After spending five years at the helm of upstart Indianapolis Intl. Film Festival, founder Brian Owens was ready to make a change, but unsure where to go. Inspiration came at a Red Lobster in central Tennessee.
“I was driving back from Atlanta,” Owens recalls, “and stopped in Murfreesboro for lunch at Red Lobster. As we finished eating, this massive storm came blowing through. So we went to the bar to wait for the storm to pass, and there happened to be a copy of the Tennessean sitting there with a letter to the editor talking about how much they were going to miss the previous Nashville Film Festival director, Brian Gordon.
“I felt like the hand of fate was guiding me.”
Joining on as artistic director for the Nashville fest (slated to celebrate its 40th anniversary April 16-23), Owens enters an environment that couldn’t be more different from that of his previous job, steering the nascent Indianapolis fest at his own pace (during his time there, Owes served as festival founder, programming director, executive director and primary fund-raiser).
He notes that the transition has not been without its challenges, but that a number of the changes have been positive ones.
“When you get involved in something that is this respected and has this longevity, things that I was used to fighting for at Indianapolis, all I have to do is ask,” he notes. “I’m like, ‘Wow, I don’t have to beg, borrow and steal for this; I just have to send an email.'”
Indeed, the Nashville fest, which went through a number of aliases before settling on its current moniker in 2003, is in the midst of a growth spurt, with its last installment boasting 22,000 attendees and 215 films.
“I noticed that they really hit their stride here around the same time we started in Indianapolis,” Owens says. “So I felt that the rhythms were right. They had already been around for a long time, but it was really five or six years ago that things really started happening. So it gave me the opportunity to work with something that is well respected but that’s also on the kind of upward curve that you don’t always see at an older festival.”
Noting that “it’s vital to have a strong relationship with the local film community,” one new policy Owens hopes to implement involves greater outreach to young filmmakers.
“I’m going to be touring around the college campuses, to film and video production classes, giving them the perspective of the gatekeeper,” he says. “In other words: what am I looking for when they make movies to submit to our festival.
“I believe strongly in nurturing regional talent. Because you never know when your next Craig Brewer will come around.”