Checking in from the Savannah Film Festival

October 30, 2014

By Karen Martin for blood, dirt & angels

How do you keep a downtown vibrant, populated, attractive and livable? Easy. Weave an innovative, respected and sought-after system of higher education throughout the fiber of the city.

Actually, the Savannah Theater is not one of the venues at the Savannah Film Festival, but we liked the sign.

Actually, the Savannah Theater is not one of the venues at the Savannah Film Festival, but we liked the sign.

Savannah is a perfect example. This graceful Southern city could go the way of many of its sisters and be crumbling into dust, its fine 19th- and 18th-century buildings deteriorating around the edges of its 21 park-like squares. Instead, it’s filled with the sight and sound of stylish, creative, and collaborative students of the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Founded in 1978, the university accommodates around 11,000 students. Since the selective private school’s nearly 70 buildings (including Savannah Film Studios, its newest addition) are strewn across the historic city’s downtown rather than fenced off on a sequestered campus, its students can be found nearly everywhere — striding along Broughton and Bull streets, sipping coffee up and down Abercorn and Bay, trotting down the steps of Victorian residences along Liberty and Drayton, and sketching the views in green, sculpture-strewn Forsyth Park.

Programs of study such as dramatic writing, film and television production, performing arts, production design, sound design, themed entertainment, animation, motion media design, and visual effects help ensure that Georgia’s growing film industry (aided by generous incentives) is well stocked with professionals ready to join the crews of mainstream and independent film productions.

And because of those SCAD students, an array of downtown Savannah’s housing, restaurants, shopping venues, public transportation and entertainment options are reasonably priced to accommodate them.

A small school gains prestige not only by providing a superior education, but by what it brings to the community it serves. To that end, one of SCAD’s premier outreach events is the Savannah FIlm Festival. Now in its 17th year, the festival welcomes industry professionals and students from all fields of the film business to connect with each other, exhibit their work, enter competitions, and participate in panels and discussions on all sorts of topics relating to the film, TV and digital media business. Oh, and to party at the end of each day’s events.

Opening on Oct. 24, the 2014 festival concludes Saturday, Nov. 1, with a screening of the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, which recently opened the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in Arkansas.

The film follows country music star (and Arkansas native) Glen Campbell during his final music tour after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Director James Keach and executive producer Jane Seymour, along with Campbell’s wife Kim Campbell, are expected to attend.

Other notable documentaries at the festival include Finding Vivian Maier (with director Charlie Siskel), Documented (with director Jose Antonio Vargas), Merchants of Doubt (with director Robert Kenner) and Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon with director Mike Myers and Gordon.

Special guests are singled out for their work, among them Asa Butterfield (Rising Star award), Matt Bomer (Spotlight award) Gena Rowlands (Lifetime Achievement award), and Analeigh Tipton (Rising Star award).

Then there are the hotshot narratives, such as Tommy Lee Jones’ intense The Homesman, Bennett Miller’s very weird Foxcatcher, Disney’s animated Big Hero 6 and Courtney Cox’ directing debut Just Before I Go, a rowdy comedy starring Seann William Scott and Olivia Thrilby.

The festival attracts around 40,000 each year to this very Southern city, whose residents since 1733 have ranged from pirates to Paula Deen. It’s a fun, fashionable, friendly event on the Savannah River that knows how to make its guests feel welcome — and yearn to return.

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