Why This Matters: The Charlotte independent and niche film scene is growing thanks to talented filmmakers and film series that activate cultural and nontraditional spaces.
By Bernie Petit
As you approach the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art at Levine Center for the Arts, you’re likely to be struck by the building’s elegance and structural power.
The architecture not only prepares you to appreciate the dynamic art found inside the museum, but it also puts you in the mindset to consider the role of design in society.
That experience more deeply connects filmgoers to the modern aesthetic highlighted in the museum’s Modernism + Film series. The monthly program investigates themes in design, engineering and architecture, as well as modern and contemporary art, through the lens of film.
The program, launched in 2012, regularly draws a devoted audience of 90 to 100 people.
“People want to be exposed to these types of films,” said Daniel Ferrulli, director of programming and public engagement for the Bechtler. “It gives you an opportunity to see the world. I think the need is there.”
Cultivating Charlotte’s Film Audience
It’s not just the Bechtler that has sought to fill the need for independent and niche film in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Charlotte Film Society has supported alternative cinema since 1982 and the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival has grown from a small, two-film event in 2005 into a cultural extravaganza that sold over 5,000 tickets in the 2017 season. Its 2018 festival concluded March 4.
For the past nine years, Carolina Film Community (formerly Charlotte Film Community) has supported independent film in Charlotte and across the Carolinas. Its annual film contest, Made In Carolinas, has promoted more than 90 films and awarded more than $20,000 to filmmakers.
Several other cultural groups and community organizations have also picked up the torch, regularly transforming museums, performance spaces and nontraditional venues into de facto independent movie theaters.
There are several opportunities to check out compelling films outside the mainstream in the coming weeks:
- Theatre Charlotte will host the Charlotte Film Society’s Saturday Night Cine Club screening of “Oh Lucy!” (March 10)
- The 1958 film “St. Louis Blues” will be screened at Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture at Levine Center for the Arts as part of its Classic Black Cinema Series (March 11)
- Blumenthal Performing Arts will bring the Banff Mountain Film Festival, which showcases mountain sport, culture and environmental films, to town (March 17-18)
- The Charlotte Black Film Festival will explore the African-American experience through the lens of film (April 5-8)
“The audience for film in Charlotte is growing and has always been very supportive,” said Scott Galloway, a director and founder of Charlotte-based Susie Films. “I’ve always believed there is a lot of talent in Charlotte and I believe Charlotteans love film.”
Festivals providing opportunities
The audience for independent and niche film in Charlotte-Mecklenburg has grown alongside the region’s pool of talented editors, musicians, composers, animators, writers and directors.
Charlotte Black Film Festival founder Tommy Nichols moved to Charlotte from Dayton, Ohio in 2009. He said Charlotte’s film industry was the reason why.
“I came to do film,” Nichols said. “When I got here, I saw an opportunity to start the festival as a way to engage people of color, introduce them to film and help expose their gifts.”
Nichols is one of several local filmmakers that have taken it upon themselves to provide their peers with opportunities to create and showcase their work.
Films on Tap, a seasonal event, pairs local beer with short films filmed or edited in the Carolinas. Submissions for its next event are due March 23 by noon. It will screen five selected short films at Resident Culture Brewing Company on April 24. The 48 Hour Film Festival pits filmmakers from across the Charlotte region in an annual competition to see who can make the best short film in 48 hours.
There’s also the 100 Words Film Festival, which Galloway created in 2014. The annual festival, which takes place Nov. 2-3 this year, challenges filmmakers to deliver compelling tales that use exactly 100 words.
“It’s a challenge in storytelling, to be sure, but they’re also films that almost anyone can financially and creatively produce,” Galloway said.
Supporting Local Film
In addition to providing an alternative to major studio releases, local film programs provide learning opportunities for audiences and filmmakers alike.
The Bechtler’s Modernism + Film series, in partnership with the Charlotte chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture, is considered an enrichment opportunity for AIA members and an educational experience for students. Nichols engages Charlotte black filmmakers, actors and writers through monthly meetups that provide professional growth opportunities. Carolina Film Community hosts a monthly screenwriting group that allows screenwriters to get feedback on their work.
The 100 Word Film Festival’s 1K podcast pays homage to the 100 words concept by capping every interview at 1,000 seconds. Its first season featured sportscaster Jay Bilas, South by Southwest festival head Janet Pierson and two-time Academy Award nominated filmmaker Marshall Curry.
The festival is also starting an educational seminar series where aspiring artists can learn from experienced veterans of the industry and connect with others interested in the arts. The first seminar is 6-7 p.m. March 15 at Google Fiber (301 E. 7th St., Charlotte) and features animation expert John Lemmon. The series is supported by an ASC Cultural Vision Grant.
ASC’s support of film in Charlotte-Mecklenburg extends to the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival and the Charlotte Film Festival, which builds community by providing groundbreaking cinema, interaction and education experiences for filmmakers and moviegoers that emphasizes the roles of women, social justice advocacy and the contributions of young filmmakers. The Charlotte Film Festival celebrates its 10th year Sept. 26-30.
Nichols and other regional filmmakers have received ASC Regional Artist Project Grants to support their work. Video editor and animator Melissa Salpietra, who won an Emmy Award for creating and producing the animated web-based series “Seasonal Science” for UNC-TV, was named one of the inaugural recipients of ASC’s Creative Renewal Fellowships in 2017.
Independent film in Charlotte-Mecklenburg benefits from robust support and a strong talent base.
“The scene is really growing,” Nichols said. “More people are coming in to the space and more people are getting to know each other through all of the festivals that are taking place.”
Explore Independent Film in Charlotte
Other opportunities to check out independent and niche films in Charlotte:
- The Bechtler’s Modernism + Film series will explore “Eileen Gray: Designer and Architect” (March 15)
- The Charlotte Asian Film Festival will include full-length feature films, shorts and documentaries that provide a window on various facets of Asian society, culture and history (March 23-24 and April 1)
- Charlotte Film Society’s Back Alley Film Series, an exhibition of diverse and alternative fare from around the world, will feature “Mohawk” at C3 Lab (March 29)
- The Reel Out Charlotte Festival will celebrate a decade of LGBTQ film, arts and culture in the Queen City (May 16-20)
- The Joedance Film Festival, committed to supporting Charlotte filmmakers, producers, writers, and directors, is accepting submissions for its 2018 festival through June 1. The festival is held annually the first weekend of August in Charlotte’s Fourth Ward neighborhood and hosted by The Charlotte Ballet.
- The CineOdyssey Film Festival will showcase the works of filmmakers of color from the African, Caribbean, Latino, Asian, and Native American diasporas (July 27-29)