In its 20-year history, Georgia’s SCAD Savannah Film Festival has garnered a reputation for putting a spotlight on films that went on to garner numerous awards and nominations.
Five films that screened at last year’s festival went on to receive Academy Awards, including last year’s best picture winner “Moonlight.”
It’s also one of the few university-run festivals, with Savannah College of Art and Design providing students the opportunity to engage in all aspects. Several of the SCAD alumni have gone on to work on projects that have received not only Oscar attention, but also Grammys, Emmys, Tonys and more.
“My hope, my goal, my intention from the very beginning [was] to enhance public appreciation for the challenges and importance of this work, laying the groundwork for our graduates’ career achievements,” says Paula Wallace festival founder and SCAD president.
“Now, 20 years later, the SCAD Savannah Film Festival is a mainstay for the awards season circuit and our alumni are laying claim to the industry’s top honors. This year alone, 47 SCAD alumni worked on 11 Academy Award-winning films.”
DeRon Horton, class of 2015, earned a role in “Dirty Grandpa” through the SCAD Casting Office. He now stars in Netflix’s half-hour comedy “Dear White People” and plays Derrell in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
Other alums include AMPAS Scientific and Technical Award winners Steve LaVietes and Nickson Fong, up-and-coming actress Kayli Carter, plus Zach Parrish and Nathan Engelhardt, lead animators for Oscar winner “Big Hero 6.”
The festival’s university connection also allows the participating filmmakers a chance to interact in classes, panel discussion and workshops with audiences that are well-versed in the filmmakers’ work. This year’s offerings include panels on the achievements of women in the film industry and below the line speakers.
“Our guests are our students’ heroes, whether they are expert editors, acclaimed directors or award-winning costume designers,” Wallace says.
Sean Baker (“Tangerine”) will screen his latest film, “The Florida Project,” starring Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince, both heavily touted for Oscar consideration.
“I actually have a real affinity for the festival circuit, because a lot of my films are for that kind of audience,” Baker says. “They don’t make you rich, but your compensation is travel, which is very important to me, and being able to meet other filmmakers and network and be inspired.”
And he’s looking forward to attending the festival for the first time and meeting the students.
“I remember when I was hitting the panels at film festivals and hearing these people who were ahead of me in their careers. It meant everything to me,” Baker says.
“It was a way to continue my education and to be able to socialize one on one with filmmakers I would not normally have access to.”
Salma Hayek, who will be honored with the festival’s Achievement in Cinema Award for “Beatriz at Dinner,” says she’s happy to see her film get the exposure during a festival that is known for screening films that later are honored by the Oscars.
“Beatriz at Dinner” offers a timely take on white privilege, with John Lithgow as a Trump-like character meeting a low-key holistic healer stunned by a group of dinner guests.
“It’s a longshot, and it came out a long time ago [in January], but I’m so happy that it is getting any kind of acknowledgement at a time when morale is so low in this country,” Hayek says. “We are not from a big machine and we don’t have the budget to get people in to see it. We are an underdog, so it makes these festivals so important in allowing people to see our film.”
Hayek is also looking forward to speaking with the students while she is at the festival.
“It’s really exciting for me to be able to go out and talk to the students,” Hayek says. “A couple of months ago I went to my daughter’s school, and it was just like seventh and eighth graders, but they were incredibly inspiring. I think this will be inspiring for me to talk to these university students about their ideas.”
Other festival honorees include Holly Hunter, Aaron Sorkin, Zoey Deutch, Patrick Stewart, Kyra Sedgwick, Richard Gere and John Boyega.
“The SCAD Savannah Film Festival has all the glitz and glamor audiences look for in such a big-ticket event,” Wallace says. “Our festival just happens to shine a bit brighter when you catch its reflection in the eyes of our students”