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The New Orleans Film Festival's 25th Anniversary Coincides With Industry Growth

September 30, 2014

Forbes

Although New Orleans has recently been deemed one of the top locations in the world for film production, film has been part of the city’s core long before Hollywood recognized its potential.

It all began with the inception of the New Orleans Film Festival in 1989, at a time when it still wasn’t the norm for every city to host its own festival. Twenty-five years later, however, the New Orleans Film Festival is climbing the ranks, getting closer in size and stature to Sundance and Tribeca, while staying true to its original values and mission – to engage the filmmakers and industry.

“We are focused on filmmaking hospitality,” said the film festival’s Executive Director, Jolene Pinder, who joined the festival four years ago, bringing with her a unique perspective from her filmmaking days. “What keeps our identity unique is the way we engage the local industry, showcase New Orleans as a film hub and bring an impressive group of people to the festival.”

Since 2011, the film festival has seen significant growth that has brought in more world premiers, submissions and film delegates from the industry, further legitimizing its credibility. In the past year alone, the submissions have increased considerably as well. In total, 2014 festival film submissions increased by 41% from 2013, bringing in work from 86 different countries – a 37.2% increase in additional countries.

Pinder admits that, while the growth is amazing, it’s almost hard to plan for how much of it they should expect each year. After anticipating a 20% growth this year, they witnessed double that amount in submissions. However, as the amount of competition and diversity continues to increase at the New Orleans Film Festival, its focus still relies on helping filmmakers make personal connections.

“The events leave an impression on those coming in from the outside,” said Pinder, adding that each event still has its expected amount of formalness without being stuffy.

This brings us back to filmmaking hospitality. The New Orleans Film Society, which anchors the annual film festival, gives the participating filmmakers two free nights at a sponsoring hotel in New Orleans, while they attend and present at the film festival. This is a gesture that really helps the filmmakers, and allows the film society to showcase New Orleans as a hospitable and welcoming place for the creatives within the industry.

“This is something we do for all the filmmakers, whether they are presenting a full length film or a two-minute short,” added Pinder. “We treat all the filmmakers like the talented professionals that they are.”

The New Orleans Film Festival commemorates its 25th anniversary this year, coinciding with the peak of the film industry’s presence in New Orleans. Louisiana has been named the top destination for film production in the world as New Orleans continues to be transformed for blockbuster films such as Jurassic World andTerminator Five. In addition, the city has been the landscape for Academy Award winning movie 12 Years A Slave, which held its star-studded New Orleans premier last year at the film festival.

This year, the New Orleans Film Festival will open with the U.S. premier of the New Orleans-shot film Black and White, starring Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer, which recently premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. In addition, this year’s film festival will welcome newcomers, such as Marcos Barbery, whose film By Blood has been licensed to be broadcasted on one of the country’s largest public media stations, due to connections that the film society helped curate in preparation for the festival. By Bloodchronicles the conflict faced by the freed black slaves from the Cherokee Tribe as they try to regain tribal membership, raising more controversial conversations in racism and sovereignty.

“New Orleans has become an increasingly global city,” said Barbery, who has serendipitously relocated to New Orleans from Brooklyn to work on a film project with the city. “It’s a city that everyone knows, but has taken on this identity where there are more and more artists taking on creative work, and can make a living doing so.”

With growth, come growing pains. The film festival’s biggest tasks include staying focused on filmmaking hospitality, industry engagement and keeping a high percentage of the festival programming scheduled with films from the open call submission, while popularity, demand and competitiveness continue to get bigger. However, things look promising for the festival with its ideal formula. It’s in a top destination city with a hot film industry surrounded by inspiration, scheduled with red carpet screenings and industry events, and engages all its participants, making the New Orleans Film Festival the top growing film festival.

The New Orleans Film Festival will run October 16th-23rd in New Orleans.

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