What’s next for the Asheville Film Festival?

This year’s Film Festival may have been one of the best, but there’s still room for improvement. That was the central theme to emerge from the second annual Asheville Film Festival roundtable discussion, held Dec. 12 at the Chamber of Commerce. The two-hour affair, attended by festival organizers, local filmmakers, writers and supporters, covered a wide range of ideas and concerns—including praise for the high points of the 2007 festival and brainstorms for improvement in 2008 and the years to come.

The 2007 festival generated quite a buzz and received “overwhelmingly positive feedback,” according to Festival Coordinator Melissa Porter. But as Wednesday’s discussion suggested, there is still work to be done.

Hot topics quickly surfaced and boiled down to the following: film-screening combinations and programming, festival length, cultivating an AFF identity, marketing strategies and the need for better long-term planning.

“The combination of films were a little strange,” commented local screenwriter Brenda Lilly.

Jaime Byrd, a local filmmaker, added that more attention should be devoted to pairing by genre.

“It’s time for the festival to define itself,” Lilly continued. “Now is the time to make that statement.”

Shawn Lukitsch and John Bennett, co-founders of the Asheville Rejects Film Festival, felt that local films must be emphasized in order for the festival to succeed. Ethan Hunter, another local filmmaker, agreed, adding that he’d like to see a “younger influence” in the festival altogether.

But Neal Reed, manager of Asheville’s Fine Arts Theatre, sounded a different note. “If we want to make an Asheville-only festival, we could do that, but I think it’s about bringing in people and films from other places too,” he said.

Though well discussed, a defining statement about the Film Festival’s marketing identity remained unresolved.

Many agreed that the festival should be longer. “Because many of the categories are so competitive, extending the festival would allow a [greater] range of films to be showcased in Asheville,” argued David Forbes, a Mountain Xpress staffer and Film Festival liaison.

Others pointed out that a longer film fest would allow for more screenings. Many popular films had just one screening—including Year of the Fish, which won Best Feature.

Finally, various roundtable participants called for better marketing and long-term planning. Finding better ways to advertise locally, regionally and nationally, attracting high-profile screenwriters and actors, and creating strategies for generating funds were all discussed as essential for the festival’s growth. But these things require sponsorship money—which the city is short on. Xpress publisher Jeff Fobes suggested that the Film Festival needs “a working festival committee and a dedicated administrative person to start [preparing] no later than Feb. 1.”

“That’s what I meant to say!” Byrd chimed in.

Another roundtable discussion will be scheduled after the New Year.

To get involved, call 259-5800 or e-mail mporter@ashevillenc.gov

About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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3 thoughts on “What’s next for the Asheville Film Festival?

  1. Ken Hanke

    “Many agreed that the festival should be longer.”

    That’s probably the single most essential thing that needs to be addressed — well, that and publicity. As it stands, we have a festival that runs from Thursday through Sunday — at least in theory. The truth is that Thursday consists of the opening night film, so it’s really Friday through Sunday — and apart from the buzz films, Sunday scores mostly on the closing night film, not in the least because so many of the guests leave early on Sunday. With so few venues available to us — especially if we insist on keeping everything downtown — that makes it necessary to cram an awful lot of movies into a very small window. There’ve been complaints that we don’t do much in the way of retrospectives, but without adding days (and possibly venues) that’s not going to change.

    Publicity and promotion also need attention. And, yes, there is a need for some younger voices to be involved. We had that to some degree this year thanks to David Forbes, whose work had much to do with the higher quality of films in competition.

    As for defining ourselves…well, how strictly do you want to do that? How tightly do you want to see the AFF pigeon-holed? There already are film festivals that are all documentary or genre specific or aimed at a specific group — like gay and lesbian festivals or underground ones. I really don’t see anything wrong with a film festival with a broader scope that’s ultimately a celebration of the art of film, the art of making film? In itself, that does define us.

  2. “Ethan Hunter, another local filmmaker, agreed, adding that he’d like to see a “younger influence” in the festival altogether.”

    I don’t recall every agreeing with anyone about anything at any point in my life. I DO recall suggesting that i could take Tess Harper in a drunken brawl during that meeting, though. Also i tried to get the festival committee to set aside some cash to resurrect Orson Wells because, i mean, why the hell not, right?

    Mostly i’m just commenting to say that I felt that everyone at the roundtable was smart and engaged. I was glad to be a part of it and look forward to the follow up.

  3. Ken Hanke

    “I DO recall suggesting that i could take Tess Harper in a drunken brawl”

    I dare you to say that about Jennifer Tilly.

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