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The state of film in Chattanooga is strong and growing stronger. At least, that’s the opinion participants of the Association for the Future of Film and Television (AFFT) and Film Chattanooga’s annual State of Film put forth at the meeting on May 2. Presenters from film area groups, representatives from state and local government, and members of the Chattanooga film community discussed the future of the industry, searched for solutions, and delivered some exciting news to film connoisseurs, sharing their hard work and enthusiasm for a small but vibrant niche in Chattanooga’s art world. Local film is the best film and the opportunities to participate are becoming more numerous by the day.
The filming of “42” as well as ABC’s series “Nashville” have brought a new focus on film in the state. The economic benefits are evident to most, but it seems our legislators are slow to understand just how important film can be to Tennessee as a whole. Representatives Mike Carter and Richard Floyd were both present at the meeting and seemed willing to at least entertain the idea of encouraging growth in the state film industry.
Measuring the economic impact of a film is not as simple as measuring the impact of a Volkswagen plant. Our legislators seem to be focused on the salaries of big movie stars and directors, ignoring the mostly freelance crewmembers and artists that work behind the scenes of a film. For some reason, both Carter and Floyd referred to the lack of a state income tax as the reason Tennessee can’t investigate film incentives offered by neighboring states. Floyd, in particular, mentioned that Tennessee doesn’t “owe one red dime to the federal government,” as if the lack of debt equates impressive financial wizardry on the part of the state. What this had to with offering film incentives to Hollywood in exchange for filming here wasn’t clear. What is clear is that film stimulates the economy in a variety of ways, from hiring caterers to feed a host of people, to buying lumber from local companies, to creating jobs for locally trained crew members and generating positive recognition for a state that has had far too much negative press recently. There is no rational argument against making Tennessee more accessible to filmmakers.
Outside of state politics, film groups have grown significantly in the three years that I’ve been writing for The Pulse. There are now multiple film festivals, including the Lookout Wild Film festival and the 6th Annual Jewish Film Series (starting May 22 at the Jewish Cultural Center), and groups like JimmyLee Smith’s Open Screen Night and the Russian Film Club. Of particular note is my favorite film club Mise En Scenesters, which recently boasted more than 200 film fans at its last event. The interest in film has never been higher. A frequent hurdle for all of these groups has been finding a reliable meeting location. Finally, it seems that this issue has been addressed. Chris Dortch II, founder of Mise En Scenesters and Chattanooga Film Society (CFS) Board member, announced the opening of Chattanooga’s own art-house movie theater, Scenic City Cinema. Details are few for now, but the need has been identified and addressed and the city will be all the better for it. Local film will finally find a home at the Scenic.
Perhaps the best news of the night was the fulfilling of a long-term goal of CFS. Dortch also announced the Chattanooga Film Festival, slated for April 2014. The festival is meant to be more than just a collection of independent films previously screened in other cities. This festival will be new movies—movies for film fans of all types .The goal appears to be accessibility, it isn’t aimed just at cinephiles looking to discuss art movies. Festival organizers hope to have movies for everyone, an inclusive experience for a dynamic and expressive Southern city. As with Scenic City Cinema, details are currently sparse, but the festival is the culmination of several years of hard, passionate work on behalf of the CFS.
At the meeting, comparisons between Chattanooga and Austin, TX were tossed around. Austin is an impressive art community, home to the famed Alamo Drafthouse Theater. While it’s nice to be in such good company, Chattanooga can do better. It won’t be long before other cities look to us as the example. Great things are happening here. Support local film!