summer Spooner, who is also producer and managing director of the Beverly Hills Film Festival.

Both fests celebrate independent film and aim to connect filmmakers with their audiences.

"On the West Coast we're always hoping that filmmakers will be the main audience," says Spooner, who wrapped the Beverly Hills festival on April 13 then hopped on a plane the very next day to finalize arrangements for her Charleston event.

"Here, we're targeting the general public. They'll get movies they want to go see that will touch every emotion you possibly can."

If anyone knows what the public wants from a film event, it's Spooner.

She has worked as a production assistant on 2002's Emmy Awards, 2003's Academy Awards, and 2003's MTV Movie Awards. She's also spent several years in the indie trenches, working on flicks like Employee of the Month and Lie to Me.

As Spooner sees it, the Charleston International Film Festival provides a great chance for moviegoers to catch low-key films that they wouldn't get a chance to see anywhere else.

The festival's headliner, Camille, premieres Thursday to a sold-out audience. Helmed by first-time director Gregory MacKenzie, this road movie romp follows a mischievous couple en route to Niagra Falls. It stars Sienna Miller, James Franco, David Carradine, and Scott Glenn. Camille will be preceded by the East Coast premiere of Pivot, a short starring Ron Rifkin.

Stiletto is the big movie for May 3. Directed by Nick Vallelonga, this story about a maverick female assassin stars Stana Katic, Tom Berenger, Tom Sizemore, Michael Biehn, and Kelly Hu.

The bulk of the festival is split into blocks of short films. A couple are specifically devoted to documentaries; the first, set for May 3 at noon, includes Jonathan Green's Seeking. This half-hour film by Charles Allan Smith follows the creation of the Lowcountry artist's "Seeking," a painting presented to Mepkin Abbey last year.

Other documentaries to watch for are The Sounds of Silent Cinema, exploring the way films were accompanied in pre-soundtrack days. The second documentary block at 4 p.m. includes B is for Beekeeper, described as "cinematic and romantic" by the Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington, N.C.

The festival program is chosen by board members to reflect the multivarious tastes of moviegoers.

"There are so many different kinds of films," Spooner says. "I like them all. I adore Camille, and there's a good documentary called D.O.P.E, about skateboarders who took a wrong turn and made a recovery. We even have some dark animation."

The most intriguing of these cartoons for grown-ups are Bill Plympton's Shuteye Hotel and the inventive Red Princess Blues.

Other screenings worth checking out include Hole in the Paper Sky (May 1) starring Jessica Biel, which won two awards at the Beverly Hills fest; Crazy (May 2), which charts the life of guitarist Hank Garland; and On the Road with Judas (May 4), a metaphysical drama by J.J. Lask.

Watching movies is all well and good, but everyone knows the best thing about a film festival is the parties. Each night a soirée will be held at a different location as the organizers court sponsors for a follow-up event next year.

"Our highest-end venue is Bridgeside at the Motley Rice building on Friday night," Spooner says. "Thursday's afterparty will be at Chai's, a much more intimate setting."

On the final night, awards for best films will be handed out at the Francis Marion Hotel.

If all goes well, Spooner and Peacher hope to continue their festival next year and raise its scope in the process.

"We want to stick around, show more movies next time, and more international films," Spooner says.

And she knows a film fest must evolve.

"If you're sticking to the same routine, what's new about it? We have to come up with new workshops, new seminars, and above all a good selection of films."

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