There is a rite of passage in any city within the various elements of its arts community whereupon each locally supported form of artistic endeavor builds until it attains an annual event of must-go stature. In Chattanooga, these events include the Meacham Writer’s Workshop, Riverbend, the 4 Bridges Arts Festival and Mainx24. But there is not yet such a worthy event devoted exclusively to film. That is about to change.
The city’s Department of Education, Arts & Culture has partnered with the Nashville Film Festival, the Tennessee Film, Entertainment & Music Commission and the Coalition for Independent Film Organizations in bringing to life the first Gig City Film Festival, which is hoped be an annual event that more than meets that criteria.
Echoing the September 2012 visit of Dr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, the festival carries the theme of “A Season of Nonviolence” and films in the premiere year of the fest all extol the meanings of tolerance and nonviolence. The festival, slated for Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Heritage House in East Brainerd, leads off the period of nine weeks known worldwide as the “season for nonviolence,” a time span bookended by the dates of the assassinations of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Attendees can prepare themselves for a day of rich cinema fare. Together the films being screened have won more than 50 national and international awards, including an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, two Sundance featured selections, a Critics Choice Award for Best Documentary and one of Roger Ebert’s “Top 11 Films of 2011.”
The point of Gig City is to be locally relevant and the festival is designed to have a rotating theme each year to reflect the most pressing issues of the community.
With that in mind, the festival leads off with the timely “The Interrupters,” a film directed by Steve James about a group of former inmates who go into the toughest neighborhoods of the South Side of Chicago to talk down simmering hostilities before they erupt in deadly violence.
The next film, “Kinyarwanda,” is Alrick Brown’s very personal take on the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The drama follows three interconnected lives, telling the story of a young Tutsi woman and a young Hutu man who fall in love amidst the chaos of intracountry genocide.
The midday offering of the festival is “Bully,” a film which hits especially close to home with the death in 2009 of young Tyler Long. The screening will be accompanied by an expert panel featuring Long’s parents as well as other guests.
The afternoon selection is the edgy “Erasing Hate,” a documentary which takes viewers inside a Michigan branch of the white supremacy movement. Beginning life as an MSNBC special, the initial airing stirred up so much interest that a series of independent film fest screenings soon followed.
The evening finale of the fest is the uplifting and humorous international feature “The Intouchables,” a 2011 French film based on the true story of paralyzed aristocrat Philippe (Francois Cluzet) and his choice of a street-smart con man, Driss (Omar Sy) to be his live-in caretaker.
The films will be screened at the Heritage House, a civic arts center located at 1428 Jenkins Road. The festival will be a true all-day event, with features running back to back and interspersed with expert panelists and discussion, with ample lunch and dinner breaks. An all-day pass is $15, individual tickets are $5 (plus the usual ticketing fees). Tickets are available at the Memorial Auditorium or online at etix.com.
For more information, call (423) 855-9474 or visit facebook.com/gigcityfilmfestival.
Kris Jones is co-chair of the Gig City Film Festival, a film historian, journalist and a veteran of many local film productions.