Last year’s inaugural Knoxville Film Festival took on a sizable mantle with its simple, direct name. Could this at last be the film festival for Knoxville, not unlike other notable festivals named after their host cities? While Knoxville does have other namesake cinema celebrations—the Knoxville Film and Music Festival, which features a lot of live bands, and the Knoxville Horror Film Fest with its tight focus on the purely creepy—the Knoxville Film Festival kept it simple: films. But its lineup felt similar to executive director Keith McDaniel’s previous event, the Secret City Film Festival, which was geared more toward filmmakers rather than filmgoers: screenings of small indie titles, the 7-Day Shootout filmmaking competition, and lots of workshops. Respectable stuff, to be sure, but not quite something to raise our national profile among cineastes.
This year’s edition, running Sept. 11-14, will be taking things up a notch. McDaniel says every festival he’s conducted has been a learning experience, and the debut KFF showed him that there was an additional audience of film lovers here, not just filmmakers, that was interested in attending. So this time he has focused on selecting films that have a broader appeal.
“I can say that our slate of films for this year’s festival is as good as we have ever had,” McDaniel says in an e-mail interview. “From narrative features and shorts to documentaries, there is something for everyone. I know that may sound cliche, but it’s true. Also, we really focused on a higher standard—choosing films that could easily screen at some of the premier film festivals such as Sundance, South by Southwest, or Tribeca.”
And that’s immediately evident with the festival’s opening night film, something, anything, written and directed by Knoxville filmmaker Paul Harrill. It’s already been featured at prestigious festivals such as the Edinburgh International Film Festival and BAMcinemaFest in New York City, as well as the Nashville Film Festival. Meanwhile, the KFF will also be featuring many of the filmmakers in person; out of the 45 films being screened, more than 35 of the filmmakers have said they will be attending the festival, McDaniel says, including one traveling in from Italy.
One completely new addition to the schedule is a lifetime achievement award presentation, which will be part of the opening night festivities on Thursday, Sept. 11, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Regal Downtown West Cinema 8. The first recipient will be Ross Bagwell Sr., a true television pioneer who started his career on the Howdy Doody Show in the 1950s and later created Cinetel Productions in Knoxville, which became a major producer of cable TV shows and eventually formed the basis for HGTV’s production facilities.
“His career and vision has really made the Knoxville production community what it is today.” McDaniel says. “So many local filmmakers work in production in Knoxville simply because of what he has created here. It just made sense that he should be the recipient of this award.”
With 45 films on tap, it’s difficult for McDaniel to single out just a few festival highlights, but we forced him to name some favorites with local ties:
• Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey—“This is our closing night film. It is a behind-the-scenes documentary of Hal Holbrook’s one-man show about Mark Twain. It was directed by Scott Teems, who you may remember directed Holbrook in the East Tennessee-made film That Evening Sun. Scott will be attending the film festival and will conduct a Q&A session after the screening.”
• The Morningside Monster—“It is scheduled for Friday night and features local actor Mike Stanley. Mike actually met the filmmakers two years ago at the Secret City Film Festival.”
• “‘Shadowlands’” is a short film made by Knoxvillian Steven Wesley Miller and features local actors Mitch Moore and Linds Edwards. It is a really well-made film and I think audiences will agree.”