Barbara Kopple brings Miss Sharon Jones! to Savannah Film Festival

October
28
2016
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Exclamation marks the spot! On Monday, October 24, SCAD hosted the Savannah Film Festival screening of Miss Sharon Jones!, the new documentary about the tribulations and triumphs of the South Carolina-born soul singer, inspiring an ebullient, sustained ovation from the Trustees Theater crowd. The festival felt the funk.

As frontwoman of Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Jones imbues rough, retro R&B workouts with a James Brown-inspired work ethic, earning a fervent fan base. In 2014, Jones received a cancer diagnosis. Barbara Kopple’s documentary follows her treatment, leavened by a number of astonishing musical performances.

Like Jones, Kopple doesn’t quit. A two-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker for 1976’s Harlan County, USA, and 1991’s American Dream (both documentary accounts of the plights of striking workers), Kopple has amassed credits encompassing a fearless range of subjects and formats.

Following the screening, Kopple conducted a Q&A with journalist Susan Wloszczyna. “I’d never heard of Sharon until I saw this movie,” Wloszczyna said. “Thank you, because now I’m a fan!” Here are selections from their exchange, including a query from esteemed critic Leonard Maltin.

WLOSZCYNA: How did this documentary come about?

KOPPLE: Sharon’s manager decided that even thought people had heard her music, she wasn’t a household name, so he went to VH1 with a proposal. They said, “We’ve got just the person,” called me up and said, “How’d you like to direct a film about Sharon Jones?” I said, “Are you kidding? I would love it!” Sharon was doing chemo when I came into the picture, but I never thought this was a film about cancer. I never thought for a moment she wouldn’t make it. Really what I was looking at was, “Who is this phenomenal woman?” Sharon worked as a guard on Rikers Island, she’s tough as nails even though she’s tiny. There is no quitting in her.

MALTIN: One of the things about the film that struck me is that we were never aware of the presence of a camera crew at all. Was this a conscious decision?

KOPPLE: Yes. I asked questions and did things behind the scenes but the audience isn’t supposed to know that. Sharon didn’t always love us coming to film. She’d roll her eyes like, oh, they’re here again. But once we were there was very gracious and giving. She’ll tell all. She wants you to know exactly how she’s feeling and what she’s going through. The church scene was spontaneous and came from her soul. The DP, Gary Griffin, captured it all in one shot.

WLOSZCYNA: You’ve made many important documentaries. Do younger documentary makers come to you for advice?

KOPPLE: Sure. I tell people to persevere. Don’t keep your project a secret. Tell everybody about your project, and people will help you. Documentarians are a great community. We hang out and give our opinions on each other’s rough cuts. And I’d also say, love your subjects: give anything they’re willing to give, so that people will understand them.

Ready on set: The 2016 Savannah Film Festival is here!

October
21
2016
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It’s finally here! The 2016 Savannah Film Festival starts tonight at Trustees Theater with a Gala Screening of “Jackie,” an intimate portrait of first lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) during the days immediately following her husband’s assassination. From the joyful and whimsical “Trolls” to the deeply compassionate “Moonlight,” this year’s selection of silver screenings promises to be one of the best yet.

Every year, the Festival’s guests and honorees bring industry insight to the Savannah community. This year, Mahershala Ali will receive the Discovery Award; Sam Claflin and Molly Shannon will receive Spotlight Awards; and Miles Teller will receive the Vanguard award. Additional guests include Demián Bichir, Damien Chazelle, Avan Jogia, Rodrigo Santoro, and Shane West.

In addition to the honorees, Vinny Pazienza — famous boxer and subject of “Bleed for This” — will be in attendance as a special guest.

This year’s Gala Screenings:

Also debuting this year is the first virtual reality (VR) musical. The short film, “Say it With Music,” was created entirely by SCAD students and is the first musical treatment produced for a virtual reality experience. “Say it With Music” will be part of a VR Showcase happening at Pei Ling Chan Gallery form Oct. 25-27. A total of eight VR films will be shown on a loop for visitors to get the full VR experience.

