Right now, one storm named Donald has come and gone while the remnants of another named Danny churn offshore. However, for area film buffs, there’s a welcome hurricane due in a month’s time with less bluster and more luster.
That’s when the SoAL Film Festival debuts its seventh incarnation under its new moniker: the Hurricane Film Festival. The annual salute to silver screen exploits with a Southern flavor premieres in scattered venues Sept. 25-27.
“We said from the beginning we were never really stuck on SoAL, but it was the one that really worked and we didn’t have anything better,” festival program director Gideon C. Kennedy said. “Once we started running with it, we just kept using it.”
Natural confusion arose over the years with the University of South Alabama in West Mobile, as if there were an association. A catchy acronym didn’t present itself either. Then a couple of factors finally coincided to prompt change.
“Hailee Kuntz, who was the festival director last year, stepped down. So we’ve had a changing of the guard and wanted to tie in with that,” Kennedy said.
Reorganization was the other component. Originally organized under the auspices of an umbrella organization, the festival wants greater autonomy.
“The Mobile Arts Council has been our fiscal agent all this time. We only wanted to do that temporarily and we’ve been there way too long for that kind of thing,” Kennedy said. “We need to raise funds and get our own nonprofit status, which might also open us up to bigger sponsorships and other grants and stuff like that.”
A replacement for Kuntz hasn’t been found yet. Kennedy has split those duties between himself and Nick Shantazio.
“He and I are both good with the creative end of it but we need someone that’s a little bit more business-minded,” Kennedy said.
Other details are yet to be revealed. Kennedy said he’s still assembling film blocks that normally flesh out to anywhere from eight to a dozen features and an array of shorts, dependent on what they find or is offered for consideration. Kennedy said that list should be revealed in the next weeks.
As far as venues, some of the mainstays will be there, like Alabama Contemporary Arts Center and the Crescent Theater. Other considerations aren’t set but the program director cryptically hinted at surprises, informal settings and pop-up screens.
“In the past we’ve had the films and the filmmakers but we want to make it looser and a little more fun,” Kennedy said. “We want to pair films with other elements.”
And that name. Isn’t it kind of tempting fate, especially considering the event’s occurrence in the midst of tropical storm season?
“We joked about it at first, just for a laugh, but when we thought more, it was a cool name,” Kennedy said.
He pointed out the festival’s official statement and allusion to Southern author Walker Percy’s concept of the storms: “Where the noxious particles of malaise are blown away and we are given purpose.” Festival organizers see the storms as billowing not just refuse and water, but also emotion.
“They may be unsettling, but they exhilarate us, sadden us, heighten our awareness of ourselves, each other and the world around us,” the statement continues. “‘Everyone is focused, connected, engaged.’ Much as we are in the best of cinema.”
While there are other festivals in the region, none are like this. Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival in August, the New Orleans Film Festival in mid-October and even Fairhope’s Film Festival in November all have national and international scope. Appropriately, the Hurricane Film Festival is content to keep its heart at home with attention paid to works that focus on or originate in the South.
“I don’t feel like we’re competing with any of those because we’re not the same thing at all,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said if pricing remains the same, $10 will buy entrance into specific films and a weekend pass will be around $50. Those details will emerge on the festival’s Facebook site as they solidify.
There’s also rumor of a festival soiree building on the meteorological theme. There aren’t many details but suffice to say grilled food and coolers of canned beer would be a focus.
But still, isn’t there more than a touch of hubris in such a name at this time of year? Thinking of it in marketing terms, the program director only sees opportunity.
“We were laughing because it would be great if we had to cancel due to a hurricane,” Kennedy chuckled. “Also we considered as a slogan, ‘Hurricane Film Festival: It’s a disaster.’”
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