Photography by Jason Huynh.
Q1: Seth, can you give us a little bit on your background and how you came to be the current Executive and Creative Director of Rome International Film Festival?
SI: I had made a local history documentary filmed that played at RIFF in 2014. I had actually even helped the former director out in the past by volunteering. But the festival didn’t have anybody new to run it in 2015, and it was actually going to fall through that year. It was May and they didn’t have a director, they didn’t have films submitted, nobody had opened up submissions that year. I was busy with a TV show I was trying to get made, but the president of the board asked me three times to do it, and I said no. But finally I thought: “you know, it’s the best thing for the community, and I don’t want to see it die.” So I said yes, and I had no festival experience. So really my first job ever at a festival was running it. I’ve learned it takes an army to put this thing on, and we don’t have any paid staff, other than seasonal [staff]. And it’s hard. But we’re trying to change that, we’re trying to make the festival huge and a big thing that Rome is known for. We just need to get Rome to embrace it as well.
Q2: Can you discuss the international aspect of RIFF and how you try to include different perspectives and cultures in selecting the films?
SI: I think it’s assumed now that all film festivals are international, but it wasn’t all that long ago that the internet wasn’t as pervasive; so you couldn’t just submit your films online, you actually had to mail in your DVD or even VHS tapes. I can’t imagine that because we had 700 submissions this year! But now it’s all on a website, and the people who are rating and screening [the films] are all over the world. A lot of them are former filmmakers who have been to RIFF and want to help out. And we’re not exclusively international, but we always have a bunch of international films.
Q3: Locally, how do you think RIFF impacts our community? What do you think it says about film in Georgia as a whole?
SI: You know, Georgia is THE film production hub right now, and it’s a great time to have a festival in Georgia, because I know I don’t have fly a star in from Los Angeles. I can just send a car to and from Atlanta for them to make an appearance. It really benefits us. Now, Rome is still outside the per diem belt of Atlanta, because it’s a distance greater than 30 miles. So it’s a good place for location shoots, but big companies aren’t prone to build studios out here because they would have to pay more for their crews. But nothing is stopping the independent filmmaker from shooting here. And I think in Atlanta, people are already getting tired of the streets closing for production; but here in Rome, we’re embracing. So I think Rome has the potential to be a great film production town.
As far as the local economy impact of RIFF goes, currently we’re just a three day festival; but last year we brought in 2,500 people. And we had Burt Reynolds here, and he’s really one of the reasons Georgia has a film industry, so that was a good tribute to him. And we’re actually naming an award after him this year.
But I also wish the local community could embrace [the festival] by businesses holding conferences around it, or say if a company is bringing in someone to interview for a job, then it’s a good time to bring to bring them and show them what Rome has to offer. And it’s great from an educational perspective too. Currently we have seven Masterclass workshops set up. And when you have the opportunity to have industry professionals tell you what you need to do and how to do it, that can be more valuable than parts of college. And festivals are a great opportunity for networking. Just in my time at RIFF, I’ve known people who have met here and gone on to make something together.
Q4: Speaking of film in Georgia, what are your hopes and predictions for our state and this industry going forward?
SI: I think everybody has seen what the industry has done for our state. But I think Atlanta is particularly booming in every way. I think of the one of the films submitted this year where the premise is that an actress moves to from South Carolina to Atlanta to get into the film industry, even though that would have been LA in a previous generation. I think the film does a really good job of telling about the nuances of the film community in Atlanta.
Now politically, what differentiates Georgia’s [film] tax credit laws from other states is that they have no sunset clause. This means that they never expire, so it would take a vote to vote [the laws] out. And we’ve got eight or nine studios that have built in the state, and they’re doing well.
Q5: What are you most excited about RIFF this year? Are there any noteworthy or surprising moments we can look forward to?
SI: I was just talking to Judge Reinhold earlier, and he’s going to be one of our special guests. We’re going to really focus on him as one of our key guests. I actually met him at Burt Reynolds funeral, and we just struck up a conversation; and that’s how we got him at a special guest. We have other special guests too. We’re going to try to bring Brett Butler from The Walking Dead. It just depends on what her film schedule is like.
I’m also looking forward to the table read (a live script read) that we’re going to do [performed] by celebrities. Lots of them are people you’ll know; some of them you’ll recognize their faces, but you may not know their names. It will feature Judge Reinhold; and if Brett is here, she’ll be a part of it. We’ve never done this before, but we’re bringing in a company called Scripts Gone Wild out of Los Angeles. I was just talking to Judge about which of his films we want to pick for this. We’re kind of leaning towards Fast Times at Ridgemont High, because it’s an ensemble cast and it would be a lot of fun. But he also has a film called Enid is Sleeping that he made in 1990 that never got finished, and he recently had it re-cut and brought back out. He wants to screen that with us. It’s a film from 1990 that’s never seen the light of day down here that we might be showing!
We’ve got a lot of good documentaries this year too. Tom Brady is a good friend of mine, and he’s coming in with a film he produced about an artist called Mr. Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End. It’s about a political cartoonist, and it’s about how it’s such a struggle to apply [that] craft and find work now.
There’s also lots of great shorts and a lot of films from Georgia to look forward to.
The 15th Rome International Film Festival will be held November 1-4, 2018.