It started with just a few local filmmakers sharing their work at the Magic Theatre, a small art house cinema tucked away in the Seven Hills District of Nevada City.
Thirteen years later, the Nevada City Film Festival has grown to a well-respected, international film festival that will dominate the downtown Nevada City scene next week.
More than 100 films from all over the world will be screened during the four-day festival, which runs from Sept. 5 through Sept. 8. Additionally, many of the actual filmmakers will participate in question-and-answer sessions, providing educational and networking opportunities that are not available at larger film festivals.
This year, most of the films will be screened at the Miners Foundry Cultural Center in the Stone Hall and the Osborn & Woods Hall. However, the Young Filmmakers Music and Film Project will be shown Sept. 7 at The Haven Underground at 226 Broad St., and the Best of the Fest After Party will be hosted Sept. 8 in the parking lot of the ol’ Republic Brewery at 124 Argall Way.
While certainly not as renowned as major film fests like Sundance or South by Southwest (aka SXSW), NCFF holds to the same high standards for the best in independent filmmaking, according to festival organizers.
“It’s one of the highest quality festivals of its size,” asserted Jeff Clark, executive director of the nonprofit Magic Lantern Film Society behind NCFF. “We cherry-pick films worldwide.”
“We go from fighting for the best award-winning films to finding undiscovered gems,” agreed Jesse Locks, festival director.
Clark, Locks, assistant festival director Zoe Laffatelti and programming assistant Kelly Foley reviewed more than 400 films to select this year’s lineup.
Although the festival hasn’t traditionally attracted a strong local following, “People come from far and wide to this magical little town,” said Rich Good, creative director of NCFF.
That’s why Good chose the catchphrase, “It’s pretty out there,” as the theme for this year’s gathering. It’s a double entendre, meaning that people come here not only for the eclectic, aesthetic and esoteric “out there” nature of the films presented but also because of the natural beauty and charm of a community that is geographically “out there.”
“The star of the NCFF is actually Nevada City,” Good asserted.
Digital is the new ‘film’
Ironically, “Film is for museums,” Clark stated. It’s all digital now, he explained.
Even the classic film “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” — which opens the four-day festival Sept. 5 — will be projected via Blu-ray disc, said Zach Haller, technical director of the festival.
Technically, most of the “films” at the NCFF were never films in the first place. Ubiquitous and low-cost digital video technology is making the medium of film obsolete, but ironically, it is enhancing the art of “filmmaking” itself.
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” will probably be the only film at the festival that most people will have ever heard of – or might ever have a chance to see locally.
In a series of well-defined programs, NCFF presents short-form comedies, dramas, documentaries, music videos and animations, complemented by about 10 feature films and stimulating Q&A sessions with filmmakers.
A complete printed program guide is free and widely available throughout the county. Additionally, the guide and more information are available online at www.nevadacityfilmfestival.com.
Thinking globally, acting locally
Although NCFF has expanded its reach worldwide, it is also dedicated to supporting the best of local filmmaking.
Nevada City native Laffatelti, a recent graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz Film+Digital Media School, curated the Young Filmmakers Music and Film Project program at the Haven Underground.
She said three music videos by local filmmakers featuring local musicians will be highlight the Saturday night program of extraordinary music videos from around the world.
Part of keeping it local is keeping it affordable, noted Locks.
“If you’re a local, it’s a no-brainer,” said Locks.
A four-day pass is only $99 ($89 for Magic Lantern members) and includes admission to all screenings, special events and reserved seating. Admission to individual programs is $9 for general admission and $7 for students and seniors.
Festival = fun
“What I always want to convey is how much fun it is to come to the festival,” Clark emphasized.
This includes two stand-up comedy shows Friday and Saturday night.
And this year, the festival is, literally, lighting up the town with “projection mapping” of flying saucers flashing downtown.
In keeping with Good’s idea that NCFF is so “out there” that even extraterrestrials would want to attend, motion graphics animator/director Romero Alves created a free light show for Friday and Saturday nights. It will depict “a spaceship movie drive-in theater” that will be projected from the balcony of the National Hotel onto storefronts on Broad Street.
“It’s going to be a blast!” Locks promised.
Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada City. He can be contacted at email@example.com.