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Charlotte Film Festival founder explores new frontiers

Louis Gurgitano has been a busy man.

At roughly this time last year, the founder and executive director of the newly created Charlotte Film Festival had his hands full getting his baby off the ground. Cut to September 2007, and we find Gurgitano as active as ever. Only this time, the stakes have been raised, as he has to prove that the success of the first fest wasn't merely a fluke. To that end, he and his crack team of volunteers have spent a great chunk of the past year sending out calls for entries, selecting titles, acquiring sponsorship, lining up a keynote speaker for the opening night awards ceremony (film critic Godfrey Cheshire), inviting filmmakers and other media personnel to participate in the panel discussions, picking judges to screen the movies, and numerous other duties.

But even with the festival just around the corner -- it starts this Thursday -- Gurgitano took time out from his packed schedule to answer some questions involving the event. And be sure to check out the next page to get his suggestions on the best of the fest.

Creative Loafing: When you launched the first Charlotte Film Festival last year, how certain were you that it would be successful enough to warrant a second one this year?

Louis Gurgitano: I think I must have subconsciously avoided thinking about the true chances of success, initially, so that I might not get discouraged. The question did arise in my mind eventually, though; shortly before the festival, in a sort of momentary panic, "What if nobody comes?" By then, it was too late to turn back, so it wasn't something that I had to contemplate too much. I realize now that my subconscious yardstick from the get-go was how well the festival was received, because the moment I saw the positive reaction of the audience, volunteers and filmmakers who attended, I knew there would be a second year. There was such a warm and generous response and energy, that I didn't have a choice but to continue.

What are the primary differences audiences will notice between last year's event and this current one?

The biggest change this year is that we are screening some films twice. Last year, we got a lot of suggestions about doing second showings from people that had wanted to see a certain movie but were not able to make it to the one and only screening time. This year, people get a second chance right off the bat.

Another difference is we have a number of bigger films. By bigger, I don't mean Hollywood stuff, I mean films with a considerably large production force behind them and a solid track record.

Perhaps the biggest difference people may notice is the alliance Time Warner Cable and the Charlotte Film Festival are trying out. Time Warner is our media sponsor this year and, aside from running the festival's commercial on many of their stations, they are also working on setting up the Charlotte Film Festival On-Demand channel, which will play the films that win the audience award free of charge to their digital cable subscribers.

This could not only make a huge difference to the filmmakers that want the issues on their documentaries exposed to more viewers, it will also be a third chance, if you will, for people to see the best-received films in the festival.

As far as parties are concerned, this year the opening night gala and the awards celebration are both part of the same event on Thursday. Last year, people indicated they wanted to know ahead of time which films had won, so this year there will be no surprises as far as that goes. The award winners are listed in the program and people who come to the Gala & Awards Ceremony will be able to hear them announced for the first time.

How many of this year's submissions came from Carolina filmmakers? And were any from Charlotte moviemakers?

Twenty-six out of 242 entries were from North Carolina, six of those from Charlotte. Out of that, eight were selected to play in the festival, four of those from Charlotte. It's mind-boggling to me that more local filmmakers didn't submit. I read someone's post on a local, online filmmaking forum not too long ago saying that there wasn't any support from local festivals for local filmmakers. That ticked me off a bit. Maybe it was the way I took it, but I felt that these guys are expecting film festivals to search them out. You have the product, you shot the movie, don't you want to make an effort to try and show it? I don't have a problem reaching out to you if I hear about your movie, but a lot of filmmakers make their movie and then consider their job done. My way of looking at it is, when you're done cutting the movie, your job's just began.

What are your plans for the future of the festival?

Right now, my plan is to keep her steady. I like where we're going. I feel that we started with a good vision and don't feel any need to change it just yet. Our focus is to continue bringing films with important subjects to Charlotte. Sure, we'll bring some light bites also to balance things out, but our commitment is to bring to our community an event with a greater purpose. One that is about awareness, introspection and realization all mixed in with a big gulp of fun. Our slogan this year is "Get Your Mind Reeling!" and that's what we're all about.

The 2007 Charlotte Film Festival will be held this Thursday, September 6, through Sunday, September 9, at various downtown locations. Individual ticket prices vary, and ticket packages are also available. A comprehensive program guide is available for downloading at the festival website at www.charlottefilmfestival.org.

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