Now in its third year, the Way Down Film Festival that will take place Friday through Sunday this week looks to take the major Hollywood-style event to the next level.
The festival, which is being held at the historic Springer Opera House, is preparing to serve up more than 40 short films from around the globe. The categories include narratives, documentary and experimental, with cash prizes available for the best of the best.
A special treat for those attending will be appearances by celebrities and crew from the popular shows “Ozark,” “The Walking Dead,” “Stranger Things,” “Bloodline,” “24,” Sharp Objects” and “Halt and Catch Fire.”
Peter Bowden, president and chief executive officer of Visit Columbus GA, the city’s visitor and tourism bureau, said this is the third year his organization has sponsored the festival and it is part of the strategy of creating awareness of the city as a film destination. The bureau’s Film Office has worked several years with directors and producers who are considering Columbus as a place to shoot a movie, TV show or commercial.
“Back in the very beginning, when we were organizing ourselves, we knew a film festival would be one of those aspects that would help create that branding for film,” Bowden said. “And then when Stacy (Cunningham) and Jacy (Jenkins) and Cora (King) launched Way Down Film Festival, and it took that off our bucket list … They’ve taken it way above what we had envisioned this thing to be.”
Previously held over two days, a third day has been added for the 2018 edition of the Way Down Film Festival. It will include a brunch and what is being called a “best of” screening. There also will be an invitation-only screening of a film titled, “Things Don’t Stay Fixed,” which is from Columbus-based artist Bo Bartlett.
That’s all on top of a weekend of curated screenings, thematic parties, networking opportunities, live music, artists and art exhibitions, and moderated question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers.
Bowden said Visit Columbus GA has been marketing Way Down Film Festival to metro areas within a short drive of Columbus to help drive attendance higher this year, with hopes that more people might stay overnight in hotels, thus generating economic impact. The cities targeted in the marketing effort are Atlanta, Albany and Macon in Georgia, Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Dothan in Alabama, and Tallahassee, Fla.
“The first year we had the festival I went around and checked license plates during the Saturday when most of the films were being shown and we had a good many folks from outside Muscogee County, from the north, such as Peachtree City and Atlanta,” he said. “It was very apparent that this was getting the kind of recognition that we had hoped it would. So that’s why we have continued, as part of the film initiative, to support it.”
As to the quality of what will be shown this week at the Springer Opera House, Bowden said there’s nothing amateur about the short films that will be on the screen. The variety includes romance, comedy, thrillers and the type of topics that will make someone scratch their head and wonder about the message and how it applies to them.
“It really is a good mixture of films,” he said. “The first year, they showed a film that was really, really so strong that I found it online and showed it to my staff during a meeting. It kind of made you think about life, that we think our own lives are complicated and what not. But (filmmakers will) tell a story and make it really strike home. I think it’s a really good entertainment value.”
Tickets to the festival may be purchased at www.waydownfilmfest.com. There will be two-day passes for $75 per person, with military personnel and first responders receiving 50 percent off. There also are VIP passes for $100, and a “Sunday Afterglow” event that costs $25.
The stated mission of the Way Down Film Festival is to “create a community of individuals who appreciate cinema and gather on a regular basis to watch and discuss the kinds of films that rarely screen in Columbus, Georgia.”