Putting together a film festival isn't just about watching a lot of movies. Like any big event, there's an immense amount of planning and logistics that go into a successful festival. And the husband-and-wife team of Brian and Summer Peacher behind the Charleston International Film Festival (CIFF) know first-hand the work that goes on behind the scenes to make a festival a success — and one that improves year after year. The festival aims to not only bring film aficionados together but to also help the local film industry grow. And one way the fest will help achieve that is to bring films from across the globe, and along with them the filmmakers, producers, and money men, to the Lowcountry. This strategy appears to be working. Producer Warren Ostergard, whose credits include The Bag Man with John Cusack and Robert Deniro and is the president of Vitamin A Films and partner of Producer Capital Fund, recently relocated to Johns Island with his family from L.A. for a better quality of life.
Summer Peacher doesn't shy away from asserting her goal. She states it in the "About Us" section of the fest's website: "[My] ambition is to make the Charleston International Film festival the biggest and best festival on the East Coast."
And the five-day festival has come a long way from its first few years, which had the couple organizing the event remotely from their home in California; they now live in Summerville. This year CIFF screens features, documentaries, shorts, and animation that come from as far away as New Zealand to more locally produced pictures, with panel discussions, Q&As, workshops, and after-parties. In its short history, the festival has added venues and moved to larger theaters, brought industry greats in for workshops, and continues to honor big names with the American Achievement in Film Award — all in line with the Peachers' vision for CIFF.
This year, Gale Anne Hurd, the "First Lady of Sci-Fi," will receive the award, which will be presented by Bill Paxton. (Hurd produced and co-wrote The Terminator and has worked on Academy Award-winning films like The Ghost and the Darkness, The Abyss, and Aliens. She currently works on The Walking Dead.)
But they aren't the only big names in the festival. This year the fest opens with Draft Day, the Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner football flick. "We're going to show the studio film by Lionsgate before its wide release. That's pretty unheard of, pretty cool," Brian says. "It's very rare that we're even being able to see this. Studios are so worried about piracy or pre-release or whatever."
And while the Draft Day premiere is a pretty big deal, it also requires more work. In this day and age, most theaters are digitally equipped to stream most films, but that's not always the case. And with nontraditional movie theaters, like the Sottile and Charleston Music Hall, creativity comes into play. "We're going to show the film on a 35 mm old-school projector. It's just another curve ball thrown at us," he adds. And this curve ball has Brian driving around town trucking the projectors, installing them, and making sure they work.
But it's not just Brian who worries about logistics. Producers do too, like Warren Ostergard. Ostergard's film The Sublime and Beautiful — a dark drama that examines how a husband's life changes forever in an instant and how his quest for retribution leads him down a questionable moral path — will have its South Carolina premiere on Fri. April 11. As a producer, Ostergard is involved in every aspect of filmmaking. "Part of the whole process, from start to finish ... if you look at the bigger movies, they're general directors guild movies, and you compare the director to the architect," he explains. "And my role is being like the general contractor, so I help him build all the infrastructure to support his vision. But also at the same time to make sure that all legalities are covered, we have the right amount of money, we're spending it where we need to be spending it, we're on budget and time. It's kind of like turning the hourglass over, and when you start, the clock starts. It's a race."
But it's nothing new for Ostergard, who's already shown multiple times at the fest. (His 2011 film LA I Hate You won CIFF's Golden Crescent Award.)
"Nowadays, the business has gotten more difficult to get financing, so they have to be star-driven pieces so you need to have A-list and big stars in movies to be able to get the financing, to get the distribution," he explains. "The Sublime and Beautiful is flipping that whole concept on its head and going, 'We're going to make this movie for very little money and take all the risks,' meaning creative freedom. Blake [Robbins, the director] will have all the freedom. We won't have the traditional crew: Typically, 250 people work on the crew; The Sublime and Beautiful had 25 people. But for me, it doesn't really matter the budget or if the actor has a big name, it's is it a great story? Does it drive emotion? Is the acting solid? Because if the acting's not good, it's not going to be good regardless. And I think that's our strength in The Sublime and Beautiful. I think the movie as a whole, albeit gritty, tragic, rugged to watch, it drives emotion and maybe makes you cry. It is good; it hits its mark."
And he's thankful for festivals like CIFF, which screens smaller, low-budget films along with the larger ones. But he wants to bring more awareness to South Carolina's film industry, and his solution seems simple. It's to have more films made here. "My goal — since I've never even worked here before, never rolled the camera, in the five years that I've lived here, which I think is interesting — the goal is to get movies here," says Ostergard, who's doing just that as a member of the S.C. Film Council. "It's a great city to make movies, so the goal is to make things happen here. And it's getting the legislation, which I think we've turned a corner on, to get the rebates ... everywhere we go is driven by tax credits. But there's a limit of $15,000 allocated to the S.C. film rebate. In Georgia, for instance, it's a transferable tax credit. And there's no cap." Other states make the process easier and give more money, making it a more attractive option to film there. But until the tax incentives change, Charleston's lucky for festivals like CIFF to bring a spotlight on the Holy City's ties to industry.