Film festival lines up bigger, better event for sequel

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Sometimes you can’t decide what to watch: a comedy, a tearjerker, a horror film.

At the Reel East Texas Film Festival, you can see them all without moving from your theater seat.

Tickets are now on sale and award nominations have been posted as the film festival returns to Kilgore for another year. Festival Director Chip Hale says this year’s event will be bigger and better than last year.

“It’s pretty exciting. I want to say it feels like last year’s festival was just here. We’ve had a lot of stuff happen with the Texan and the post office. We’re about a month and half out and fortunately, the way that things have worked out, by getting the post office and the Texan to where they are functioning venues, that means we can add the film festival right into it,” Hale said.

Ongoing renovations to the Texan Theater and the Old Post Office have allowed the festival to grow but word-of-mouth interest in the event has helped it expand as well. At last year’s festival, 55 films were screened. This year, 104 films have been selected for the event. The number of films submitted and selected increased so much the festival added another venue to show student films: Dodson Auditorium on the Kilgore College campus.

Hale credits the growth of the festival to several factors, including outreach, organic interest and top-notch ratings from FilmFreeway, a website which ranks and lists film festivals from around the world.

“It was a combination of things,” Hale said. “It helps being a filmmaker myself. I’m able to communicate with other filmmakers in a way that assures them that I’m not just getting their film here to get their film here. Then there’s the rating that we have, that helps. Then there’s also FilmFreeway. Every week, FilmFreeway would send out these email alerts: these films have been submitted, these film festivals are open for submissions. Every Monday, I would watch 10 to 15 trailers and from those 10 to 15 trailers, I would base whether or not I was going to invite them to submit. A lot of it was word-of-mouth, a lot of it was recruiting and a lot of it was the small filmmaking industry in Texas, me being able to meet other filmmakers and say ‘I have a film festival.’”

Hale credited the friendly Kilgore community with drawing more filmmakers to the area. Because Kilgore hosts so many artistic and cultural events throughout the year, visitors from out of town want to return, he said.

It also doesn’t hurt, he added, that Kilgore is filled with “quality human beings who are genuinely nice.”

The quality of the films has also trended upward, Hale said, mostly thanks to receiving more submissions overall. Last year, the festival screened 55 films chosen from 85 submissions. This year, 104 films were chosen from 162 submitted.

Not only did the festival receive more submissions this year, more films were sent in from other countries. Films were submitted from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Norway, Germany, Israel, Iran, Sweden, Italy, China, Brazil, Belgium, Japan, New Zealand, Romania, Russia, Spain and India.

Hale said the larger number of submissions and screenings meant the festival had to add Dodson Auditorium to its list of theaters but it also means the festival needs more volunteers.

“Anyone reading this article, we need volunteers Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the film festival,” he said.

A great deal of the extra work came from watching so many more films than last year, Hale said. He still watches nearly every film submitted but recruited some extra help this year by expanding the jury pool. Those jurors choose which films make the cut and which will be nominated for awards.

Hale believes the film festival is more than just an opportunity to watch great independent films.

“Our film festival has three goals. One is the revitalization of the cultural district, the downtown entertainment district, whatever you want to call it. There’s tourism, we want to get tourism here. We want the filmmakers and their friends and families to come and enjoy their films and enjoy our town. The third element is actually to create a film industry. If there were an underlying thesis to the whole film festival, I would say it would be to create an industry here and so far, so good,” he said.

He added some filmmakers have expressed interest in filming in Kilgore. Last year, several filmmakers shot footage of the derrick lighting downtown and a short clip of that footage will be included in a film called “A Chance of Snow,” submitted to the festival this year.

“We’re expanding the footprint and expanding the numbers and everyone is excited about the film festival, which is great. It’s always great to have local support.”

To purchase tickets to this year’s Reel East Texas Film Festival, which is set for November 15-17, visit www.FilmFreeway.com/ReelEastTexas/Tickets. To learn more, visit www.ReelEastTexas.com or check out Facebook.com/ReelEastTexas.

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