Photos Cameron Flaisch
SUMMER IS WINDING down and the relentless heat is fad-ing farther from mind. The leaves are beginning to turn and a chill is working its way into the air. Thoughts are turning to pumpkin pies and hot chocolate, and for the people of Northwest Georgia, film reels as well. Nestled deep among the Seven Hills, Rome also holds down a spot in film history that not everyone may be aware of.
The Desoto Theater on Broad Street was built in 1927 as the first cinema in the Southeast capable of showing “talkies”, or movies with sound. A lot may have changed in the 90 years since its construction, but once a year the Desoto still draws crowds from not only the Southeast, but from all across the world. Our home has become the annual site for the Rome International Film Festival (RIFF).
Named as one of MovieMaker Magazine’s “top 20 movie festivals worth the submission fee,” RIFF brings a selection of local and international film-makers, producers, industry insiders and film fanatics from all over to share in the one-of-a-kind silver screen experience.
Founded in 2003, the festival has managed to thrive among the vibrant community of artists in Rome and across Northwest Georgia, growing larger each year. Drawing anywhere from 1000 to 1500 people over years, this installment of the festival is growing once again and ex-pecting even higher turnouts than ever before.
Cameron McAllister, the executive director of the 2017 festival, is hoping to double those numbers. “My goal for this year is to top 3000,” McAllister muses.
With over 600 submissions to this year’s event and roughly 60 films making the final selection, the City Auditorium will be joining the Desoto as a premiere feature venue in 2017. Seth Ingram, the 2017 creative director for the festival, is also excited to see an increase in the positive economic impact the festival has for the community. “We’ve added a venue this year that gives us more opportunities for screenings,” says Ingram, “Last year, we estimated around an $80-90,000 economic impact, and this year I think it will be substantially more.”
Over the course of four days in November, the festival will show selected films out of the 600 plus that have been submitted, as well as hosting panels and workshops around the films. “We don’t want to do the same panels that you’ll see at any festival around Georgia. We want to give our audience the kind of practical tips and education, and great experiences with really skilled, unique filmmakers and professionals,” says McAllister.
With the explosion of talent and material coming out of Rome, as well as the stampede of industry professionals from around the world, it comes as no surprise that Georgia is quick-ly becoming the “Hollywood of the South”. It’s the hospitality of Romans and the surrounding communities however, that keeps folks coming back for the festival. “We want to show off Rome as a viable location, and we want to showcase these beautiful resources we have architecturally, geographically and the community who will bend over backwards to facilitate making a movie here,” McAllister continues.
A big part of organizing for RIFF each year is finding accommodations for dozens of international visitors and film professionals for the four day event. Hotels fill well in advance, and many are inconvenient for the visiting filmmakers. With the event centered around Downtown Rome, the RIFF International Filmmaker Housing Program finds willing host families between the rivers – usually within walking distance for the visiting artists. A huge aspect of the event is showcasing Rome to the industry and all the viewers, but almost equally so, the festival experience is geared towards show-casing diverse cultures, customs and style to Romans as well. “It’s not every town that has a film festival, especially an interna-tional festival like this. It’s a real opportunity for Romans to rub elbows with industry professionals and get exposed to films you can’t get exposed to without searching them out”, says Ingram. Anchored around the DeSoto and the City Auditorium, the vibrant array of shops and restaurants along Broad St. and in the downtown area will surely see a cash injection as well – and one never knows who will be sitting next to you eating lunch during the festival.
The booming film industry has planted roots in Georgia, and events like RIFF make it abundantly clear why. The raw potential of the places and people that the festival showcases, the hospitality, and the sense of camaraderie that the community provides are the cornerstones of the experience that have become widely revered among industry professionals who visit.
It’s a sense of brotherhood that develops be-tween those taking a part in the festival according to Ingram, “It’s been a great experience; it’s opened up a world of new connections for me in the film industry. I think that’s the real beauty of it, form a filmmaker’s prospective.”
Whether you are a local Roman with some time to kill, a visiting artist or a film fanatic on the hunt for the next big thing the RIFF experience will have something unique in store.
This year the festival is being held November 9-12. With each passing year the festival has garnered more respect and enthusiasm from professionals and fans alike, and is well on its way to becoming the next premier film festival. Being mentioned in the same sentence as Cannes and Sundance is a sure sign that the festival has planted roots and movie buffs are taking notice. Hands down, the experience is a must for anyone who enjoys cinema, so mark your calendars and get ready for RIFF to reel you in for another year of cinematic intrigue and excitement in the heart of Rome.