by Faith Bennett
At the closing awards ceremony for the Jax Film Fest last Sunday evening, Film Fest director, Warren Skeels mentioned Jacksonville as a city that “Could’ve been Hollywood.” Brilliant documentaries and fresh narratives as well as dozens of shorts were brought to this city from all over the United States and even from other countries. A few films were even from the Bold New City of the South itself.
This year’s Film Festival was rebranded as “Jax Film Fest” and was represented by a new edgier logo as well departing from the more conservative sea turtle logo that served as a symbol for the Jacksonville Film Festival for so many years. The new logo and title represent a bit of a change in the festival itself. The festival did feel a fair amount less like a traditional film festival this year but it was in no way short of talent. Filmmaker Mark Mori, who hails from Jacksonville, treated audiences with a test screening of his latest project, the expertly executed Bettie Page Reveals All. Although still in progress Bettie Page Reveals All was so captivating that the film’s first screening sold out making a second showing necessary. Other standout films like A Beautiful Belly, and Kinyarwanda came from across state lines to please Duval film enthusiasts.
As usual, the film fest boasted an incredible selection of documentaries including the Bettie Page piece as well as Alma Ha’rel’s artistically crefted Bombay Beach and Kristin Canty’s essay style film, Farmageddon. Both Farmageddon and Bettie Page Reveals All were followed with Q&A sessions as was David Pomme’s comedy Sunny Side Up which was followed by a Q&A session with Christy Cashman who both wrote and starred in the movie. One other festival gem, Falling Overnight, a young adult drama directed by Conrad Jackson also grabbed tightly of audience’s attention. The film, which screened in the “arctic” but beautiful San Marco Theatre was also succeeded with a Q&A session with writer and lead actor, Parker Croft. Croft was enthusiastic enough to keep the attention of the younger viewers in the theatre as he answered questions about indie film funding and the subject of the film itself. One question that Croft was asked, and often is at festivals, was “Do you have any advice for young filmmakers?” By being in the theater and asking the question that girl was already in the right direction.
With all the talent brought to the fest and all the people in attendance it was a wonder that so many people in the city were still unaware that it was even going on. There were parties that were opportunistic for anyone willing to trade business cards like handshakes. It was a festival that served as such a fantastic way to meet and converse with other figures in the industry so it was puzzling that so many Jacksonville film students and aspiring filmmakers stayed home. There were even bike valets outside each venue making attendance even more accessible. In its first year as Jax Film Fest, the festival imported a great amount of talent and displayed it in the form of everything from expertly crafted local music videos to heart wrenching dramatic narratives. There is still room for improvement however on the part of the local film community. In the future, with more locally produced features and screenplays entered and with larger participation the festival has all the potential to rise to be the most important weekend for arts culture in Jacksonville.