For the complete schedule of screenings and events, visit filmfest.scad.edu. Additional details, tickets and passes are available online, by telephone at 912.525.5050 or in person at the Trustees Theater, located at 216 E. Broughton St., Savannah, Georgia.

See you on the red carpet!

Rewind: The 2015 Savannah Film Festival

November
13
2015
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The 2015 Savannah Film Festival might be over, but it’s hard to forget its final days — the talented stars, engaging screenings, packed theaters, incredible awards and constant applause.

Meg Ryan received this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award and made her directorial debut with the screening of ‘Ithaca.’ After the showing, the entire attending cast took the stage to answer questions from the audience. The panel ended with a standing ovation from the room.

This year, the star-studded Gala Screenings weren’t the only must-see films. More than 20 documentaries screened and included panel discussions with the brainpower behind the films. Some of the top stories shown included producer Kristin Davis’s and composer Jack Douglas’s “Gardeners of Eden”; SCAD’s very own “Ovation for Oscar”; and, on the last day, the awe-inspiring "He Named Me Malala" screened, spreading chills and hope throughout the audience.

Different chills occurred Friday night with this year’s continuation of the After Dark Series. The line of people eager to enjoy the thrilling stories trailed outside and wrapped around the block. The series showcased the heart-racing “Room,” “Bram Stroker’s Dracula” (which SCAD sound design professor David Stone worked on), and the darkly twisted “Goodnight Mommy.”

Elizabeth Olsen walked the red carpet on closing night before the highly anticipated screening of ‘I Saw the Light.’ After the applause died down, Olsen and writer, director, producer Marc Abraham discussed their work with the audience.

The festival continued its legacy of celebrating the spirit of the film industry, sharing beautiful stories worth telling. Although this year’s event has come and gone, we all look forward to what the next holds. 

Alfie Allen's Top 5 Pieces of Advice for Actors

October
30
2015
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The Savannah Film Festival brings incredible screenings, spanning from documentary to animation to shorts to featured films. Actors, producers, directors, casting agents, fans, movie-lovers and so many more attend the festival for the celebration of the creative spirit within the industry. But for SCAD film and performing arts students, the festival includes master classes: intimate, hour-long discussions with visiting established industry professionals. This year, HBO "Game of Thrones" star Alfie Allen was among those sharing his experiences and advice.

When Allen took his seat in the wing-backed chair situated on the stage of the Mondanaro Theater at Crites Hall, silence fell upon the audience. Then nearly every hand shot up to ask a question for their own career. These are the top five pieces of advice he gave:

  1. “The best acting advice I received was from my dad. It sounds cliché, but acting is really through the eyes. If you can show the emotion in your eyes then the rest of it will show, as well.”
  2. “I like to bond with people. The actor who plays Ramsey — I wanted to be friends so it’s a real relationship on screen. That way we are actually connecting on-screen.”
  3. “People can smell desperation and that’s not an attractive trait. So make sure you are acting for yourself and not for those you are auditioning in front of.”
  4. “Bring yourself into the character. Step into the character as much as you can. Make it naturalistic as possible. It’s tough, but can be done.”
  5. “A lot of people in this industry forget it’s about having fun. Too many people take themselves seriously. Don’t be too hard on yourself. This industry is incredible — enjoy it.”

Click here to request more information or apply to SCAD.

Flashback Friday: Winners of the 2014 Savannah Film Festival

October
30
2015
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With the 18th annual Savannah Film Festival coming to a close, we wanted to take a look back at the winners of last year's festival. Fifty-five films competed for more than $80,000 in cash and prizes. Below are the winners of the three student awards.

