Independent cinema is flourishing, and filmmakers are relying on festivals to show their work and find distribution. The festival circuit is a two-way street, though. Many organizers and theater operators participate for the purpose of sharing good cinema that might not otherwise get viewed.

If you go

WHAT: Charleston Film Festival

WHEN: March 7-10; see website for schedule.

WHERE: The Terrace Theatre, 1956-D Maybank Highway, James Island

COST: $10 each, $77 for full pass


That’s the case with Paul Brown, owner of the Terrace Theatre on James Island. Brown is organizer of the fourth annual Charleston Film Festival, an intensive four-day festival hosted by the Terrace that seeks to “fill a void.”

“The film festival allows me to show unusual films that wouldn’t normally screen here,” Brown said.

His ambition is modest and contained, he said. He shuns the party circuit and red-carpet glitter. He’s not interested in growing the festival and using multiple venues. Star power is nice but not essential.

“The festival wants to stay small and be just about movies,” he said.

A dozen feature-length films and four shorts are scheduled for March 7-10, including the thriller “Inescapable,” the critically acclaimed drama “Rust and Bone” featuring Marion Cotillard, Michael Apted’s latest in his “Up” series, the star-studded “Savannah” and the well-received documentary about climate change called “Chasing Ice.”

A couple of the movies have South Carolina connections. “Savannah” was produced by Charleston residents John and Billings Cay and portrays Lowcountry life with an honesty rarely seen on the silver screen.

“The short film “Harvey Gantt” is a documentary about the man who integrated Clemson University in 1963.

Nicholai Burton, president of the Greater Park Circle Film Society and a friend of Brown, assembled the shorts program for the festival.

Burton, a software engineer and cinephile whose Park Circle Film Society screens about 75 movies a year, said the Charleston Film Festival offers an opportunity for a full-immersion experience with few distractions.

“I have a great affection for it,” he said. “It’s just a great time. I like to go and hang out as much as possible during the festival, talk with friends afterwards, sometimes ... meet a filmmaker or two.”

Burton said he admires Brown’s taste.

“He picks great movies (and strikes a) balance between movies people want and movies that challenge.”

Opening the festival this year is “Savannah.” Shot on and near the Savannah River, the film addresses man’s relationship to nature and to one another through the generations, director Annette Haywood-Carter said in a telephone interview.

“One of the reasons for making the film was the opportunity to portray Southern culture that’s really honest, evocative and compelling, Haywood-Carter said. “These were smart people, good people and really unique to the region. So from the ground up, this was conceived to be true to the original story and real characters.”

That original story was provided by Jack Cay, father of John Cay, a Charleston resident, insurance broker and producer of the movie.

“Fifty years ago, my father wrote a little book about a true story in the late 19th and (early) 20th century,” Cay said.

Ward Allen was a plantation man in Savannah, educated at Oxford and given to quoting Shakespeare, Cay said. He married well and lived in an elegant house. In winter, he joined former slave Christmas Moultrie on a houseboat, and the two men went duck hunting, selling the fowl at the city market.

Moultrie had been born Christmas Day in 1863 at Mulberry Grove Plantation in Georgia, where the cotton gin had been invented.

The little book, whose author had joined his own father and Moultrie for hunting at Mulberry Grove, traces not only the unique friendship of these men, but the climate of change permeating the South at the time.

“Savannah” stars Jim Caviezel, Sam Shepard, Hal Holbrook, Bradley Whitford and Jamie Alexander (a Greenville native). After its Charleston Film Festival debut, it will be distributed to 20 U.S. cities by ARC Entertainment, then become available on DVD, Cay said.

Brown was a filmmaker and television producer in Toronto for 20 years before he relocated to Charleston and took over the Terrace. He said he is enamored with the landscapes of South Carolina and hopes the state can do more to attract film production.

Last year, he proactively upgraded his movie house at significant cost to operate digital projection equipment. But it was necessary to ensure the Terrace remained competitive and offered its patrons a high-quality experience, Brown said.

“I decided to just get it done,” he said.

In the dark of night, one screening room at a time, he worked with technicians to swap out the equipment. The aesthetics certainly are different from traditional cellophane film: The images are clear and don’t degrade over time. It’s like watching a new print for the first time, over and over again, Brown said.

It’s also cheaper for the studios. A typical movie costs $2,500 per print but only $250 per digital cartridge, he said. The cost to the Terrace is between $50,000 and $150,000 per room, depending on its size.

“The payoff is customer satisfaction,” Brown said.

But digital formats themselves are limited.

“One thing digital doesn’t do is make the storytelling better,” he added. That’s why his “art house crossover” invests in the annual film festival, an event devoted to good visual storytelling.

As a filmmaker, Brown knows what it takes to make a good movie. He produced such Canadian-made films as “Soul Survivor,” “The Assistant” and “I Love a Man in Uniform.”

The festival lineup is meant both to please audiences and Brown himself.

“These are the (kinds of) movies I spent my life making,” he said.

Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Follow him at