Lights, camera, Annapolis! At the end of March, the Annapolis Film Festival (AFF) will be celebrating its eighth year on the scene. In 2020, the perfect time to use our hindsight to push ahead, AFF is hosting this weekend with the theme “Focus Forward.” The hope is to assemble a moving puzzle of films that help tell the collective and diverse story of our recent tumultuous years, locally and globally, while looking towards the future with hope. Founders of the event, Lee Anderson and Patti White, believe that film and more specifically the art of story-telling can be part of the solution, this year they hope to demonstrate that.
Woven through the streets of the historic district, the festival began in 2012. Anderson and White started with a mission to bring the magic and the community of the film world to Annapolis. In its inaugural year the event attracted around 2,500 people, it can know humbly boast over 10,000 attendees. This growth has not been met without challenges. White, while reflecting on how the industry has changed throughout the years, “We’re growing: evolving with the culture, evolving with the film festival.”
When I sat down with Anderson and White, the biggest change in the film festival industry that they identified was the advent of Video on Demand. The experience of consuming film has changed. It’s fast-paced, private, and at your fingertips at any given moment. Getting people out for a film festival in these conditions can be difficult, but that is why they have chosen to focus on the other side of the technology coin.
With technology pervading nearly aspect of our lives, Lee recognizes that there is an element of connection lacking in our daily lives. “People are looking for a reason to come together, even though we’re more connected than ever…we’re separately connecting…but here you have no choice but to be immersed in that dark room, let the sound wash over you, sit next to somebody, and have a real experience. People are still hungry for that. And that’s why festivals will continue.” And so, one of their biggest strategies is reminding people that cultivating that experience in community is the focus of this festival.
Connecting with other movie lovers is not the only kind of connecting you’ll be doing. While most festivals have a large marketing aspect, AFF is proud to be mostly a networking festival. During the weekend they offer many unique and invaluable opportunities for people to hear stories, get insider information, and discuss professional aspects of the industry. These opportunities take place formally during the festival’s coffee talks and panels.
Coffee talks, held from 9-10 AM all weekend, feature surprise guests who present on their niche in the community and sit for a Q&A session. From Oscar winners, producers, members of the film crews, these intimate tell-all sessions are “like inside baseball for the film industry.” The festival also hosts a handful of panels. This year they will be held at City Hall and consist of a panel discussion from experts in certain aspects of the industry, round table discussions of producers and directors, and specialty panels such as one highlighting the journey of women storytellers.
While I was not able to get any specific titles for movies to expect, you can look forward to hearing about them over the next month or so as the festival takes shape. Movie deals are pending, guest confirmations are rolling in, and there is still time to support this year’s efforts. On Feb 11th, there is going to be the launch of the Annapolis Film Society, which will continue to be at work even when it’s not festival season. You can apply to be on the volunteer team, which now consists of a couple of hundred people, or you can donate to this nonprofit here. Additionally, you can submit your film shorts or proposals for the shorts competition online. If you would like to attend you can purchase the passes on AFF’s website, students receive a discounted rate.
Whether you are a film expert or a complete novice to the whole world, the Annapolis Film Festival is the perfect place to indulge your interests. Feel at home, engage in one-of-a-kind discussions with professionals, and let these stories help you Focus Forward and fill your life with hope