Get ready, Charleston. If the organizers behind the Charleston International Film Festival achieve their goals, our little town may one day be home to a film festival on the scale of Tribeca, Sundance, and Cannes. "We want to be the biggest, best festival on the East Coast," says board member Margaret Ford Rogers.
Apparently Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. is on board; organizers confirm that he'll be making a proclamation that the week of CIFF will be Film Week in Charleston for perpetuity.
The sixth annual Charleston International Film Festival has nearly doubled in size since its first year, featuring 65 films from filmmakers across the U.S., as well as 20 foreign films. In addition to the screenings of shorts, features, animated films, and documentaries over the course of five days, there will be studio talkback sessions, workshops, and parties.
"The movies are the backbone, but we want everyone to go out and experience the festival," says festival co-founder Summer Spooner Peacher. "Go to the films, talk to the filmmakers, do Q&As, go to the mini free workshops at the College of Charleston that have to do with editing and graphic design, animation, and then we're doing a free motion picture capture demo that's never been done before."
Among this year's highlights: A Q&A with semi-local Frank Abagnale, Jr., the real-life subject of the movie Catch Me if You Can. On April 27, audiences can watch the film, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, and then ask Abagnale about his experiences. Earlier in the day on April 27, there will be a free Q&A with producer Chris Brigham, the man behind movies like Argo, Inception, and Shutter Island. At the Awards Gala night on April 28, the festival will honor the best filmmakers and scriptwriters of the year, and they'll also be giving their first lifetime achievement award to cinematographer Bill Butler, known for his work on blockbusters like Jaws, Rocky, and Stripes.
By recognizing these national-level talents here in Charleston, CIFF hopes to expand their scope — and they're depending on people in the film community to help them do that. "The filmmaker community is like a cult," says Peacher, a filmmaker herself. "Information spreads virally. We'd rather have them go and share it rather than [buy] advertising, because it's so natural."
They're also angling to set themselves apart by recognizing more of the people behind the scenes — people like Butler, who are essential to the creation of a film, but whose names might not be immediately recognizable to the general public. At CIFF, screenwriters, in particular, are getting some love.
"If you really think about it, films don't happen without the screenwriters, and these are all people who are overlooked," Peacher says. "It's kind of backward because there wouldn't be the films without the screenwriters, so we just want to shed light on them."
On April 25, CIFF is hosting a Screenplay Table Read at Society Hall, where veteran actors will bring to life a selection of scenes submitted by 10 screenplay contest finalists. "It's rarely done at festivals, but we wanted to be able to honor the screenwriters, because screenwriters and screenplays, you hear a name at the end and it means nothing," Rogers says. "This way people can come in and hear parts of the screenplay. It's going to be set up more like a radio show. Instead of people just sitting at the table, we'll have local actors get up and read scenes and then we'll have a wine reception afterward."
As for the films, CIFF started with nearly 600 entries and ended up with 85. The screening committee, made up of volunteers around the country, narrowed down the list before passing their favorites on to Peacher and her husband Brian for the final look. Although it was difficult to settle on their final selection, Peacher says that some films were instant rejects.
"We have markers of what has to happen," she says. "If all of a sudden you start watching a movie and you see the boom or the lighting's bad or you can hear the generator running, that's never ever going to make the cut. They have to be professional looking. The story has to be there. The acting cannot be crappy. Just because you have a mansion doesn't mean you can make a movie. Just because you know a friend with a helicopter doesn't mean you can make a movie."
Brian adds, "If you start watching a movie and there are giant man parts jumping out, we might take that one out. It has actually happened."
Peacher, who helped manage the Beverly Hills Film Festival for four years prior to launching the local fest, says she considers the needs of the local community when creating the schedule. "I have started to gauge what Charleston will respond to," she says. "Charleston is not a featured film community as far as film fests go. The documentary community is much smaller, but it's still a community that needs to be acknowledged. We play a lot more shorts just out of the fact that the majority of the audience likes to have a taste of everything."
She adds, "I'm a shorts person because I have a short attention span, and I like to see variety. All of our shorts programs are very strong because we program them to have an animation and a foreign film, and we sprinkled the local films throughout the shorts program."
Stop by CIFF's headquarters at 556 King Street to pick up a full guide to the all of the screenings, parties, and events surrounding the festival.
Brian and Summer Peacher share their top 10 CIFF picks
The Chair — The story of a mysterious outbreak of poisonous mold in a small town and one boy's attempt to understand his mother's death, his grandmother's obsession with their discarded recliner, and the roots of this short-lived, strange, and inexplicable plague. Wed. April 24, 9 p.m.
Ghosts of Old Highways — A man pursued by an invading army hunts down previous versions of himself amidst the purgatory of a fractured consciousness. The film is driven by an original score by the artist Ben Lovett, whose song of the same name inspired the script from director Dan Bush. Shot on location deep in the North Carolina mountains. Thurs. April 25, 7 p.m.
Breaking at the Edge — The story of a young pregnant woman who has increasing difficulty determining whether she is losing her grip on reality or whether her pregnancy has enabled her to see into a spiritual world that could threaten the welfare of herself and her baby. Thurs. April 25, 9 p.m.
Commencement — A funny and thought-provoking look at three generations of a middle-class family caught in the wake of the fiscal crisis. Fri. April 26, 7 p.m.
Smile — Behind a clown's makeup there is always a man with his story: the story of his life. It could be happy or not funny at all. Fri. April 26, 7 p.m.
The Water is Always Bluer — A lonely rubber duck discovers a new world of adventure that lies just beneath the surface of the bathwater. Fri. April 26, 9 p.m.
AKA Doc Pomus — Brooklyn-born Jerome Felder, stricken by polio, reinvented himself first as blues singer Doc Pomus, then as the writer of hit songs. Doc's tale of disability and possibility is told by friends including Dr. John, Ben E. King, Joan Osborne, and Lou Reed. Sat. April 27, 1 p.m.
Counting Happiness — The story of Hasan, a delightful little boy who roams the streets of Delhi and earns his living by selling clockwork chicken toys. Sat. April 27, 9 p.m.
La Mirada Perdida — Argentina, 1976. Claude is forced to live with his family in hiding due to his political ideals. Their house is discovered by the military. No time to flee, he tries to shelter his daughter in a fantasy world to keep the girl from seeing the horror they are about to witness. Sun. April 28, 3 p.m.
Valse Favorite — What is the best way to be dumped by an emotional boyfriend? Diane has the brilliant idea to organize a barbecue party to solve her friend's problem, but the ingenious idea doesn't work out as planned. Sun. April 28, 3 p.m.