Once again the Charleston International Film Festival will boast a fresh collection of acclaimed short films, an offering it has come to be known for, but this year, a local feature-length film will take center stage on opening night Nov. 2 at the Charleston Music Hall.
“Warrior Road,” a film by writer-director Brad Jayne, was produced almost entirely in the Lowcountry and with a primarily local crew. Pair that with statewide grants, high school film competitions, and Trident Technical College, a school that, according to Jayne, “is probably better than any school in the country at training (film) crew,” and there's a lot of evidence of a burgeoning film industry in South Carolina.
The Charleston International Film Festival, or CIFF, is certainly doing its part. Founders Summer and Brian Peacher brought their Hollywood savvy with them when they started the festival here nine years ago. Though Peacher is a Charleston native, he met his future wife while living in California, where she produced the Beverly Hills Film Festival.
Now, having brought their love of film back to his old stomping grounds, they have a simple goal, “to make (the festival) bigger and better each year,” says Summer Peacher, “and to continue to bring great independent films that people wouldn’t see otherwise.”
So far, so good.
Attendance has steadily increased, and as for the quality, “We only picked the top of the top this year,” he says.
Long on shorts
Of the 65 films at this year’s festival, 63 are shorts. It’s a ratio they’ve come to embrace. “Shorts are really our focus,” she says. “Basically, we take short films and then we bundle them (into viewing blocks). So it’s all subject matters, all genres. There’s horror, thrillers, comedy, drama, mockumentary, whatever it is, in each block. So you go there and you don’t know what to expect.”
Following each block will be a Q&A session with the filmmakers, 30 of which will be in attendance.
Another honored guest will by Avy Kaufman, this year’s recipient of the Career Achievement Award. She may not be a household name, but according to Brian, Kaufman is “probably the biggest casting director there is.”
Indeed, her list of film credits is impressive. She has worked as the casting director for “The Sixth Sense,” “Life of Pi,” “Brokeback Mountain,” and many more independent and major studio releases. She will host a Q&A session at 6 p.m. Saturday, and then receive her award Sunday following the first ever CIFF Southern Mimosa Brunch.
Another first for the festival will be the Family Friendly Shorts Program Saturday morning. Be sure to note, these films are not a step down in quality, nor are they kids' movies per se -- they just happen to be appropriate for all ages.
And, of course, another important first, “opening with an all-South Carolina feature film,” says Summer. “We’ve never done that before. And everything about it is South Carolina. So that’s awesome.”
The film is entitled “Warrior Road.” For writer-director Jayne, it’s a very personal story. “There’s a lot of reflection of what happens to the main character in the film that happened to me,” he says. “Especially in terms of creative outlets being a way to deal with depression.”
The movie centers on Joseph, an introverted young writer who, along with two of his friends, robs a backwoods juke joint and flees up the coast, all the while taking an inward journey, searching for purpose and strength.
Authentically depicting depression was a top priority for Jayne, as it is something he feels is all too often romanticized in film.
To accomplish this task, he implemented an unconventional style and structure, letting the elements of film convey the character’s state of mind. Says Jayne, “I’ve always believed that you can get into a character’s head and really create a visceral and emotional engagement between a film and an audience just with all the devices cinema has to offer: the imagery and the sound design and the music and that sort of thing.”
The scenery is as much a part of the film as the plot and the Lowcountry was the first and only possible location for the story. “There was a lot in this (film) specifically inspired by the landscape,” he says. “These personal stories that I tell, for whatever reason, have always been sort of based and rooted in this area.”
Jayne’s influence on the local film culture goes far beyond his personal artistic endeavors. Jayne works with the South Carolina Film Commission’s Indie Grants producing projects by filmmakers statewide. “So the idea is, take this fund, select South Carolina scripts to be produced and bring in production professionals that work with the writers and directors,” says Jayne. “And then Trident Tech students work under all of them for hands-on training. Because for the kind of education we’re talking about, classroom is fine but you really have to be on set to really learn the nuts and bolts of it.”
Part of the same grant program is the Young Filmmakers Project. “It’s a high school filmmaking competition,” says Jayne. “Really to encourage media arts.”
It’s a statewide competition and each entry must be two-minutes or less. A panel of judges selects the 10 best and those films go on to be screened at CIFF.
Yes, it all comes back to CIFF. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, community outreach is an important aspect of what it does. So Saturday afternoon the 10 shorts from the Young Filmmakers Project will be screened alongside four other short films from the Indie Grants program.
“It’s cool being able to host stuff like that,” says Brian. “Where else is a high school student gonna get to play their movie at the Charleston Music Hall? Only the Charleston International Film Festival.”
It’s a concerted effort to make South Carolina a hub for future filmmaking. Jayne is optimistic about it. “There’s certainly a growing and talented community of writers, directors, and production professionals,” he says.
As for the Peachers and CIFF, “Our mission is to educate, entertain, and inspire through the art and science of film and I think we do that.”