Hollywood Film Festival Focuses on Social Change

The 22nd edition of the Hollywood Film Festival, running Oct. 1-6 at Raleigh Studios, promises a bevy of talented filmmakers. Cinematic voices from 58 countries sent in submissions to this year’s event, which serves as a global stage for storytellers to present their work. More than just a competition, HFF strives to create relationships between filmmakers and producers and representatives, fashioning an open environment in an industry that is experiencing significant change across all sectors.

“We don’t want to feel like every other film festival, and our goal is to be different and inclusive,” says Brad Parks, chairman and executive director of HFF. “We see ourselves as the United Nations for filmmakers.”

Though it began its life as a glitzy, celeb-friendly awards-season kickoff event, the fest was taken in a new direction when it was purchased from founder Carlos de Abreu. Now, it strives to be a progressive-minded entity, one that’s focused on driving economic and social change.

In 2017 Parks re-launched HFF as something that combined the old and the new. These days, he’s excited about the continued growth of the festival and is more than optimistic about the future. “We knew what the festival could be, but now we know what it needs to be,” Parks says.

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The festival’s Best Of showcase occurs on Oct. 5, with other features including Jury Class film screenings, immersive entertainment presentations and panel discussions. The festival is broken up into categories, including best of documentary filmmaking, best of independent filmmaking, best of global filmmaking and best of studio filmmaking, each receiving their own, day-long focus.

“We didn’t want to follow the traditional model,” says HFF CEO Dave Knot. “We’ve strategically built relationships with a large cross-section of countries and partners, and we’re always asking our collaborators: What do the artists in your country want from Hollywood and how can those goals be achieved?”

In the independent short film spotlight, Kamarco Williams is debuting “Environment,” which was nominated by HFF Jury member Choice Skinner. The film revolves around a young man who receives the chance to view an alternate version of his life, had he not turned to crime and drugs. “I appreciate the platform HFF provides, especially for me, being African American,” Williams says. “They want films that include all of us, and that tell stories from every background. I’m honored to be a part of the festival this year.”

And Skinner, a multihyphenate with acting, directing, producing and acting coach credits on his resume, says HFF “isn’t like other film festivals where you watch your film in a screening, then do a Q&A, and possibly win a trophy. The committee keeps a long-running relationship with all the filmmakers for future endeavors.”

“Duke,” from Brazilian Thiago Dadalt and based on a true story, is another narrative short selection and focuses on a nonverbal autistic 17-year-old struggling in school and at home. “Brad and his team are amazing people who really care about the filmmakers behind the films they select,” Dadalt says.

“Hollywood is not an easy field to work in, and having their support truly helps. Having my latest movie officially selected this year is great exposure and very important for the autistic community.”

Many of the filmmakers who have screened their work at HFF come back with subsequent projects, which allow for the judges, organizers and peers to notice their growth. For some, it’s all about having the proper resources to not only get their films made, but also to have it seen by a wide enough audience where significant impact is possible. HFF attracts a range of participants spanning various storytelling media, budgets and experience levels, but one thing remains a constant — the passion and desire to elicit change through what’s being created for the screen, organizers say.

“HFF is truly a worldwide platform for emerging voices, free from politics and religion, and our goal is to hit 100 countries during the submission process,” says Gene Lim, who serves as chief strategy officer, and who is also the CEO/founder of content creator and distributor Mav12.

Panel discussions include: Defining and Protecting the Value of Artistic Expression, Intellectual Property and the Future of the Audience Experience in Hollywood; Is Hollywood’s Value Driven by Tech, Talent or Tweets?; Building a Bridge for Hollywood & Africa’s Film Industry Leaders; and What Is the Future of the Theatrical Experience?

“As someone who measures true success on sustainable and measurable net impact, working on reinventing the festival has been an amazing experience for me these past few years,” says shared values officer Tom Bagamane. “Building a content platform in Hollywood that not only rewards integrity — but demands it — is pretty special.”

HFF highlights over the past couple of years include the recruitment of advisory board members with deeper and more extensive knowledge of the industry; the hosting of events at the Cannes and Toronto film festivals; the recruitment of leading film organizations from 25 nations; the renewal of National Partner relationships at the Berlin Film Festival; and a Global Grand Jury award announcement at the Cannes Film Festival.

“To say nothing of our yearly event, the organization as a whole has come a long way since 1997,” says Parks.

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