Roll out the red carpet: there’s a new film festival in town. Founded by industry guru Samone Norsworthy, Big River Film Festival shines the spotlight on Savannah as a filmmaker’s haven and showcases the best in fresh, independent film from around the world.
A Savannah native, founder Norsworthy returned to her hometown after years away to kickstart the festival. The event is four years in the making.
“I fell into the film industry ten years ago when I lived in New York,” she explains. “Then I moved back to L.A. for about four or five years; I’m a producer and director.”
Norsworthy is responsible for producing such films as A Promise (2014), The Percipient (2012), and What Are You? (2016).
“When I moved back from L.A. four years ago, there wasn’t very much going on. I wanted more films to come to Savannah and to continue working in film.”
Big River Film Festival debuts as Savannah’s only international competitive film festival.
“We’re bringing in 40 countries and they’re competing,” explains Norsworthy. “While I love [Savannah Film Festival, Grey’s Reef, etc.], they are amazing and great for our city, I’m looking a little broader. It’s not just a competition, and not just a film festival.”
120 films were selected by two separate committees.
“The selection committees received simple instructions,” Norsworthy explains. “High quality, independent film projects; that’s essentially what it is, and what a great eclectic mix! It’s like walking into an art gallery and seeing 140 different artists and getting to experience what we have. It’s a very eclectic mix of film: animation, pretty much every genre, drama, comedy, horror, romance, all of those sci-fi—we have a little bit of everything.”
The stellar lineup includes the premiere of Hell Or High Water starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Gil Birmingham. A tale of vengeance and brotherhood, the fil oozes Old West thrills and New West edge.
Savannahians may remember Crackerjack, a screwball comedy produced by Jeff Foxworthy being filmed here in 2011; its screening will showcase the great opportunities for filmmakers here in Savannah.
Storm Soldiers II introduces audiences to the world of utility linemen and the dangers and challenges of their job.
Norsworthy’s own short, My Brother’s Keeper, will premiere at the festival. A story of a forbidden friendship set in the time of American slavery, the debut makes Big River doubly rewarding for her.
“It’s premiering on Saturday evening,” Norsworthy shares with great excitement.
Norsworthy is looking forward to seeing many of the selected films—Almost Paris, directed by Martin Scorsese’s daughter, Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, is a must-see for her. A Tribeca Film Festival official selection, the film follows a former banker as he returns to his hometown during the mortgage-lending crisis.
“It’s so hard for me to say which is the best,” Norsworthy says. “All of them are! But what I think the audience will really latch onto are the shorts. You can see those in quick, one-hour blocks. That makes it fun.”
In addition to screenings, the festival is packed with director talks, coffee chats, and master classes. It’s a great learning and networking experience for local film folks, and particularly for students.
“We are an educational nonprofit,” Norsworthy explains. “Our purpose is to provide educational opportunities to the community and to every attendee. All the filmmakers who are coming want to learn more about the industry. We have a young filmmaker competition from seventh grade to high school students. We’re creating a pipeline of students for the industry.”
Older students will benefit from workshops that focus on marketing and other skill sets.
“There are several facets: acting classes, an interesting class on intellectual property and selling yourself, making money off your product,” says Norsworthy. “We’re touching on every major facet of how to brand and market your film and sell it. A lot of filmmakers make a product and don’t know what to do with it. You have to sell it, and we’ll show you how to do that.”
Audiences are looking forward to Saturday evening, during which the competition winners will be announced.
“That’s going to be the funnest thing,” says Norsworthy. “They want to know who wins! We’ll have a concert by Kick The Robot, a Georgia independent band, and right after that is the awards ceremony. For people who would want to see what all this is about, that will be fun.”
Norsworthy looks forward to growing the festival and bringing industry leaders to her beloved hometown.
“I want more films to come to Savannah,” she affirms. “I want people to continue working in film here, for people to utilize the beauty we have here. It’s practical: you don’t have to build a city. It’s build for you by nature!”
Big River Film Festival
When: Thursday, July 7 – Saturday, July 9
Where: Savannah Civic Center
VIP all-inclusive pass: $150
Day pass: $50
Two-day pass, July 8-9: $85
Kick the Robot concert and closing ceremonies (Saturday, July 9, 8 p.m.): $40
Individual screening pass: $15 per film
Tickets, schedule and additional information at bigriverfilmfestival.com