Student Awards

  • HBO Films Student Competition Award 2014 — "Sweet Corn," a 20-minute dramatic comedy about a stubborn old farmer who takes extraordinary measures to save his corn field and ends up with some surprising results.
  • Best SCAD Student Competition Award — "Southsouthwest," a 14-minute drama about a photo enthusiast tormented by local bullies who faces a test of courage his ailing grandfather's camera is stolen and placed at the top of a fire tower.
  • Silver Screen Society Award — "Southsouthwest"

2015 Savannah Film Festival Kicks Off With Stars and Screenings

October
27
2015
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The 18th annual Savannah Film Festival hosted by SCAD is underway, celebrating creativity in film with exclusive screenings and discussions with industry professionals. The red carpet and opening night reception welcomed actress Olivia Wilde and director Reed Morano ("Meadowland"), Vasant and Champa Patel ("Meet the Patels"), director Hank Bedford ("Dixieland") and many others.

After a screening of the striking and emotional film "Suffragette," director Sarah Gavron and producer Alison Owen participated in a Q&A session with the audience as part of the Savannah Film Festival Conversation Series. Prior to a screening of her film "Meadowland," Wilde received the Spotlight Award at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts.

On the second night of the festival, actress Saoirse Ronan was welcomed to the red carpet prior to a screening of her new film "Brooklyn." After the show, The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg moderated "An Evening with Saoirse Ronan" and a Q&A session with the audience.

The opening weekend events are just a prelude to the exciting experience the rest of Film Fest has to offer. The schedule for upcoming events can be found on the Film Festival website.

18 Things About the Savannah Film Festival

October
23
2015
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The 18th annual Savannah Film Festival is finally here! From Oct. 24-31, industry professionals from all fields of the film, television and digital media businesses will participate in panel and Q&A discussions alongside film screenings. Here are 18 fun facts about the festival.

  1. The first Savannah Film Festival launched in 1998.
  2. The festival is hosted by SCAD every year.
  3. More than 1,000 films have screened at the festival since it began.
  4. All films screen out of two historic theaters: The Trustees Theater and Lucas Theatre for the Arts. In addition, some features screen at the SCAD Museum of Art.
  5. The Trustees Theater originally opened in 1946. The theater operates year-round as a large venue for the performing arts department, in addition to hosting lectures, live performances, concerts and films.
  6. The Lucas Theatre was built in 1921 by Arthur Lucas and architect C.K. Howell. Lucas owned more than 20 theaters across the South, but the Lucas Theatre in Savannah is the only to bear his name.
  7. The festival has honored more than 70 award-winning film industry professionals, including Ellen Barkin, Aaron Eckhart, Liam Neeson, Michael Douglas, Woody Harrelson and Emmy Rossum.
  8. More than 50 films screened during the festival have gone on to receive Oscar nominations.
  9. Last year, The "Docs to Watch" series launched, focusing on must-see documentaries. The series continues this year with nine titles.
  10. The festival has welcomed over 500,000 patrons and guests to SCAD and Savannah.
  11. More than 50,000 attended last year's festival.
  12. There are 118 films screening this year.
  13. As part of the annual competition screening event, 85 films will compete to win more than $80,000 in cash and prizes.
  14. There are more films produced and directed by women than men being shown at this year's festival.
  15. This year's Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Meg Ryan, makes her directing debut with the film "Ithaca."
  16. Olivia Wilde, this year's Spotlight Award recipient, will make her next on-screen appearance in the drama "Meadowland," scheduled for release this month.
  17. Alfie Allen is this year's Rising Star Award recipient. Last year's recipients were Asa Butterfield and Analeigh Tipton.
  18. Volunteer students staff the festival, providing excellent opportunities for networking within the film industry.

Savannah Film Fest lineup and honorees announced

October
2
2015
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The wait for the announcement of this year's Film Fest honorees is finally over! Meg Ryan will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award; Olivia Wilde will receive the Spotlight Award; and Alfie Allen will receive a rising Star Award. There will also be a special "An Evening with Saoirse Ronan" following a screening of her film "Brooklyn."

