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The Annual Charlotte Film Festival: To the four-front 

Capitalism is alive and well — and flourishing at the 4th Annual Charlotte Film Festival.

To be more specific, Michael Moore's eagerly awaited new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, will be screened at this ever-expanding Queen City event ahead of its national release, a real coup for a festival that continually strives to grow in size and stature. Yet Moore's latest documentary is far from the only noteworthy film on tap: Over 65 films will be screened over a seven-day period, ranging from a free showing of the Stanley Kubrick classic Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb to a handful of works by Charlotte filmmakers. There will also be special screenings of the films voted the festival's best in the categories of narrative, documentary and short film. (Disclosure: Charlotte Weekly film critic Sean O'Connell and I served as judges in the narrative category, voting on the three finalists that were submitted to us by a selection committee.)

To insure that film fans will be encouraged to attend the event, festival founder and director Louis Gurgitano recently took a few minutes out of wrapping up the festival preliminaries to answer a few questions.

Creative Loafing: This marks the fourth year this festival has been in existence. Is it becoming more or less challenging to mount with each subsequent year?

Louis Gurgitano: If you had asked me this last year, I would have said that it gets more challenging because it keeps growing and it's turning into a huge beast. However, this year, I can honestly say that we've finally hit a good stride thanks to an awesome team of about 15 dedicated people. When we started, we had no clue what we were doing, but by now, some of us are kind of veterans at this and we can finally lay back a little bit, look at the big picture, know what we need to do and just enjoy the journey.

How many total submissions did you receive?

Actually, this year we received less submissions than usual, but we know that's been the case at most small to mid-size film festivals. Filmmakers have had to tighten their belts, too. Having said that, we received 220 submissions.

Two years ago, you had a guest speaker in film critic Godfrey Cheshire, and last year, you handed a lifetime achievement award to N.C. filmmaker Earl Owensby. Anybody special on tap for this year?

No. We're doing away with that short-lived tradition and honoring filmmakers with additional awards in different categories like Best Screenplay, Best Music, etc. I figured the old guys don't need the pat on the back and the young ones could use the recognition.

Given the recession, did you have a lot of trouble nailing down sponsors for the event?

Yeah, but what's the point in whining about it. The good news is that the Arts & Science Council came through for us ... again, and we are grateful for that. By now, we run such a lean machine that automakers are calling us to see if we'll build them a more fuel-efficient car; we practically run on air, and it doesn't even have to be clean air -- we keep on growing and we know that really soon, sponsors are going to be knocking on our doors instead of ours on theirs.

The big news regarding this year's event is that you managed to book a screening of Michael Moore's latest film, Capitalism: A Love Story, before its theatrical launch. Was that difficult to pull off? And given the controversy constantly surrounding Moore, are you concerned that some patrons might complain about its inclusion?

It wasn't difficult at all. Not when you have Jennifer Bratyanski as your programming director. She took over the role from me this year and she has already done more for the festival in one year than I managed to do in three. She was relentless about getting us good films and I think the lineup shows it.

As for being concerned about controversy, are you kidding? If I was, I wouldn't run a film festival. I thrive on controversy. The more, the better. It shakes people up and makes them think for themselves. That's my number one goal. I'd rather they be mad than numb.

I noticed that the festival will be hosting a free screening of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. Why this film?

We wanted to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Park Terrace with a film that reflected our festival. And what better way to help any new attendees to "discover different" (our slogan) than a classic Kubrick film, which, fortunately, is also celebrating its 45th anniversary!

Out of this year's wide variety, are there any films that you especially enjoyed, and that you want to make sure don't get lost in the crowd?

Bronson is my favorite. It's about England's most violent criminal, and it reminded me a little of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. The performance by the main actor [Tom Hardy] is incredible -- a total transformation. I also enjoyed the regional pick My Sweet Misery and New York Lately. John Schwert, a local filmmaker, also brought in good work with In/Significant Others to prove that we can make movies here in Charlotte.

A documentary that moved me to tears was 9500 Liberty. It's raw, in-your-face filmmaking at its best. I'm sure Michael Moore's Capitalism is going to be a huge hit with our audience, but 9500 Liberty won my heart this year.

The 2009 Charlotte Film Festival will be held Monday, Sept. 21, through Sunday, Sept. 27, at various area locations. Individual prices vary, and ticket packages are also available. For more information, including a complete list of the films to be shown, go to the festival Web site at www.charlottefilmfestival.org.

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