The Way Down Film Festival is set to make history in Columbus this weekend.
The new film festival will begin Friday and will host some of the top names in the film industry.
Co-founder Jacy Jenkins recently sat down with Sunday Arts reporter Carrie Beth Wallace to discuss the upcoming festival, what patrons can expect to see, and why Jenkins and the founders believe the Way Down Film Festival is the next step to embedding Columbus on the map as a Southern cultural destination for good.
Here are excerpts of that interview, edited for length and clarity.
Q: Way Down Film Festival is happening at the Springer Opera House. Are there any other locations?
A: The film festival is happening at the Springer, but we also have two after parties at separate locations. We will have a VIP champagne and cocktail themed reception that Jamie Keating from Epic will be catering. Epic is a top 40 restaurant in the country, and Jamie will be putting all of his creative touches on the event. It will be on the Veranda at the Springer. They don’t have a lot of events out there, but we are just wanting to really kick off the festival with class. That event will be Friday at 5:30 p.m. We will hang out for a while and then at 7 p.m. we will have our first block of screenings. There will be six, 90-minute blocks of screenings throughout the weekend.
Q: What types of films are being shown at Way Down?
A: All of the films are short films. A short film is one that has a length from 1 to 40 minutes long. We will have the Oscar-winning short film playing at our first screening. It is called “Stutterer” and we will actually have a cocktail at the VIP reception named after it. There is another incredible comedy we have that has won all kind of awards. It’s called “Roller Coaster.” It will be seen at the initial 7 p.m. screening, and we will have a drink named after it as well. “Roller Coaster” and “Stutterer” will both be craft cocktails made specifically for us by Jamie Keating for that night.
Q: What will happen after the screenings?
A: We will have a Q&A after every screening with the filmmakers. Not all of the filmmakers can be there, but there will be several who can. We will have them on the stage with our moderator, Scott Phillips, who has been part of the screening committees so he really knows the films and will kind of keep that dialogue going.
Q: What are the other screenings? Are they themed at all?
A: The second screening will take place at 9 p.m. and it will be more of an adult-themed with an almost Halloween feel. That is our most mature screening. Then, we will have a Q&A afterward on the stage for that as well. Then we will go to Meritage for an after party. They have a whole specialty menu that will be themed for movies. You will be able to order food and drinks. We will probably wrap that up around midnight.
Then, again at 9 a.m., we have Iron Bank coming in to completely transform the Saloon where we will host our Filmmaker Coffee Hour. I can’t confirm who we have yet, but it’s somebody that is very connected in the industry. That is really where our network hub will be. You’ll have to have the VIP or Festival Pass to get in to that event, so it’s not just a free for all like usual. We did this because we do want people to have that opportunity to gel and give them that value for the VIP and Festival Pass. That’s where a lot of the networking will take place.
After the coffee hour, at 10:15 a.m. we will have a special family-friendly screening that morning. We have a school that we are sponsoring called Wesley Heights Elementary. They are tied to one of the films that is being screened. We are really looking to fill that screening up with kids from the area who couldn’t afford it, and we are sponsoring them. But also just to have a screening for all of the kids in our area. Not all of the screenings are kid-friendly, but that one is. We suggested ages 10 and up, because we thought the younger ones might get bored. It is appropriate for all ages though. We’ll have a Q&A after that one and then we will break for lunch.
The next two screenings are curated by the ebb and flow of our submissions. They will be the afternoon screenings and Q&A’s at 1 and 3:15 p.m. Then, our last screening at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday is curated especially for Columbus filmmakers.
Q: How many filmmakers are involved in total?
A: I don’t have the final number yet, but I can tell you that we will at least have 20. There will probably be more than that, but I know it’s at least that many. At this point, we still have people confirming reservations.
Q: What will happen after the last screening?
A: We will have the awards ceremony at The Loft. We have seven categories. Best Overall will win $2,500 and then six subcategories will win $250. We will have clips of the winners and you know, the whole kind of Oscar deal. That will all take place in the main room of The Loft. We are going to transform the room for the awards ceremony and then have the after party with a band called The Shelby Brothers.
