For film lovers of a certain intensity, autumn is the best time of year.
It’s called awards season in the industry, and it refers to the annual period, between late October and February, when important film awards take place — ending with the Oscars. This is the time to catch the year’s most interesting films.
Triangle film buffs can get a jump on awards season this year with the inaugural unspooling of Film Fest 919. The new film festival will run Oct. 3-7 at Silverspot Cinemas, the film-and-food complex at University Place in Chapel Hill.
Over the course of five days, Film Fest 919 will screen 36 feature-length films, with an eye toward the ambitious and artistic films that tend to make the rounds during awards season. The festival also will feature special guests, discussions, and post-screening Q-and-A sessions with several filmmakers in attendance.
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Claudia Puig, veteran film critic and director of programming for the new festival, said the Film Fest 919 program will feature many of the best films of the year.
“We’re concentrating on independent film, foreign films,” she said. “These are films that are potentially vying for awards and have played the prestigious festivals like Cannes, Toronto and Telluride.”
Many of the films screened at 919 are likely to come to multiplexes later in the year as distribution deals are struck and the awards season kicks into gear.
But because the Triangle is a relatively small market, the 919 festival may be your only chance to catch some of the smaller independent and foreign films.
“The idea is to present high-quality, thought-provoking cinema from all over the world,” said Puig, who also serves as president of the L.A. Film Critics Association. “It’s a chance to see these films you might not get a chance to see on the big screen.”
Years in the making
Randi Emerman, co-founder of Film Fest 919, said this year’s inaugural festival is the result of several years of planning.
“It’s been a while coming,” she said with a laugh.
Emerman and co-founder Carol Marshall had previously worked together at the Palm Beach International Film Festival in Florida. When they decided to launch a new regional film festival, they chose Chapel Hill — and the Triangle area in general — after considering several other towns, small cities and mid-size markets.
“I even ended up moving here to Chapel Hill because I thought it was so awesome,” said Emerman, who is also VP of Programming for Silverspot Cinemas chain. “We want to show the world how awesome North Carolina is. We want to show the world our town and our state.”
Those hoping to attend Film Fest 919 will find it’s a pretty straightforward affair. The films and screening times are all online at the festival website at filmfest919.com and Silverspot’s website. There are no festival passes or special purchases involved. Attendees can buy tickets as normal through Silverspot box office, online or on site.
The fledgling film fest also is also offering a tiered system of one-time donation programs for those who want to financially support the festival. Those packages, from $350 to $1,000, will get you tickets to several of the screenings.
In addition to the individual film presentations, Silverspot will also host a handful of special events and workshops this week, including seminars on screenwriting, a showcase from Weta Digital Visual Effects, and a presentation on state tax incentives by the North Carolina Film Office. Check the website for times and details.
Emerman said Film Fest 919 also will participate in that that most treasured tradition of film festivals – parties.
“This is our first year, so we’re really trying to embrace the community, to let them know what we’re doing,” Emerman said.
The festival’s opening night film is “Roma” from legendary Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, who has directed several high-profile films and won the Oscar for “Gravity” in 2013. The opening night party will feature drinks and hors d’oeuvres, along with a mariachi band. More parties are planned throughout the weekend, Emerman said.
But the real treasures of Film Fest 919 will be up on Silverspot’s big screens. Dedicated film nerds can tell you that finding a great movie at a festival is one of the great joys of life itself.
“It’s just a different experience to watch a film with a room full of people who are all on the same page, who are film lovers and cineastes,” Puig said. “You’re in a more rarefied environment. It’s different than just going to the movies and seeing whatever came out that Friday.”
From a curatorial point of view, Film Fest 919 is designed to be exciting and eclectic, Puig said. The liineup includes comedies, dramas, thrillers and an assortment of perspectives from outside the U.S.
“I would really encourage people to step outside their comfort zone or their wheelhouse in terms of genre,” Puig said. “That’s what film festivals are all about.”
Film Fest 919 Highlights
Film Fest 919 will screen 36 films Wednesday, Oct. 3, through Sunday, Oct. 7, focusing on prestigious independent and foreign films. Here’s a guided tour of some festival highlights from director of programming Claudia Puig, veteran film writer and former critic for USA Today. This is just a sampling, said Puig, who personally curated this year’s lineup of films. Check the festival website for information on times and dates.
“Roma”: The festival’s opening night film on Oct. 3 from Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity”), is a semi-autobiographical drama about the filmmaker’s upbringing in 1970s Mexico City. The film won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival and is Mexico’s official Academy Award submission for Best Foreign Language Film. The film’s stars Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira will attend the opening night festivities.
“It’s absolutely a masterpiece of a film,” Puig said. “It will definitely be up for an Academy Award. That man can do anything.”
“Destroyer”: Nicole Kidman stars in this highly anticipated crime thriller from director Karyn Kusama, slated to open nationwide in December. Director Karyn Kusama and writer Phil Hay are attending the festival
“Nicole Kidman is completely unrecognizable,” Puig said. “It’s a noir-style police thriller, very hardboiled.”
“Dogman”: Italy’s official submission for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards chronicles a strange act of vengeance. “It’s a classic neo-realist Italian film,” Puig said. “Amazing.” It has taken home awards at Cannes International Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival.
“Non-Fiction”: From director Olivier Assayas, this French comedy premiered at the Venice Film Festival in August and stars film festival royalty Juliette Binoche.
“This is for anyone interested in where we are today, with our use of tablets and screens, what it all means,” Puig said. “Very intellectual and enjoyable.”
“The Favourite”: This period piece starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz features 18th-century royal intrigue in the court of Queen Anne. “It’s a costume drama with very powerful female characters — really clever and well-written,” Puig said. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival while actress Olivia Colman won the Volpi Cup for best actress.
“Green Book”: The closing night film, a comedy-drama from director Peter Farrelly, stars Viggo Mortensen and recently won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Writer Nick Vallelongo is attending.
“Great film,” Puig said. “Screenwriter Nick Vallelonga will be there for a Q-and-A after the screening. To me, that’s one of the best things about film festivals. I like to hear from the people that made the film, what they were thinking, how the production went. You can walk up afterward and ask them questions.”
What: Film Fest 919
When: Oct. 3-7
Where: Silverspot Cinemas, University Place, 201 Estes Drive, Chapel Hill
Tickets: $15 per film
Info: 919-357-9887 or filmfest919.com