2013-14 has been a banner year for filmlovers here in Chattanooga.
The year since the last State of the Arts issue has been an exceptional time for film in Chattanooga. More than ever, there are unique and varied opportunities for film fans and filmmakers alike.
It hasn’t been this way for long. Just a few years ago, film was very much an art placed on the back burner, lagging far behind some very significant forward steps for artists in other mediums. If this film renaissance has taught me anything, it’s that passionate leaders can fan the flames of an underground scene and make it grow into something truly special.
There were always film fans here; it just took someone (or several someones) to give them a reason to gather in one place. What has happened with film in Chattanooga is something of a model for other mediums—currently, live comedy is experiencing its own explosion in popularity, through the leadership of Joel Ruiz and Evatt and Bloom. All it takes is for someone to organize quality, fun events for like-minded individuals. Good things will then follow.
Of the successful film events of the past year, the 1st Annual Chattanooga Film Festival is likely the most important. Despite naysayers who claimed that Chattanooga didn’t want and would never support a film festival, the event made back its money in pre-sales and was noticeably well attended for a first-year event. This wasn’t a fly-by-night festival with well-worn and previously released material—instead, it featured premier films by well-known filmmakers like Michael Gondry.
The success of the first year only sets the stage for expansion in the second. One of the much-hyped plans for CFF Year Two is the beginning of the CFF Institute. According to Festival Director Chris Dortch, the CFF Institute features “a model that will allow us to do what huge world class fests like Sundance and Tribeca do [by helping] great films actually get made and released and not just [being] professional appreciators.”
Dortch says that the institute will begin by producing a feature film and a short, with the help of some well-known professionals. The second Chattanooga Film Festival will happen April 2-5, 2015 and will be bigger and better than the first...an exciting prospect to be sure.
While the CFF is expanding its role as professional filmmakers, Chattanooga State continues preparing students for real jobs in the film industry. As important as the CFF is, the Chatt State program may be more practical. Tennessee is poised on the edge of having a real presence in the film production world. As we wait for the state’s politicans to understand how incentives for filmmaking would be a giant boost for the state economy, students are learning how to become the next generation of filmmakers.
According to Prof. Chris Willis, big strides have been made during the hands-on, reality-based program. He says: “We calculated that Chattanooga State students have worked on about 45 film projects, either produced or supported other projects, in the last five years. This summer, we completed four projects that show our best work yet. Students are learning every aspect of independent film production in a very short time.” Even if the state government doesn’t get its act together in a reasonable amount of time, Atlanta is only a few miles down the road. Chattanooga State students are being well prepared for a future that needs highly skilled professionals.
Finally, Mise En Scenesters, the group that started it all for film fans in Chattanooga, is still going strong, bringing films to the area that are unlikely to been seen in a major multiplex. The group suffered a slight setback when Barking Legs Theater closed for renovations, but Rhythm & Brews has generously offered to house some future events, like the showing of “Life Itself,” the highly acclaimed documentary about film critic Roger Ebert.
Additionally, the Frightening Ass Film Fest returns in October (on Halloween this year), and is guaranteed to thrill Chattanooga horror fans. Films have not yet been announced, but if past years are any indication, it will be a unique event for the Scenic City.
The film scene in Chattanooga has never been better and there is much more in store. We are still waiting for news on the Scenic Arthouse Movie Theater, which is progressing as expected. Hopefully, the city will soon have its own arthouse movie theater and all of the above events will have a home. But until then, know that there are competent people working hard for Chattanooga film and they need your support.