Since it was announced last month, Actionfest has hit Asheville with the impact of one of Chuck Norris' stunning roundhouse kicks. Except instead of bringing a world of pain, it's brought a world of anticipation to local fans of adrenaline-fueled cinema.
Billed as the world's first film festival devoted exclusively to action, the four-day event features an impressive lineup of 25 movies, including several world premieres, major studio previews and rare theatrical screenings — everything from cult-favorite director Neil Marshall's brand-new Centurion to Norris' 1988 hit Braddock: Missing in Action III.
On hand to introduce Braddock and accept the Lifetime Achievement Award will be none other than Norris himself. The legendary martial artist, action star and mythological super-human says he's pumped. "I think this is long overdue," Norris tells Xpress. "I think eventually it's going to be bigger than the Academy Awards."
Bill Banowsky, who founded Magnolia Pictures, owns Carolina Cinemas, and co-founded the festival with producer/director Aaron Norris (Chuck's brother), certainly hopes so. "If you look at the box office success of action films, it's pretty easy to see that they're among the more popular and successful films throughout time," Banowsky says. "What we're doing here is something that, for some reason, no one else has done."
In addition to films, the festival features a host of panels and demonstrations by some of most accomplished stuntmen in the business, including Kinnie Gibson, Jeff Habberstad and Paul Weston, whose collective credits include Walker, Texas Ranger, License to Ill, There Will Be Blood and Spider-Man. Banowsky advises Ashevillians to keep their eyes to the sky over the weekend, as Gibson (aka "The Rocket Man") plans to fly around town in the same rocket belt he's used to wow crowds at the Olympics and the Super Bowl.
"Before there were all these computer graphics that create the appearance of stunts, these are the real stunts, the real stuntmen, the real great action heroes," Banowsky says.
"It's going to be spectacular," agrees Norris.
In honor of Norris' appearance, all profits from the festival are slated to go to Kickstart Kids, a foundation that he and his wife, Gena, started to help inner-city middle-school students learn martial arts and build self-esteem.
"That's Gena and my life mission, really, is this program," Norris says. "It's such a positive program and we've proven it over the last 16 years with the 60,000 kids that have graduated. … Our goal is to expand it all over the country, because they're our future."
In addition to hoping the festival raises money for Kickstart, Banowsky says he hopes the event will help raise national awareness of Asheville.
"We're going to introduce Asheville to a lot of people in the film industry who have heard about it, but haven't had a chance to experience it," Banowsky says. "I want to see it grow beyond the Carolina Theatre. I want it to grow into other theaters in Asheville. I want this to become a really big deal for the community."
Norris predicts big success.
"When this Actionfest starts, Asheville's going to become a big, well-known city throughout the country," he assures.
More thoughts from Norris on:
Why he loves action and why he thinks Actionfest will eventually be bigger than the Academy Awards:
To me, movies are entertainment. It's a way for me to sit down and relax and enjoy a couple hours. That's what action films do for me. It gives me a chance to sit back and escape for a while. Because we all deal with a lot of problems during the day. So this is a way for me to escape. …
Action films are what people want to go see. And the Academy Awards, which I'm an Academy member, all they show is the movies that make $4.50 at the theatre. They never recognize an action film at the Academy Awards. And that movie can make $350 million, but the Academy will never vote for it. I always do. My vote never counts. …
I never go to the Academy Awards. You talk about being bored to tears. Sitting there for four hours watching these actors come up and say these stupid remarks is the dumbest and most boring thing you could ever imagine. …
It's great for the action films to get the recognition that's definitely due them that they don't get from the Academy. I hope the Academy doesn't kick me out for saying that.
Honoring the stuntmen and stunt coordinators that put their lives on the line to put the action in action films:
They've never got the credit due them. They never have. And they don't get that much money. They don't get paid actor's wages to make these actors look good. …
Can you imagine what films would be like if we didn't have stunt people? We'd have some pretty boring movies. Because the actors don't know how to do what these stuntmen do. The stuntmen are what make these movies look so spectacular. So it's way past due for them to get the accolades they deserve.
The power of martial arts to build self-esteem:
I grew up as an average kid, but as a kid who grew up not having a father. My mom had to do the raising. And because of that, not having the male role model, I grew up extremely shy, and not athletic. I was so shy that I was afraid to even try sports. I was afraid of failure. …
All through school, I never once got in front of the class, to give a book report or anything. Teachers would say "Chuck, come forward," and I would just sit there and shake my head "no" because I was afraid I was going to get embarrassed. … And then when I graduated from high school I went right into the military and they sent me to Korea, and that's where I got my exposure to the martial arts, and I made my black belt there.
And it really turned my life around. … That's what's so great about the martial arts — it helps you overcome whatever insecurities that you may have in your life — physical, mental, psychological, or whatever. And that's why I'm such a strong proponent of it.
The success of Kickstart Kids:
I'll give you an example. Gena and I did a little fundraiser for CEOs of corporations in Houston a few weeks back, and so this one CEO walks up to me and says, "Chuck, I told my executive vice president I was going to one of these Kickstart Kids functions," and he says his executive vice president looks him in the eyes and says "I'm a graduate of Kickstart."
And he goes "Really?"
And he says, "Yes, tell Chuck hello, and tell him thank you."
How about that!? That's what it's all about. It's about giving back. … Our way of giving is helping as many young kids as we possibly can. Because so many kids today are growing up in dysfunctional homes where peer pressure's insurmountable. … The only way you can overcome that is to have the martial art ability to develop the inner strength to be able to face that kind of problem. Because believe me, bullies don't pick on you if they know you can handle yourself.
Being the subject of so many mythological facts:
They go from one extreme to another. A lot of them are funny. A lot of them get a little too extreme. Anyway, that's why I wrote my book [The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book]. Everyone would go, "What's your favorite fact?" and I'd go "Golly, I don't know."
Xpress readers ask Chuck Norris: What are the real facts?
Xpress: As part of this interview we asked our readers to submit questions to possibly ask you, and most of them were along the lines of the Chuck Norris facts. So I'll read a couple of them and you can respond however you wish.
From Adam Fajardo: "Ask him to level the Vance Monument with one stunning roundhouse kick and then to kick it back up again."
From Scott Woolum: "Is it possible for you to stack boards so high that even you could not chop through it?"
Norris: (Laughing) Well, remember, these are mythological.
My favorite one is "America is not a democracy, it's a Chuck-tatorship."
Now if that was true, I would go to Washington, I'd line up every member of Congress, and I'd have Ron Paul, who I think is the most honest one down there, and I'd say "Ron, point out the honest and dishonest politicians."
So as I'm walking down the aisle with all 535 of them lined up there, he says "He's honest, he's honest, he's dishonest." I'd walk up to him, nose to nose, and say "You're fired." And if he didn't move immediately, I'd choke him unconscious and drag him over to the pile (laughing).
Now Nancy Pelosi, I'd walk up to her and say, "Nancy, you're fired, but I will personally walk you out."
Well anyway, that's my personal favorite Chuck Norris fact.
what: "The world's first film festival for action films"
where: Carolina Cinemas, 1640 Hendersonville Road, and The Orange Peel.
when: Thursday, April 15 ,through Sunday, April 18 (Individual show tickets $10; film badge with access to all features, $75; all-access VIP badges $100. Closing ceremony at the Orange Peel, $25)