Etowah Film Festival: Georgia’s Newest Film Festival

Interview with Georgia filmmaker and Etowah Film Festival co-founder Brent Lambert-Zaffino:

What was your motivation to create the Etowah Film Festival?

“To be honest, the original motivation was, “Hey, there’s this wonderful renovated silent movie theatre with a DCP projector in the heart of downtown Canton, why doesn’t it have a film festival?” When I showed my first feature at the Canton Theatre, Laine Wood from the Canton Tourism Board approached me with the idea for a film festival and we were off to the races. We partnered up on the project and haven’t looked back since. 

Looking back, the original motivations for the film festival were so simple. A year later, after a lot of work on the local audience level (Laine’s focus) and the wider national/international filmmaker level (my focus) our goals are much more grounded and specific.”

What can filmmakers and festivals goers expect from this festival?

“The Etowah Film Festival offers filmmakers a really cool venue to see their movies and interact with other filmmakers. The theatre seats 150 people comfortably, with room for a filmmaker’s lounge upstairs and concessions, so you can literally watch a good-sized audience react to your movie from above while meeting other filmmakers. Starting Friday, we’re throwing a different party every day, including an after party and Sunday Brunch at the new Reformation Brewery site just down the street. 

In other words, you get a unique, intimate, setting to see your movies, party it up a little bit, and network with other filmmakers, and you only have to go 40 minutes north of the perimeter to do it. 

For festival goers, we’re so excited to be able to mix striking movies made in our back yard with films from around the world. One of my favorite pairings is on Saturday Night, where we’re opening up an Italian Werewolf feature called Land of the Wolf with a gritty local short film called “Unus.” That interesting dynamic is present throughout the festival, from gripping documentaries to hilarious comedy shorts. Festival goers can come enjoy the movies, mix it up with the filmmakers at our events, and explore the restaurant and shopping options that are walking distance from the Canton Theatre.”

What’s the film history of Canton and Cherokee county?

“The Canton Theatre was a silent movie theatre back in the early 1900’s. Since then, it’s gone through many changes, most recently in a restoration from the City of Canton that has brought local theatre productions and other events to the space. 

Canton has also been the beneficiary of the GA Film Tax Credit. Recent movies like American MadeHidden Figures, and The Founder have used Canton’s diverse looks and close proximity to Atlanta for a lot of location work. The Founder even shot in the Canton Theatre.”

What role is the Etowah Film Festival hoping to play for the filmmakers of Georgia and the southeast?

“We want to give filmmakers a space to show their completed projects, network for their next projects, and have conversations about making Georgia a more self-sustaining film community. We’re still feeling the gravity of places like L.A. and New York in financing and distribution, two of the most crucial, interlocking, stages of development. There are a ton of really cool, progressive groups, like RoleCall, that are working on strengthening Georgia’s ecosystem in this way, and I consider The Etowah Film Festival a piece of that puzzle. We’re aiming to show audiences and community members at the local level that there isn’t some wall between them and the film industry by shortening the distance between filmmakers and potential investors, locations, and production companies.”

What do you see as the future of independent film production for Georgia?

“Gosh, I don’t have a prediction, but I definitely have hopes. I hope that we’re able to grow a sustainable independent film ecosystem in Georgia by creating our own rules. Shifts in technology have regularly altered the film landscape throughout history, and the shift to streaming, along with the Internet democratization of film resources, means there’s no reason why a heavyweight film economy like Georgia’s can’t sustain a thriving independent scene.

Moreover, the with the growing content/financial gaps between behemoth blockbuster extended universes and independent film projects, there will be a shift in audience tastes at some point and someone will be there to capitalize on it (there was a time when people thought big-budget Westerns and musicals would never go away and films like Taxi Driver would never survive outside of France, things change). It’s going to require some outside-the-box thinking that probably reject some Hollywood production standards, but that’s always been the case. If we’re scrupulous and lucky, we could be set up to capitalize on the next shift.”

Hollywood productions outsourced to Georgia are the current backbone of the Georgia film industry. How can Georgia Independent productions strengthen their presence in this landscape?

“I think we need to offer an alternative, not an imitation, of what’s mainstream. We can look to different film movements throughout history as examples, from Russian filmmakers redefining editing techniques in the 20’s to Austin filmmakers embracing Gen X malaise and mumblecore in the 90’s and early 2000’s. The South certainly comes with unique perspectives, we’ve seen in a deep, rich, library of Southern literature and music. If Atlanta can redefine hip-hop for the rest of the country, I think Georgia can find unique perspective amongst it’s hungry filmmakers. I’m getting a little lofty here, but on the ground level I think this means having critical conversations and debates about what we want Georgia films to look and feel like, and coming together to produce and celebrate projects that embrace those qualities. I like to think the Etowah Film Festival can be a space to both have those conversations and celebrate the films that emerge from them.”

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The dates for the inaugural Etowah Film Festival are May 23-26, 2019 at the Canton Theater in downtown Historic Canton, GA. Click HERE for tickets and details.

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