In recent years, the SCAD Savannah Film Festival has become a favorite Oscar season stop for stars and filmmakers. Unlike the Toronto Intl. Film Festival or Sundance, it’s not a frenzied hotbed of deals and world premieres, but it has its own quaint charms that reflect the historic 285-year-old city where it unspools.
“It’s one of those deep indie-film-loving communities that are as passionate about watching movies as it is about making them,” says director Jason Reitman, who shot “The Front Runner” in the city, and will be at the fest for a gala screening, along with star Hugh Jackman. It’s a return trip for Reitman, who screened “Tully” at the fest last year.
The festival’s passion for film is driven by the students and the faculty of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), who run the event.
“SCAD is the festival,” says president and founder Paula Wallace. “We founded it, we scout the films, invite honorees, review submissions, organize schedules, create, arrange, host, roll carpet, turn on the lights and celebrate. Students volunteer for aspects of the festival that relate to their degree programs — cinema studies, film and television, performing arts, even social strategy and management — and many of them walk away with a lifelong career. Even SCAD faculty volunteer as guest emcees, shuttle drivers and so on.”
The 21st edition the festival kicks off Oct. 27 with the opening-night gala screening of director Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” with stars Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira and producer Gabriela Rodriguez in attendance. The Nov. 1 centerpiece gala will feature a screening of “If Beale Street Could Talk,” with writer-director Barry Jenkins and stars Stephan James and KiKi Layne (dual recipients of the fest’s Discovery Award) on hand. And it will close Nov. 3 with a gala screening of director Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book,” starring Viggo Mortensen and 2016 festival honoree Mahershala Ali.
In between, the fest schedule includes returning sections such as Docs to Watch, the Global Shorts Forum and the Wonder Women forum, highlighting female directors, producers and below-the-line talent. New additions include a TV sidebar, featuring a screening of the season four premiere of “Outlander,” along with an exhibition of approximately two dozen costumes worn on the series, and the Animation Corner, which will include a screening of Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” featuring a Q&A with key animators, along with a display of stop-action models and four sets used in the film.
“The fact that it falls in the calendar in late October and early November means that it can cherry-pick some of the best movies from the early fall festivals,” says TCM host and regular fest attendee Dave Karger. “And that’s why you saw seven of last year’s [Oscar] best picture nominees there.”
The fest will also feature a Georgia production panel moderated Variety VP and executive editor Steven Gaydos featuring Kate Atwood, executive director, ChooseATL; Andra Reeve-Rabb, SCAD dean, School of Entertainment Arts; Lisa Ferrell, co-president, Georgia Production Partnership; Beth Nelson, executive director, Savannah Area Film Office; and Michelle Sneed, president of production and development, Tyler Perry Studios.
For some, the main attraction will be the fest’s long list of celebrity honorees, who include “Front Runner” star Jackman, Legend of Cinema Award; Emily Blunt, Icon Award; Maggie Gyllenhaal, Outstanding Achievement in Cinema Award for Acting and Producing; Armie Hammer, Outstanding Achievement in Cinema Award; John Krasinski, Vanguard Award; and Amandla Stenberg, Rising Star Award. But their star power is rivaled by the historic neighborhood where the fest is held.
“The way the festival is laid out, it’s kind of all in this one area,” says fest executive director Christina Routhier. “The college manages two historic theaters right next to each other, and across the street is Marshall House Hotel, which is kind of the hub of the festival for the industry professionals we bring in.”
Film critic Leonard Maltin, a regular attendee of the fest, says the coziness of the arrangement is key.
“The lobby of the hotel tends to be the meeting place, but on the sidewalk, walking that one block back and forth [between hotel and theaters], you run into people, people stop me, and we have wonderful conversations,” says Maltin. “It’s a very congenial atmosphere.”
What: SCAD Savannah Film Festival
When: Oct. 27-Nov. 3
Where: Savannah, Ga.