As part of the Conversation Series, director Marc Abraham and actress Elizabeth Olsen ("I Saw the Light"), director Catherine Hardwicke ("Miss You Already"), director Sarah Gavron and producer Alison Owen ("Suffragette"), and composer David Lang ("Youth") will participate in moderated discussions.

The following gala screenings have been added to the lineup:

  • Dixieland
  • Ithaca
  • Legend
  • Meadowland
  • Spotlight

The Signature Series films — a curated selection of premiere films that will conclude with an in-depth discussion with representatives of the film — have also been announced to include:

  • Coming Through the Rye
  • Dead of Winter: The Donner Party
  • Ek Harzarchi Note (1000 Rupee Note)
  • He Named Me Malala
  • Jasmine
  • Krisha
  • Mia Madre
  • One Day in Auschwitz
  • Return to Nuke 'Em High: Vol. 2
  • Song of Saul
  • Tab Hunter Confidential
  • The Prophet
  • Touched with Fire

More details, tickets and passes are available for purchase online, by telephone at 912.525.5050 or in person at the Trustees Theater, located at 216 E. Broughton St., Savannah, Georgia.

The 2015 Savannah Film Festival is almost here

September
28
2015
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The annual SCAD-hosted Savannah Film Festival is coming to town, opening on Saturday, Oct. 24 with a screening of “Suffragette,” the drama inspired by the early 20th century campaign of the suffragettes’ fight for women’s right to vote. The 18th annual festival — held in downtown Savannah — will take place from Oct. 24-31. The first wave of films confirmed to show at the festival include the following:

  • Brooklyn
  • I Saw the Light
  • Krisha
  • Mia Madre
  • Miss You Already
  • Room
  • Son of Saul
  • Touched With Fire
  • Truth
  • Youth

The additional lineup — including the Docs to Watch, After Dark Series and Competition Screenings — will be announced on Thursday, Oct. 1 where additional tickets and passes will be available for purchase online, by telephone at 912.525.5050 or in person at the Trustees Theater, located at 216 E. Broughton St., Savannah, Georgia.

Big Hero 6 animators on making Baymax and careers in animation

November
11
2014
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Disney Animation’s Big Hero 6 raked in one of the biggest opening weekend box offices ever for a Disney film, $56.2 million. When audiences screened the blockbuster at Savannah Film Festival several weeks before the official release, they also heard from a couple of the heroes behind the film. Savannah College of Art and Design alumni Zach Parrish (B.F.A., animation, 2007), head of animation at Disney, and animation supervisor Nathan Engelhardt (B.F.A., animation, 2007) let festival-goers in on how they made the magic happen. Afterward, they sat down with SCAD founder and president Paula Wallace to discuss their role in the movie and getting their start in the industry. Here’s an excerpt of her conversation with them, followed by a portion of the extended interview.

President Wallace: How did you know that animation would be your career?

Zach Parrish: I went and saw Monsters, Inc. with some friends. I think I was in high school and I realized that I felt something emotional for Mike Wazowski, who’s the little green one-eyed character. When I realized that I had an emotional response to something that I absolutely knew definitively was not real and that someone made me feel that way, that was kind of a magic where I was like, “I want to be the guy who makes that happen.” So that’s when I started looking at schools and eventually chose SCAD.

Nathan Engelhardt: I actually stumbled upon this game called “The Neverhood,” and it was a stop motion animated game. It was like a point and click action adventure and I remember wanting to play the game until I got to the cut scenes. So they would put in little cut scenes, like animated shorts almost, and every time I was like, “Oh yes, here comes the cut scene.” I started realizing that – I like this and maybe I can start making some of my own. I think I fell in love with animation on a very primitive basic level when I saw this character waving back at me. I think I felt the same thing you felt where it’s like I created this thing that’s waving to me and I was just in a trance and I never looked back.

PW: You met when you were here as students at SCAD.  Was there any certain professor or a class that made a particular impact on you?

ZP: We actually helped create a class, an independent studies class, just for Nathan’s project. I saw this poster for people who wanted to help out on a project called Cereal Killers and I was immediately in. I gave Nathan a call. We met up. 

