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SCAD Savannah Fest Gives Female Filmmakers an Awards Push

Films by and centering around women will be showcased among the 159 films — 35 narratives, 15 documentaries and 109 shorts — at the 22nd SCAD Savannah Film Festival. Following an Oscar year in which they were shut out, more than 50 selections — many in awards-foreshadowing categories — are directed by women.

“I remember being at the Savannah Film Festival with Reed Morano,” says Olivia Wilde, SCAD’s 2015 Spotlight Award recipient and producer-star of Morano’s “Meadowland.” “That was her directorial debut, and I was so profoundly proud to see her stepping into this role and getting to connect with her audience in that way.”

At this year’s festival, for which organizers expect 63,000 attendees from Oct. 26-Nov. 2, Wilde will receive SCAD’s Rising Star Director Award for her directorial debut, “Booksmart.”

“It feels like female filmmakers are taking up more space,” she says. “We’re still only 15% of the Directors Guild, which has to change, but festivals are really where you see the shift beginning to happen.”

Wilde is excited to speak with students from the Savannah College of Art and Design and to screen her comedy, about two strait-laced high-schoolers seeking a night of revelry before graduating. “I think Beanie [Feldstein] and Kaitlyn [Dever] created a relationship that is resonating with people because good chemistry taps into something very personal,” says Wilde. “It is a deep platonic love that is at once hilarious and heartbreaking.”

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Feldstein and Dever, along with Jharrel Jerome, Mena Massoud and Camila Morrone, are Breakout Award recipients, and will speak on a panel Oct. 30. SCAD will also honor Aldis Hodge, Valerie Pachner, Daniel Kaluuya, Danielle Macdonald and composer Alan Silvestri.

“SCAD has become an industry-standard stop on the awards circuit,” says president and founder Paula Wallace. “For three years running we’ve screened the films that have gone on to win Academy Awards for best picture.”

Notes fest executive director Christina Routhier: “Our festival window is perfect to showcase the best of the year.”

Five of this year’s 18 gala screenings, likely awards contenders, are by female helmers — up from two in 12 last year. Chinonye Chukwu’s “Clemency,” Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet,” Alma Har’el’s “Honey Boy” and Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” join front-runners including Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” and Trey Edward Shults’ “Waves,” the centerpiece gala. Tom Harper’s “The Aeronauts” is the opening-night pic and the festival will close with Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

“Festivals play a key part of starting to build that buzz and awareness, and particularly for a film like ours,” says Harper, whose action-adventure about an audacious pilot and a scientist is an Amazon Studios theatrical-streaming release. “There is something about the early aeronauts who put themselves in great danger to go on these adventures in pursuit of knowledge.”

He praises co-stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. “I knew they had great chemistry. What I didn’t realize is that they would be prepared to risk life and limb.”

Heller is thrilled to have her movie and its message recognized.

“The kindness Fred Rogers taught and lived is something I think we are feeling a lack of today,” she says. Her 2018 film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” screened at festivals including SCAD before scoring three Oscar noms. “The audiences at these festivals — and the people who run them — are movie lovers whose excitement and engagement is itself a buzz. … For us, those festivals really sent out a clear message to other moviegoers.”

As more than two-thirds of SCAD’s entertainment program students are women, the country’s largest university-run film festival is invested in the female perspective. The third annual Wonder Women series consists of panels with female directors, producers, writers and below-the-line artists. Also popular among the competition and special screenings and discussions are the Docs to Watch series, a Shorts Spotlight and Global Shorts Forum and a below-the-line panel.

Additions include immersive screenings with VR Voyager chairs and a Southern Voices category for shorts. While the Signature Series of screenings coupled with Q&As features half as many films as last year, 50% come from women, including Wilde.

“We love to see these women grow,” says Routhier. “It tells our students that you can do anything — you can be a wonderful filmmaker, and these women are paving the way.”

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