Today is second day of The Indie Grits Festival’s competition program. The festival, which opened with a screening of “We Cause Scenes” and a Main Street block party last Friday, runs through Sunday.
In its seventh year, the festival presented by Nickelodeon Theatre has expanded beyond film to include food, theater art and music. Love, Peace and Hip Hop: Columbia Hip Hop Family Day, the festival held last Saturday on Main Street, undoubtedly introduced Indie Grits brand to a new demographic.
In January, Andy Smith, the Nick’s executive director, sat on a panel about race and cinema at Art House Convergence, the annual conference of independent art house theaters. It’s already difficult to have success in the independent film world because theaters are dependent on distributors for content. Now consider if distributors ignored certain films.
“Film distributors aren’t very supportive of black filmmakers,” Smith said.
Ava DuVernay, who in 2012 became the first black woman to win the best director award at the Sundance Film Festival, was on the panel at the conference in Utah. Her film, “Middle of Nowhere,” screened at the Nick earlier this year. DuVernay is the founder of a boutique distribution company that supports independent black filmmakers.
There’s a ripe market for growth — in viewers and filmmakers — in Columbia, and that is a goal the Nick in seeking to achieve, in part, through the work of Sherard Duvall, the theater’s new media education director.
"We’re going to be working a lot with African-American males and some of the underserved communities here,” Smith said. “We see the Nickelodeon making a long term investment, from education to exhibition. Because we have those tools, and then we’ve got the skills of Sherard as somebody who is going to be able to pull that off."
Smith talked to The State about the festival and future plans. The following has been edited for space and clarity.
I think there might be. It wasn’t intentional. Although last year was our first year of offering an award specifically to animation, and I think that helps draw in more filmmakers who are trying to decide whether or not to submit their animated films. I just think we had stronger animated entries than we’ve had in several years.
It’s still not as high as I would like it to be. I think we were right at about 200 entries this year. That’s only part of where we get our films from. So we get the submissions. We look at programs from other festivals like Slamdance. The Strange Beauty Film Festival up in Durham is a really great festival. That relationship sort of goes both ways. And Florida Experimental Film (and Video) Festival usually has great stuff. What I love seeing, and what we had a lot of this year, again, is returning filmmakers. Although there’s nothing harder than having a filmmaker who’s been in before whose film doesn’t make the cut because you feel like they’re part of the family.
His piece is going to be incredible. He’s re-cut a film print of “Frankenstein” that he’s performing live music to. He’s asked if we can provide a guitar amp and a fog machine. I can’t wait to see that. Georg is who we call the Cal Ripken of Indie Grits because he’s got a continued streak going.
The Ford Foundation stepped up this summer with a grant that not only helped us purchase the projection equipment we needed for the new building but also gave us some seed funding for that position. We did a national search for that position and got applications from all over the world. But it really clicked with us that Sherard was the right person for the job. He has such a great history, both just within the community here, but also in the film scene and the arts scene. He brought this great combination of skills to us. And he’s spent the last few months planning these programs that are going to be rolling out very soon. As successful as Indie Grits and as successful as the Nickelodeon has been over the last few years, our racial demographics are not where they should be. And arguably they aren’t for really any arts organization in the city. Not that that rests solely on Sherard’s shoulders, but together we have a focus on how can we better serve that 47-48 percent of Columbia that’s not effectively being reached by many organizations in the city. The public persona that he already had, the fact that we’re able to integrate that into the Nickelodeon brand and mission is really exciting.
Once the Nick relocated into the heart of downtown, we felt strongly of being a proponent of all the redevelopment efforts that are happening down here. So it just made sense to be really concentrated as much as possible on Main Street. We’re excited for the first time to have a filmmaker lounge. So throughout the festival, the Fountain Room at Tapp’s is going to be the home base for filmmakers. Whole Foods is supporting a happy hour for filmmakers every afternoon, so they get little munchies and drinks. The convenience of Tapp’s being our second venue right there for the festivalgoers is just so simple. The street party, we thought, was just a really logical way to celebrate what’s going on. The 1600 block, as exciting as it has been, it’s about to get more exciting.
Last year we realized that there were a batch of films that we knew we wanted to show because we felt like they had a special relevance to the community in some way, but that maybe we didn’t see as fitting into the competition program but we still wanted to show them. Again, thinking about the community outreach of the festival. A big part of this is fostering the development of film culture in the community.