‘Belfast’ and ‘C’mon C’mon’ Highlight SCAD Savannah Film Festival as ‘Magic of Big Screen’ Returns

(L to R) Caitriona Balfe as "Ma", Jamie Dornan as "Pa", Judi Dench as "Granny", Jude Hill as "Buddy", and Lewis McAskie as "Will" in director Kenneth Branagh's BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit : Rob Youngson / Focus Features
Rob Youngson / Focus Features

After being shut down last year by the pandemic, Savannah College of Art and Design is returning to an in-person format this year for its annual SCAD Savannah Film Festival, which runs Oct. 23-30.

The fest will also have a virtual component. Student filmmakers are turning out to volunteer in numbers that have “happily surprised” and exceeded the expectations of Christina Routhier, longtime executive and artistic director of SCAD theaters and festivals.

“We have had such a great turnout and all of our volunteer meetings, and I think we’re going to be just fine,” Routhier says. “In regards to volunteer numbers, it hasn’t been as much as it has in years past: we have at least 400 to 500 volunteers where we would normally have 600 to 700. But our screenings are scaled back, we’re only at half-capacity in our theaters and we’re not doing any kind of concession [stands] — we simply don’t have as many spots open for volunteering. But in all, it’s really a win-win situation.”

While COVID-19 protocols have necessitated some changes to the film fest format — “we can’t serve popcorn, which makes me sad, because film festivals are always marked by the smell of popcorn,” says Routhier — the event aims to engage with a slate of high-profile films and honorees.

The fest will kick off with an opening-night gala screening of Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical coming-of-age drama “Belfast.” Branagh will be feted with the fest’s Lifetime Achievement in Acting and Directing Award.

The centerpiece gala screening is Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon,” with the director set to receive the Auteur Award. SCAD closes with a screening of “King Richard,” with star Aunjanue Ellis being presented with the Outstanding Achievement in Cinema award.

Other honorees include Adrien Brody, who will receive the Vanguard Award for Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch”; Clifton Collins Jr., who will be feted with the Distinguished Performance Award for “Jockey”; and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who will be honored with the Rising Star Director Award for “The Lost Daughter.” Phil Lord and Chris Miller will receive the Outstanding Achievement in Animation Award for “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” Ruth Negga is being honored with the Spotlight Award for her role in “Passing” and the Rising Star Award will be presented to Dylan Penn for her breakout role in Sean Penn’s “Flag Day.” Sandy Powell will receive the Variety Creative Impact in Costume Design Award.

“We are touched that SCAD Film Festival considers our work in animation to be outstanding” say Lord and Miller. “Our goals as filmmakers are to always push boundaries and find unique ways of telling new stories. The possibilities in animation are infinite and with recent advancements in technology any visual stylization is possible, so the only true limit is one’s own imagination. Looking forward, we hope that new generations of filmmakers, including the creative students at SCAD, find creative ways to make our work look quaint in comparison.”

In total, 157 films, including 45 narrative feature films and 15 documentary feature films, will screen at the fest, with 63 of these directed by women.

“A year ago, we yearned for moments like these: star-studded sidewalks ushering us into cool cinema spaces to see the best that our moviemaking talent has to offer,” says SCAD president and founder Paula Wallace. “I’m overjoyed to welcome these moments back as we celebrate our 24th annual SCAD Savannah Film Festival. For if we know one thing, it is that the combination of writing, acting and screencraft can transport us and transform us — which is what we just might need today, and tomorrow and beyond.”

That the fest will also offer online screenings and panel discussions is a facet of pandemic-era film fest reality that Routhier continues to believe is deeply important.

“We want to reach as many people as humanly possible,” she says.

Still, she admits, there is no replacement for the experience of being in-person.

“I have joked many times that I would do the entire festival for 50 people sitting down in front of me —that is how much I am dying to be back in the theaters,” she says. “We have had students spend the night the day before tickets went on sale because that’s how excited they are to be back in person. We’ve had wonderful feedback from our community members as well as our students to be back in person. You cannot replace the magic of the big screen. You can’t replace one-on-one conversations with filmmakers and industry professionals. This is where all the magic happens.”

(Pictured: “Belfast”)