NE: It was an incredible experience because Zach was so enthusiastic. I was just like, “Man, this guy. He knows what he’s doing.” He took some of the characters, very rough early character rigs that we had been building, and he just started creating the first tests. I was like, “Wow, they’re moving. This could actually work.”

We didn’t really know it at the time, but we were really learning how to collaborate as a team. We were kind of experimenting with the pipeline that we would become so familiar with down the road. We did everything from design and writing, pen and paper, all the way to the final renders, even the sounds. I mean we had a full spectrum.

ZP: We had no idea what we were doing when we started.

NE: But it really did help groom us, I feel, in a way to understand the pipeline and collaboration with other artists and being able to give direction and even…

ZP: Receive direction.

NE: And be able to just do that and learn and then regurgitate that later when we became supervisors. You know, that was a really cool experience.

PW: How do you feel that your education at SCAD helped prepare you to work at such an iconic and innovative studio as Disney?

ZP: Oh man. I think what’s amazing about the education at SCAD is the breadth. Just like that class where we got to touch the entire production pipeline and see where we wanted to fit in and to understand how to utilize it, that has been huge for us. I brought Nathan in for Wreck-it Ralph when I was an animation supervisor, and we could just kind of jump in and do a lot of pieces of the pipeline that some people who are trained just in animation can’t do.

Because of the breadth of our education, as far as history, design and the whole spectrum that goes into it, not just animation, I think we’re allowed to be a bigger part of the pipeline that helps the supervisors as well since a lot of our job is working interdepartmentally and giving notes on models and rigs and whatever the case may be. We have enough of the general understanding to be able to participate in that, as well as our specialized focus in animation.

NE: I feel SCAD really creates artists. There are a lot of trade schools out there that will create specialized tasks and abilities, whereas, to Zach’s point, you get this well-rounded artistic education. It all really helped create the kind of artist that we are today and it’s all thanks to that program.

PW: Do you know what makes me so happy is to see you guys supporting each other, all SCAD graduates out there helping each other and giving opportunities to each other and also, as you said, critiquing each other and just making each other better, but being a great support in the whole profession.

ZP: That was also one of the things we talked about when we came and talked to SCAD freshmen. A huge component to becoming a professional artist are those interpersonal skills, because you can be the most talented person in the world, but if you can’t support other people, if you can’t take feedback, if you can’t communicate, no one’s going to work with you, and so that’s definitely something that I’m still learning and that we all go through every day.

PW: That makes me very proud. What’s been the most challenging character or scene that you’ve created so far?

NE: Animating Baymax was quite a challenge, not just to be able to give feedback, but also for the animators because animators are so used – I mean you get some of the top level talent in that studio that’s so used to all the principles of animation and overlap and squash and stretch and then we’re like, “Take it all out.” 

ZP: Yeah, don’t do anything.

NE: Don’t do any of it, you know, and we coined the term “unimating” for Baymax or that’s really just stripping out all the things that animators are used to putting in, and that was really great because that allowed the audience to project their own emotions onto this blank canvas of sorts. We found that even just a little blink and head tilt was ten times cuter than any extraneous body movement, like unnecessary stuff that really just didn’t plus the scene in any way and really was an exercise in restraint the whole time.

ZP: We’re so used to going all out on the animation and to say like, “I haven’t actually moved him yet.”  We’re like, “You did it. You did it. You nailed it.” For me personally, I had a couple of scenes in Tangled that were a super challenge. I mean Glen Keane was on that show. He’s one of my idols in animation, and John Kahrs was my animation supervisor, and those guys are rock stars. So the bar was set so high on that film and I was new to the studio and I was terrified and I was fortunate enough to get a run of shots where Flynn has a frying pan and he’s knocking out the guards and he’s fighting a horse and…

PW: The horse, the horse was great.

