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Annual event returns with more movies in tow

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How many inaugural events bill themselves as "the first annual" what-have-you, only to dry up and blow away before the second gathering takes place 12 months later? Make it to two, and the organizers are doing well. But make it to three, and it's clear that the event has started to take root and might stick around for the long haul.

At least that's what local film aficionados are hoping is taking place with the Charlotte Film Festival. Back for its third go-around, the festival seems in no hurry to vacate the local scene any time soon. To get a feel for how this important festival continues to evolve, we caught up with founder and executive director Louis Gurgitano to answer a few questions.

Creative Loafing: How will this festival be different from the previous ones?

Louis Gurgitano: Well, for starters, this year we have new venues. We've added Wachovia Science Theater at Discovery Place, the Afro-American Cultural Center, and we're doing one show at Park Terrace to test the waters and see if maybe we can partner more significantly with them next year.

Something else new this year is our work-in-progress lab, on which we are partnering with the Southern Documentary Fund. The lab provides audiences with a unique opportunity to watch films in different stages of production and to participate in the critique process. It also gives filmmakers the opportunity to receive feedback from a dedicated gathering of their peers and serious film enthusiasts. This year, director Tom Hansel is bringing to the lab his film The Electricity Fairy, which is currently in post-production.

Another new development is the creation of "The Mecklenburg Connection." Earlier this year, through the Charlotte Film Office, we were connected with the German company FilmLand, which runs, among other things, a film festival in the Mecklenburg region of northern Germany. As a result, we have started a film exchange program where they will bring one of their films to our festival and, next May, we will take one of ours to theirs. We are very excited about this awesome cultural development.

Now that you're more established, did you have any trouble getting sponsors?

It has gotten somewhat easier getting companies to sign checks and say, "Hey, we know what you are doing enriches the community culturally and we want to be behind that." We're still not getting the companies who should be saying that louder than anyone, since they pretty much own the town, but I think eventually they will come around. In a way, we understand, though: It's been a tough year so far for everyone.

Legendary North Carolina producer Earl Owensby is receiving the first lifetime achievement award given by the festival. How was it decided that he would receive this honor, and which of his movies will be screened?

Earl is the man. I had the opportunity to go up to his studios [Earl Owensby Studios] in Shelby to meet him a few weeks ago. Here's a totally self-made man. The dude was in the textile industry; one day, he was inspired to make a movie and never looked back. Now, Earl could have moved to Hollywood and continued his career there, but he chose to stay in North Carolina and do it his way. That we applaud the most and it's the reason for the award.

Another reason we are bringing him to the fest is because I think young filmmakers in the area should come to see his films. You have a lot of kids out there today trying to make their first horror film and make enough money with it to make their second film. Well, Earl did that 30 years ago.

Of particular interest to those horror filmmakers will be one of the Owensby films we'll be screening: Rottweiler, which was first released in 1982 in 3-D. It's about a pack of dogs bred and trained to kill by a secret army lab. When a military transport truck crashes on a North Carolina mountain road, the dogs spring loose and descend on the Lake Lure mountain resort. From there on, there's blood galore!

The other Owensby film we're showing is Buckstone County Prison. That film was released in 1978, and I personally think it's one of Earl's best. He plays a tough bounty hunter -- a loner and an outsider, respected and despised because of his part Native American bloodline. When, mostly on trumped-up charges, he ends up in this prison run by a sadistic warden, he has to adapt to the hellish environment and learn to deal with men who only want to see him dead.

How many films were submitted this year, and how many of those will actually play the festival?

The total number of entries received was 317, and we are showing 70. That's around 20 percent of all entries. For filmmakers, that should be an encouraging fact, as most festivals play 5 to 10 percent of the films they receive. We try to get as many movies as we can to receive the exposure they deserve.

The 2008 Charlotte Film Festival will be held this Thursday, September 25, through Sunday, September 28, at various area locations. Individual ticket prices vary, and ticket packages are also available. For more information, go to the festival Web site at www.charlottefilmfestival.org.

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