Jacksonville Film Festival: The First Hollywood

Interview with Florida filmmaker and Jacksonville Film Festival Program Director – Tim Driscoll:

Share with us a brief history of the Jacksonville Film Festival…

“The Jacksonville Film Festival debuted in May 2003. The festival continued to grow in size and prestige screening everything from indie darlings like Napoleon Dynamite, to gritty indies with high profile actors, like Lonely Hearts, starring John Travolta. Each year the festival expanded adding days and films until 2012 when it decided to shut its doors and go dormant.”

What was your motivation to bring the festival back from hiatus?

“As a product of Jacksonville, I loved seeing how the festival grew and was dismayed to see it close. I want to see movies made in Jacksonville and I think bringing back the festival plays a part in that. Much as SXSW was started to celebrate Austin and film, I think the Jacksonville Film Festival is a way to celebrate our city, art, and talent while also bringing in films we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Our growth is dependent on seeing what the rest of the country and world are making.”

What can filmmakers and festival attendees expect from the 2019 Jacksonville Film Festival?

“Our festival is all about filmmakers. They’re the heroes. On top of seeing some great content we have parties, networking events, collaborative opportunities, and filmmaker-only brunches. For every filmmaker who attends we provide opportunities for them to speak about their film and take questions from the audience.”

Is there something unique that the Jacksonville Film Festival offers filmmakers who attend? Speaking opportunities, networking, roundtables, etc.?
This is only our second year and our goal right now is to establish the value of bringing the festival back. For us, that means our number one focus is showing great work. As we expand we will introduce more panels, round tables, and other industry-specific events. Until then it’s all about networking, meeting and connecting with other filmmakers. Jacksonville Film Festival is also a competition festival. We give out physical awards for best feature narrative, feature documentary, short narrative and short documentary, as well as the Tortuga Verde for best of the fest. The Tortuga Verda dates back to the festival’s inception and we’re excited to be continuing that tradition.”

Jacksonville has a fascinating film history – can you share with us a little about that?

“Jacksonville has an incredibly rich film history that spans over 100 years. Before there ever was a Hollywood, Jacksonville was where the motion picture industry filmed during the winter months. The city gained the nickname the “Winter Film Capital of the World” because the ideal weather climate attracted over 30 movie studios to set up shop. In 1915 Joseph Engel opened Metro Pictures in Jacksonville, which would later go on to merge with other studios to form Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or more commonly known today as MGM Studios. That same year “The Gulf Between” became the first feature length film to be shot in Technicolor, which would become an industry standard for years to come. Jacksonville’s most established silent film studio, Norman Studios, (founded by Richard E. Norman) opened their doors in 1920. The studio produced 8 feature length films between 1920 and 1928 with all of the features featuring all African-American casts.”

What role is Jacksonville Film Festival hoping to play for the filmmakers of North Florida?

“Our goal is broaden the education of our local filmmakers. We’re fortunate to have many opportunities to showcase local work throughout the year, so JFF’s focus is on bringing in outside influences and showcase what the rest of the world is doing. We also want to provide an example of the vibe, flow, and energy of a festival for our filmmakers who have not been able to attend one. As we expand to include panels, roundtables and keynote addresses it’ll further establish ourselves as a place to learn and grow your craft.”

Florida does not currently have a state film tax incentive – how is that impacting the Florida film scene?
The lack of incentive of course means less productions come to the state. With fewer opportunities to be on set the harder it is for our local filmmakers to learn set protocols and develop other craftsman skills – A.C., Gaffing, gripping, etc. The flip side is we spend a lot of time on the creative side making shorts. As of this writing our community has produced 40+ short films with another 18 scheduled for completion by the end of the summer.”

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

“I can’t speak to the entire state, but I will speak to my vision of Jacksonville. The model I follow is Austin, TX. Now, their advantage is they had a film school right in the heart of the city. We don’t have that. But I believe in growing and cultivating the local talent with a focus on telling the stories only people from Jacksonville can tell. It will take time and patience, but I don’t see why Jacksonville can’t emerge as the creative and film destination in FL. And with Atlanta only six or so hours away, why can’t we be what San Francisco is to Los Angeles?”

In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception of indie filmmaking – and what can indie filmmakers do to change that misconception?

You need money to make it good. Look, yes, money helps. Money allows you to pay people – everyone likes getting paid. Money definitely reduces some headaches and it certainly has made some problems go away. I would almost always take financing over DIY. But the misconception is that it is needed. There is a sort of freedom that comes from making films without money. I wish I had realized it earlier. But a $0 budget really affords you the opportunity to be kind of weird. So be weird. We’ve seen traditional coverage. Polished or not, we’ve seen it. Restrictions force creativity. Embrace $0 budgets. If it looks bad, who cares; it was weird as shit anyway. But that’s also how we’re going to break out and get noticed. Make something weird and interesting with no money at all.”


The dates for the 2019 Jacksonville Film Festival are November 15-17, 2019 in Jacksonville, FL. Submissions are now open – Click HERE for details.

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