Lights, camera, artistry: Kicking off the 18th annual Nevada City Film Festival | TheUnion.com

Lights, camera, artistry: Kicking off the 18th annual Nevada City Film Festival

Katrina Paz
Special to Prospector

Most film festivals bring red carpets and celebrities, but the Nevada City Film Festival puts the spotlight on the art of storytelling.

The weeklong festival returns to the Sierra tiny tinsel town Friday with more 80 films handpicked for their artistry and audience appeal.

With more than 500 submissions, festival organizers must pare down the lot significantly. After reviewing films submitted directly to the festival, they look at approximately 100 other films from other festivals, distributors, film schools and those they hear about through industry word of mouth.

"We look at them first and foremost for excellence in storytelling. That's always been our major priority," Jesse Locks, the festival director said.

She also keeps in mind who their audience is, knowing what plays well in Nevada City and Grass Valley won't necessarily be as well received in Los Angeles and New York, and vice versa.

Locks, who's been with the festival for 12 years, is guided by the idea that film is art that brings people together — allowing them to talk about issues they may not be able to talk about; the idea that it's art somehow makes it easier.

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She adds that realistically, all the stories have been told and retold before. It's how you tell them that make them different.

Film brings the community together

Locks says films that connect with their audience are an important part of their programming. The festival schedule offers an eclectic and wide array of films, selected to appeal to local filmgoers — from children's animated shorts and local angles to documentaries and full-length features with household names.

Some may be drawn to "The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then Bigfoot" starring Sam Elliot or "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" with Chloë Grace Moretz.

"Phantoms of the Holbrook" was written and narrated by local Grass Valley actor and ghost tour guide Mark Lyon. It showed in the spring at the Sacramento International Festival.

There's never a specific theme to the festival, but usually a few inevitably show up.

The short films each have a theme that arose organically. Short program themes include "Choices," "Encounters" and "Journeys."

The children's short program is titled "Dig Deep, Fly High." Locks says that they try to find a centerpiece for programs, praising executive director Jeff Clark for doing an amazing job of sequencing the films so that there's a crescendo in the middle, a break, then finishing with a beautiful feeling at the end.

"If there's a theme that's there, it's a natural theme of films we liked," Locks said.

The festival also commissioned a trailer for the event. The nostalgia-laden soul stirring spot by Robert Bryant features a handful of kids trekking through Nevada City creating their own outdoor theatre. The tagline acknowledges the festival's 18th "birthday" with "We're all grown up. But we haven't lost our sense of wonder."

Social awareness

While the festival has always featured serious subject matter, this year there does tend to be a lot of coming of age stories and films about being aware of social responsibilities.

"So I think looking at that as a theme, maybe subliminally it worked its way into the program," Locks said. "You want it to be timely, but you also want it to be timeless."

One unintentional happenstance, or trend, is the number of women filmmakers who are featured. While they strive to make it a 50-50 balance, organizers were surprised that nearly 80 percent of the films they selected are directed by women. And many of those films are co-directed (by two-women). Films have historically been helmed by one individual, but the industry is seeing more directing duos.

Festivalgoers will have the opportunity to meet many of the filmmakers at post-screening Q&As. The gatherings allow film lovers to learn more about what went into the making of the film and what was the inspiration. Questions generally center on what it's like to be a filmmaker, but it also gives those filmmakers the opportunity to hear from their audience and learn how to better connect with them.

The festival culminates with Best of the Fest at Pioneer Park Friday, Sept. 14. The week's award-winning films (judged by a handful of industry and local film buffs and critics) will be shown, along with the audience favorite. The evening will round out with a selection of the festival organizers favorite films.

"It's a really good taste of what the festival is about," Locks said.

Katrina Paz is a freelance writer for Prospector and is a resident of Grass Valley.