Event to highlight first-time helmers; top prize winner gets distrib pact

A new film festival that aims to spotlight first-time filmmakers will have its inaugural run at Gotham’s Gramercy Park’s Players Club in March.

The First Time Fest, running March 1-4, will screen the works of 12 finalists at Loews Village VII, with the grand prize winner — determined by a panel of five judges — receiving theatrical distribution arranged by the fest and Cinema Libre Studio. Cinema Libre will also provide international sales representation for the winner.

The judging process features a twist: Alongside four industry experts, a fifth vote will come from one of 120 lottery-selected fest attendees who will act as the voting public each night of the event. In addition, 12 people will be selected from a nationwide contest to receive screeners and judge each night’s films alongside the attending voters.

All twelve finalists will participate in a one-year industry mentoring program designed to give the aspiring filmmakers the chance to learn aspects of the biz from producers, distributors, talent reps, sales agents, lawyers and creatives.

First Time Fest will honor an industry figure with the John Huston lifetime achievement prize. Other special events, such as a 60th-anni celebration of Morris Engel’s “The Little Fugitive,” are in the works.

The fest was created by entrepreneur and philanthropist Johanna Bennett (daughter of singer Tony Bennett) and producer Mandy Ward with the advisory help of Mitch Levine, CEO of the Film Festival Group.

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