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Nevada City Film Festival named third best film festival in the US

Hollie Grimaldi Flores
Special to Prospector

What was originally formed to showcase films made by local filmmakers has been recently recognized in the top three best film festivals in the United States. The Nevada City Film Festival was formed in 2001, when a young filmmaker named Jason Graham and a few of his friends (also filmmakers) decided it might be fun to put on a festival featuring independent films. As they all worked at the then Magic Theatre in Nevada City, they used the venue to showcase original works.

“They were already making their own short films and were working in a movie theatre,” Executive and Festival Director Jesse Locks said. “It seemed a pretty natural fit to start showing their movies there.”

As one year turned to the next, more and more people came to see the films, quickly selling out the small, sixty-five seat theater. Before long, the friends decided to open the festival up to other filmmakers and added more venues, which made the move from a film festival for and by filmmakers to the highly regarded international film festival it is today.

In 2007 Locks joined the team and the scope of the festival expanded. “We opened up submissions internationally and that was when things made a huge leap,” Locks said. “We got real sponsorships from ‘real sponsors’ and it just catapulted us into a whole other game.” They quickly expanded into additional venues including the Nevada Theatre and the Miners Foundry, and the festival began to take shape.

“Nevada City, Grass Valley, Nevada County — they love their community, so when it got turned over to the public I wasn’t surprised by the voting.”— Jesse LocksExecutive and Festival Director

Through the years, the Nevada City Film Festival has caught the attention of national and international filmmakers and other key industry personnel, though Locks said she was completely surprised when contacted by USA Today who said the festival was nominated to be included in a top 20 online contest to determine the best film festivals in the country.

Well known festivals like Sundance and South by Southwest were on the list, but Locks said once they were in the top ten, their marketing arm kicked in.

“Once we made it to that level, we contacted everyone we knew and started an online campaign to get folks to vote for us. Nevada City, Grass Valley, Nevada County — they love their community, so when it got turned over to the public I wasn’t surprised by the voting.”

The Nevada City Film Festival placed third, finishing behind Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Santa Barbara – two much larger communities. Locks said everyone behind the festival is grateful.

“I know how much people love our community and any way that we can always show our best or put our best foot forward, we always rally around that. So, we are so grateful to everybody who voted.”

The notoriety has already resulted in an increase interest around the festival, not only in submissions but inquires to attend the festival scheduled to take place Aug. 28 to Sept. 4.

Locks has been festival director since 2009 and recently added the title executive director to her repertoire. She said she now wears two hats, which helps keep the organization active year- round to focus on other aspects of their mission, including more funding and programming opportunities.

“This last year we received a grant from the California Arts Council with the Nevada County Arts Council and the Niesenan to assist the Niesenan to produce a film written, directed and produced by the Niesenan to tell their story. So, we are just there to help facilitate, mentor and to provide the tools to create this.” She said the idea is that at the end of the process they will have a film they can show, but they will also have the entire camera, lighting and sound package needed to continue their own media as well as skills they can apply in their personal and work lives to help elevate the cause.

The Nevada City Film Festival has been working on plans to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Locks said the festival will definitely go on this year, be it via remote viewing parties or, hopefully, in the traditional manner of showing programs in public venues. “We were planning all kinds of big events with special guests and in the last week we have had to pivot to looking at an online festival where we can still have the festival and if we are allowed to gather then we can have the physical film festival, but we will, for sure, have the 20th anniversary film festival. We are still taking submissions and are looking at online platforms so people could stay at home and stream the films, creating streaming parties, depending on where we are in the world, possibly gathering in smaller groups.” Locks said the festival team is getting creative in developing means to still reach an audience and an online format will increase the potential reach of the festival.

“We are a global community. It is very, very important for us to bring international independent stories to our community and oftentimes they are stories and films that don’t make it into the theaters because they aren’t huge blockbusters with famous people. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are any less important or entertaining,“ Locks said.

Locks added the festival is committed to having 50% of their films directed, produced, written by or starring women. At least 50% of the films come from another country or have film crew from another country. And they strive to show diversity in the selected films.

Locks said that is not new but has been a part of their commitment for at least the last decade. She continued, “We are always being told our audience is really open and very supportive and taking a cue from that, we try and continue to push the envelope and show what is happening in other countries.”

Submissions come from all over the world, but the local aspect of the festival is still important. Locks said it largely depends on the submissions received.

“Local filmmakers do get a fee waiver so if you are in Nevada, Placer, Yuba, El Dorado — basically any of the neighboring counties _ if you contact us you can get a waiver code and submit for free.”

Locks concluded that being named as a top festival is an honor and a benefit to the entire community, “This is a win for everyone — the film festival, our community, the filmmakers we showcase, and especially for the audiences that love and support independent film, new voices and unique stories! We all had an important role in receiving this national recognition.”

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at holliesallwrite@gmail.com.

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