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Arts & Culture

Charlotte Film Festival's Comeback Attempt Includes Bigger Vision

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The Charlotte Film Festival is back this year after a two-year hiatus. Festival organizers have formed a group they hope will serve as a hub for year-round film programs in Charlotte. But they’re battling their own uneven past and a changed movie-going climate.

On a recent weekday evening at Packard Place uptown, six people gather around a cluttered table in a small, overheated conference room. A 12-pack of Stella Artois beer sits in the center. A white board looms above them.

Angel Truesdale, the Charlotte Film Festival’s operations director, speaks up.

“So we are officially a nine-day festival," she says, "at  Carolinas Cinema Charlotte and Ayrsley Grand Cinemas.”

"Whoo!" the group responds.

Since its founding in 2006, festival organizers have screened dozens of critically acclaimed films, including documentaries such as Annabel Park’s 9500 Liberty, about an immigration battle in Virginia; and the 2010 black comedy-drama Bronson, starring the then-obscure Tom Hardy as famed English criminal Michael Peterson.

But there hasn’t been a Charlotte Film Festival in more than three years.

Over the years, organizers had trouble settling on a format. At first, it was a weekend event. Then it ran for a week. By 2012, it was a month-long festival held in the spring at the EpiCentre Uptown, which led to complaints about parking and logistics.

The length of the festival made it hard for volunteers to work the entire run. Plus, some longtime organizers moved out of town or had other commitments. The festival managed to break even, says Director Jennifer Bratyanski, but organizers had to rethink things.

“There was a moment to kind of step back and decide what will be the future of the festival.”

They hope the answer is a new group called Charlotte Cinema Arts. Bratyanski and Truesdale founded it to handle festival business.

But they also envision Charlotte Cinema Arts as a host for film-related education and professional training programs throughout the year. They plan to unveil a list of programs early next year.

“So Charlotte Cinema Arts as a cultural hub and educational outreach entity can capture the thousands of fans of cinema in Charlotte.”

Bratyanski and Truesdale also see it as an umbrella group for the 15 to 20 film screening series in the Charlotte area—such as the rapidly growing Charlotte Jewish Film Festival.

“I think conceptually, it’s a phenomenal idea,” says Benjamin Schwartz of the Jewish Film Festival.

Schwartz says a host organization for multiple screening series and festivals can reach across audiences and help staff members pool resources, “so this certainly opens the doors for a lot more collaboration and exposure for everybody in town.”

But a lot has changed since 2012. Film festivals everywhere have a new competitor: streaming.

The number of customers who stream video online from Netflix has more than doubled, from 26 billion  million to 62 billion million, the company says. In the same time, movie theater ticket sales have declined by 13 percent.

Still, there’s something about a film festival that streaming on your TV or computer at home can’t match, says Jay Morong, programming director for the Charlotte Film Festival and Charlotte Film Society.

“If you’re sitting at home watching a movie on Netflix by yourself at two in the morning, that’s great, that’s fine. But then you might watch something and you go, ‘I want to talk to somebody about this movie’—and you can’t. But at a festival, you can, because you’re going to walk out and there’s going to be a 100 other people—or maybe only 10 people, if that was the screening you were in—and you’re gonna say, ‘What was the deal with that movie? What was that about?’ That’s exciting to me.”

Organizers have about three months to get a city of potential moviegoers just as excited. The festival will run from Sept. 25 to Oct. 3.

This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.