Naples has succeeded in
attracting an audience as
both a destination and
the Naples Film Festival
as a hotspot for great
independent films.

The Naples International Film
Festival opens October 27
with a film screening and
party at Artis–Naples.

The Naples International
Film Festival will feature
two ‘cause’ films, one
about a school rethinking
the education experience
with an unorthodox approach
to learning, and another
following three members of
a competitive wheelchair
basketball team.

Silverspot Cinema
9118 Strada Place

5833 Pelican Bay Blvd.


Celebrating Independents

by Julie Clay

THE 8TH ANNUAL Naples International Film Festival will take place a week earlier this year than previous years, opening October 27 and closing October 30 with a film screening and party. Once again, the Film Festival promises a slate of noteworthy independent films by up and coming filmmakers, plus panel discussions and occasional celebrity spottings.

Opening night festivities once again happen at Artis–Naples, with an evening complete with red carpet photo ops, film screening and an Oscar-worthy affair in both Hayes Hall and Daniels Pavilion.

Ed Clay, Director of Operation, says, “I think people really love the experience of meeting and mingling with the filmmakers and walking an actual red carpet like they see on TV. The paparazzi and crowd make it truly a magical night that people remember.”

There will be film screenings and panel discussions at Silverspot Cinema, located at Mercato, day and night October 28-30. Silverspot Cinema will also host a closing night film and Wrap Party, October 30.

The Naples International Film Festival Board President Bill Hoffman boasts, "It has been a time of exciting growth and change. We have adopted a new logo, modernized our look and feel, and expanded the Festival into a year-round program including monthly films with discussions.” He adds that the membership program has also been revamped and renamed the NIFF Film Society, complete with new levels of member benefits. “Every membership now includes the opportunity for free tickets to our monthly Film Series of independent and classic films,” he says, adding “NIFF has always put on a great program during the annual Festival weekend, and I believe this one will be our best ever!"

Newly appointed NIFF Festival Director Jon Fitzgerald agrees. He’s excited to see the well-rounded offerings that the festival team has developed for its audience. It was an easy decision to offer him the gig when Executive Director Shannon Franklin announced her resignation last year to start her own film company. Given his extensive experience developing film festivals and as a filmmaker, it’s no surprise that Jon got involved with NIFF as both contributor and consultant in its inaugural year, 2009. That was when his golf film, “The Back Nine” screened. Following the festival, he signed on as consultant. His 2011 entry, “The Highest Pass” won Best Documentary prize. Two years later he collaborated with NIFF board member Jill Wheeler to make a documentary called “Warrior One.” which showed in 2014. Jon was busy on the set of a film when interviewed for this piece.

Taking a moment to talk from Los Angeles, he recalls why he got into festivals in the first place, “I started as a filmmaker and the reason I became a festival director is that my film didn’t make Sundance, so I started Slamdance [in 1995].” Outside of his indie success in Salt Lake City, Fitzgerald has either run and/or helped create festivals all over the world. The list includes the AFI and Hollywood Film Festivals in Los Angeles, as well as festivals in the Bahamas and Abu Dhabi.

Fitzgerald’s presence at NIFF this year has translated into a lineup that embraces acclaimed themed and ‘cause’ films. Look for music-oriented pieces about musicians who have made a difference. “The power of music and the idea of music is a theme that we’re bringing into the festival this year,” notes Fitzgerald, “Another is education.”

Fitzgerald’s company, called Cause Cinema, was formed to create and promote movies that, according to their website, ‘use storytelling to educate, entertain and create change.’ NIFF 2016 will feature a Cause Cinema-produced movie about a school that is rethinking the whole education experience and testing a truly unorthodox approach to learning. Another cause-related film showing at NIFF follows three members of a competitive wheelchair basketball team.

Fitzgerald also brings to the NIFF lineup the hybrid concept of blurring the lines between documentary and feature film, mixing fiction with non-fiction. In one such 2016 entry a group of teens tell their own stories dealing with the struggles of life now and beyond high school graduation. They play themselves in a constructed, fictional universe. In that same vein is a movie about a real-life news anchor who committed suicide on national television. The film showcases not just her story but that of the actress who plays her as she prepares for the role.

Quality independent films are certainly the main draw for successful film festivals, but Fitzgerald knows from experience that going the extra mile really helps to get the word out to filmmakers. He says it also takes, “Hospitality. They’ve [the NIFF team] done really great to do something special for filmmakers, showing them a good time. It’s always good to fill theatres and have Q & A’s, but Naples has gotten well known for both hospitality as well as the quality of films.”

Just about all Festival screenings are sellouts. He explains the audience draw, “There are several different types of film festivals. Typically, you have industry-driven festivals like Cannes. Some are community-based festivals like Toronto, and destination festivals where the scenery is beautiful.” He’s convinced that Naples has succeeded in attracting an audience as both a destination and the NIFF as a hotspot for great independent films.

“You need to bring the kinds of films to a community that they want to see,” he adds. “I’m going to continue to build on that success.”

For information about the 8th Naples International Film Festival, call 775-3456. •

September-October 2016