Q: Why did you decide to only include short films?
A: Part of the reason we wanted to do short films was because we are trying to cultivate the film community here. This is a big step in bringing the film industry here. There is a $7 billion film industry in Georgia and we are really trying to get our foot in the door of bringing that economy and that whole industry into Columbus.
The Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau is part of a camera-ready initiative, and a one of the criteria is to have a film festival. It’s essential to have events like this so that people can network and have a chance to get in the same room and chat and have a drink together. So that people can see that film is supported here. People want to come into communities where they know their work is supported.
We also wanted to include short films because it meant that we could show more of them. We are able to show 40 from all over the world.
We are also making it more conducive for budding filmmakers. It’s not as intimidating to make a short film as it is a full-feature film of 90 minutes. We have some films that are 2 minutes long. We have some students that have submitted as well as some people from the area that got together and shot specifically for our film festival.
Q: What changes in Columbus are you seeing as the festival approaches?
A: Just in the process of us doing this we have already started in cultivating this scene. There is now a film podcast that the guy that designed our logo developed. We’ve been encouraging him and supporting him. Scott Phillips has started a film society group that meets once a month as well. Then, with the CSU Georgia Film Academy already starting at the Springer, we just felt like this was all perfect timing. We just felt like 2016 is the year that Columbus truly becomes that film-ready city, and this is a huge key component to that process.
Q: Who are the co-founders of Way Down Film Festival?
A: My co-founders are Cora King and Stacy Cunningham. Stacy Cunninham is a filmmaker and she came to Columbus to make a film. So she got together with us and felt like we were connected in the community and could pull this off. We decided in the end of January that we would found Way Down Film Festival this year. It’s been amazing to see how the community has stepped up. The Community Foundation, the Mayor’s Office, the CVB, and the Chamber of Commerce have been very supportive. Columbus Bank and Trust and Synnovus are sponsoring us. We’ve gotten a lot of other sponsors as well. It is quite humbling to have so much support in our first year, but to put on a high-profile film festival it does take funds.
Q: Who are the jurors for the contest?
A: We have four jurors who are very connected in the industry. So just alone to be able to bring in those people has been great. Susan Traylor is probably our biggest star. She was in “A River Runs Through It” and is an actress flying in from Los Angeles. Another one is Justin Price, who is working on a TV series with Kevin Hart. He has done movies all over the world. Actually, Justin Price is a testament to budding filmmakers because he is from south Georgia. He worked his way to the top. Bo Bartlett is another juror. Richard Lanni is the founder of Fun Academy Motion Picture Studios, which is huge because he is the only distributor in Georgia. He is also based in Europe, but the fact that we have his business here is something we need to appreciate and celebrate.
Q: What is the overall aim of Way Down Film Festival?
A: What we are wanting to do is celebrate film. It’s a party. It’s a networking party, and this is something that has never been done here before. We are navigating through — as anybody does their first year — all of the ins and outs of doing something like this. We are also figuring out how this looks for our community. One thing that is really important that we want to do is highlight Columbus. If you look at our logo, you’ll see that we chose to make it Georgia because there is that $7 billion film industry in Georgia, but where is Columbus on that? So we did a little nod to Columbus by adding the star to our location.
We realize that it can be kind of an ambiguous idea and people may be like, “What is a film festival?” Come find out. We will take care of you. It’s not going to be pretentious. It’s not going to be exclusive. That’s not what this film industry in Columbus, Georgia, is about. It’s about inclusivity. It’s about welcoming. It’s about celebrating.
If you go
What: Way Down Film Festival
When: Oct. 21-22
Where: Springer Opera House, 10310th St.
Family: All of her tribe is here in Columbus
Formal Education: Bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia in psychology and sociology
Occupation: Director of Tourism for Russell County and Phenix City, Founder of Electric City Life and Monthly Meeting of the Minds, Co-Founder of Way Down Film Festival