Charleston International Film Festival stays focused

Local film "Dust"

Passion is the one indispensable ingredient in great filmmaking. All the money in the world can't make up for its absence. Neither can a battery of whiz-bang technology.

If independent filmmakers have a corner on this quality, it's because they have to, as the rewards for their work are few and far between.

Thank heaven for film festivals, whose own commitment to storytelling and the cinematic arts gives many a filmmaker their one moment to bask in the glow.

Entering its third year, the annual Charleston International Film Festival may be shifting its venue but not its focus: movies by people who are serious about their craft.

Running April 8-11 at the American Theatre downtown, the brainchild of co-founders Summer Spooner and Brian Peacher this year showcases more than 50 features, shorts, documentaries and animation from six countries, including the work of 14 filmmakers from the Southeast and the Lowcountry.

Opening night unspools with the short film "True Beauty This Night" from Peter Besson, followed by the world premiere of the feature "The 5th Quarter," by Rick Bieber, whose "Crazy" captured the festival's Jury Award for best feature in 2008.

Andie MacDowell, a Gaffney native, stars with Aidan Quinn.

The second block slated for opening night includes local filmmaker Kevin Harrison's documentary short "Haunted Charleston," accompanied by an array of other shorts, each suitably dark.

In fact, film shorts, Justin ("Binyah") Nathanson's "Death and Life" is a prime example, are as much or more an emphasis of CIFF 2010 as features.

"I really think our shorts programs are a highlight," says Peacher. "They give the public a taste of four or five short films in a single block, with four or five different stories wrapped into the same amount of time as a feature, or less. I think people enjoy seeing these varied elements and differing ways filmmakers construct their movies."

"Most of the blocks contain a local film as well," adds Summer. "But we have short films from all over the place. Shorts touch on all the emotions."

Some shorts in the festival are destined for expansion to feature length, as is the case with "Butterscotch," which will star Jason Priestly. Fest organizers also are high on an experimental short with T.J. Thyne (of TV's "Bones"), who is scheduled to be in attendance.

Like "Haunted Charleston," some documentaries are nonpolitical, like the surfing docu "Union Express," while others such as "Tapped" address pressing social issues like the privatization of water and water rights.

Most of the movies on tap are premieres or sneak previews and will be screened in blocks consisting of two or more pictures.

In addition to CIFF's film and screenplay competitions, three panels and seminars will be offered free of charge: Film Distribution (April 10) with Michael Katchman, a veteran of Orion Pictures, MGM, Lions Gate and First Look Studios; The State of Film in South Carolina (April 10), a seminar presented by the S.C. Film Commission; and a Final Cut Pro Editing workshop (April 9) sponsored by the Center for the Documentary at the College of Charleston.

Workshop attendees are encouraged to ask questions, interact and be involved in these sessions.

One of the most popular aspects of the first two CIFFs are the nightly after-parties -- Chai's, Shine and the Club Pantheon are the hosts this year -- culminating April 11 with the awards gala in the Gold Ballroom at the Francis Marion Hotel.

Spooner and Peacher are enthused about the festival being transplanted downtown.

"We like the idea of having the one big screen at the American," Spooner says. "Also, people often come in from out of town without cars, and having it all downtown makes it easier for them to get around to the screenings, panels and parties."

"We have more filmmakers attending than any other year," adds Peacher, "so the audience will have an opportunity to ask questions and get into the minds of filmmakers to see how it's done. We're excited about who's coming."

Tickets are available online at www.charlestoniff.com or by contacting the CIFF office at 817-1617.

The price per screening block is $8 in advance or $9 at the door. Festival passes are available that give access to all screenings, panels and parties (excluding the awards dinner) for $99.

For the full schedule, complete with film synopses, images and trailers, go online www.charlestoniff.com.