ZP: The challenge was I’d never really animated a quadruped. Let alone a quadruped with a sword in his mouth fighting a guy with a frying pan who’s falling down…

PW: What? You haven’t done that?

ZP: Surprisingly enough, that was my first time, and so that was one where I was really scratching my head going, “I don’t know if I can pull this off.” I was so intimidated, but again that support structure. You know, Disney was super-helpful and I think the scenes turned out okay.

PW: So give us an insider’s perspective on working at the legendary Disney Studios.  What’s it like?

ZP: It’s great.

NE: I mean of course, coming up to the gates on your first day and it’s got the Mickey wrought iron gates and you see the big hat and it’s a very emotional kind of experience, but I feel like it didn’t really hit home until I went to Disneyland of all places…

ZP: Yes.

NE: I was walking around and you see these characters and you see that these films lived on much longer past when they initially came out, and you see this like echo of artistry and talent that was done on this film like years back. Here’s the Beast walking around in the park and it’s like, “This is going to be forever.” I mean you have this in the back of your head where it’s just like, “Wow.” What we’re doing at the Walt Disney Animation Studios is very special and I think…

ZP: I had the exact same experience last winter. We didn’t unfortunately get to work on Frozen because we started on Big Hero 6 so early. But the whole animation department…

PW: A lot of SCAD graduates did.

ZP: There were a lot of SCAD graduates on Frozen for sure.

But the whole animation department, we went to Disneyland and there’s a little girl on a guy’s shoulders and when she was watching “Let It Go,” that’s the Elsa song, she was imitating every move that Elsa did, even her little walk and everything. She’s on her dad’s shoulders and it’s crazy because that was like a firsthand experience of what we do. You know, it’s fun for us, but when you start seeing kids have that emotional response, it’s like, “Oh crap, that was me. I did that.” You know, I had that emotional response and now we’re creating that emotional response and so…

NE: Even crazier when it was your shot. 

ZP: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

NE: Being the animator she’s imitating, too.

ZP: Yeah, exactly.

NE: It makes me feel like I’m back at that desk experimenting with stop motion animation for the first time. Do you know what I mean? I feel like we are always trying to get back to where it’s that initial excitement for what we do. And I feel like the great thing about Disney is that it’s constantly there and you’re constantly re-feeling that because of how – it’s all the inspirational artwork on the walls, you know, they’re constantly doing things to try to keep the energy, the creative energy high.

ZP: And that’s the other thing about just the actual workplace itself is the collaboration; inspiring one another, people are constantly giving talks on things that they’re just interested in. We do sort of like TED Talks. It could be a photography thing, a sculpture thing, anything that is just inspiring as far as an art form is concerned, and we talk about ourselves. Once a month, the animators get together and we talk about how we came to be at Disney and what inspired us as children. It’s a really fun, super-collaborative environment. So it’s the best I’ve ever had for sure.

PW: Yes, and like SCAD, you’re part of something bigger.

ZP: Exactly.

PW: I visited Hong Kong Disney and I saw all these children, just into characters and imitating…

NE: Yes, it goes around the world.

ZP: It’s just amazing.  It’s amazing. Yes, Big Hero 6 opened in Russia already and…

PW: Wow!

ZP: Yes, and it had one of its biggest weekends ever in Russia because it came out two weeks before it came out in the United States, and so it’s just crazy. I start hearing reviews from people who love it all over the world already. It’s a weird experience because it feels like a small community when we’re working on it. It feels like a small team, and then when the world starts seeing - there’s marketing that’s on buses and stuff, it feels like they took the movie and now it’s just running away, but it’s really cool.

NE: Zach and I, on multiple occasions were like, “Does this feel like when we’re working back on Cereal Killers?” Where it felt like we’re in SCAD and for a long time, we’re actually like really in the same office and, you know, we’re passing flash drives back and forth to each other, making sizzle pieces, you know, the proof of concept kind of stuff, very gorilla style animation, and it’s so many times we could look back fondly on those late nights in Montgomery Hall trying to learn animation.