Annapolis is not your average city, and the Annapolis Film Festival (AFF) is certainly not your average film festival.
“In other towns like Tribeca, it’s not like this,” said Lee Anderson, a festival director. “They parade celebs onstage, but you never get to meet them in town or at a party. Here, you can talk to a filmmaker in the foyer or connect over coffee.”
Founded in 2012, AFF is in its sixth year, a huge marker of success in the film fest world. Last year, AFF drew approximately 15,000 attendees.
This year, the festival is shining brighter than in years past, now coming into its own with a decisive slate of more than 70 films from all over the world and a new theme: “Voices Strong. Minds Open.” The theme will run through all elements of the festival: the films, panels, coffee talks with filmmakers, showcases and even parties.
“The festival has evolved into a true representation of its community and its organizers,” said Patti White, a festival director. “‘Voices Strong. Minds Open.’ That’s who we are and that’s what we will bring.”
A few of the award-winning industry professionals coming this year are documentarian Sam Pollard (with two films, “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Got to Be Me” and “ACORN and the Firestorm”), Kimberley Chambers (marathon swimmer and subject of the documentary feature “Kim Swims”) and filmmaker Jason Kohn, who will screen his new Showtime film, “Love Means Zero,” about tennis coach and legend Nick Bollettieri.
White is highlighting AFF’s gusto with its newest addition, the Shorts Challenge. Anyone can enter the contest by submitting a one-page synopsis by February 25. The top five finalists pitch their story idea in front of industry professionals and a live film festival audience. The audience will text to vote for the winner, who will receive $30,000 value of in-kind production services and premiere at the 2019 AFF.
White, who came up with the idea, explained, “We created the Shorts Challenge to encourage emerging and evolving filmmakers to dive deep into a pre-selected theme; this year’s theme is women/girls’ issues. The best ideas compete to tell that story in the most unique, compelling and artistic way.”
AFF is the city’s largest, most inclusive arts event that spotlights local businesses by exposing festival goers to new venues around Annapolis and giving them vendor discounts throughout the four-day festival.
“It strengthens the fabric of our community. It’s an intimate event that allows us to have meaningful moments and time to come together to talk,” Anderson added.
DaJuan Gay is one Annapolis resident who has gained a more open mind and depth of knowledge from being involved with the festivities. “The Annapolis Film Festival is so special because it takes our city for four days and turns into a conversation piece by creating an environment where we can talk about race, religion, politics and culture. The topics that often divide us but in the greatest of times bring us together,” added Gay.
And there’s no equivalent environment to AFF. Derek Horne, director of programming, would know. He has been involved with film festivals from Newport, Rhode Island, to Newport, California, over the past 20 years.
“This festival is truly a mutual give-and-take. Our local community fuels the festival and makes it a fulfilling experience for the filmmakers. Filmmakers enjoy engaging with intelligent audiences and immersing themselves in our charming historic downtown,” said Horne, who has programmed this year’s slate of high-caliber films with a mix of fresh new premieres and award-winning, critically acclaimed hits from top festivals.
Horne programed a stellar slate of shorts last year. Two of those shorts, “Icebox” and “DeKalb Elementary,” landed on the Oscar’s short list for Best Live Action Short. The latter will contend for the Oscar at the upcoming 90th Academy Awards show.
If you’re intrigued by the thought of grabbing coffee with filmmakers, voting for the next Oscar-winning pitch, mingling at the fest’s iconic parties, or you’re just hankering to binge-watch films for four straight days, mark your calendar for the Annapolis Film Festival from March 22 through 25. For the best access, buy one of the limited festival passes at www.annapolisfilmfestival.com/passes-tickets.