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Annapolis Film Festival Shooting for Added Growth

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Are you doing anything during the weekend of March 26–29?

If you’re not and you’re an independent movie buff, you just might want to check your calendar, for Thursday the 26th marks Opening Night of the third annual Annapolis Film Festival.

This year’s slate will offer a mix of movies that are intended to make you contemplate the rich pageant of life, while also targeting the city’s demographics, as a number of selections are geared toward its prominent African-American and Jewish communities, as well as its famous military and sailing scenes.

Festival Co-Founders and Directors Patti White and Lee Anderson, the owners of the Annapolis-based film production company Filmsters, have produced content that has appeared on major networks and “are basically entrepreneurs,” said Anderson. “So we took this opportunity by the bootstraps and figured what we had to do economically and artistically to make it work.”

While they started small, this year’s expanded festival is up to an operating budget of approximately $500,000 and has received increased local attention, as well as submissions, each year.

“The first year, we said, ‘Go big or go home,’” White said. “We didn’t know if the public would like the festival or not, but they have.”

In the Black

White likes to say that she’s “The who, what and why” of the festival, and Anderson is the “How, when and where.”

So the “how,” in this case, is setting up the programming, which “is a huge part of the business of running a film festival,” said White, noting 70 movies made the cut from 420 submissions. “Selecting great films that resonate with our audiences allows us a chance to have shared conversations, networking opportunities and other takeaways that stay with people, giving them the desire to become globally aware through film and filmmakers.”

Those experiences will be garnered at various stops around the state capital that are primarily downtown or on Inner West Street. From Loews Annapolis, the host hotel, with the nearby O’Callaghan’s Hotel set to host the panels and workshops, the films will be screened at Maryland Hall, Asbury Methodist and St. Anne’s churches, and Annapolis Elementary School; opening night and other spotlight events will be held at Key Auditorium at St. John’s College.

For Anderson, what’s interesting about setting up the festival is “how you create something from nothing.

“We’ve been in the black the whole time,” she said, pointing to further evidence that the festival is making strides.

“The first two years, it was easy to ask for volunteers, but now, it’s time to grow up and be more professional,” she said. “We have a number of professionals who are volunteering their time, because the festival is the coolest thing that’s ever hit this town.” Also, the number of filmmakers who made submissions for the event have “thousands of festivals to choose from,” all over the world, and chose Annapolis.

Speaking of the world, the festival’s filmmakers span the globe.

“Some local people might think we’d feature filmmakers who live in, or close to, Annapolis. We’re open to Maryland filmmakers, but that’s not where most of the films come from,” she said. “We’ll be showing films by filmmakers from such countries as Belgium, Norway, Italy and Burkina Faso [an African country], for instance.

The growth of the festival also means that it will need more presenting sponsors. This year, the lead sponsor is Annapolis-based Mavinspire, an information technology data storage company.

Anderson said V.I.P. sponsors who contribute $5,000 or more to the effort will get their logo on screen before every movie, plus more exposure from the festival’s 12-person social media team. It equals “a ton of exposure for a business,” she said. “This is becoming a massive networking event.”

By the Numbers

Given the everyday attractions of Annapolis, setting up a film festival in the state capital may seem “like a no-brainer,” said Dan Nataf, director of Anne Arundel Community College’s Center for the Study of Local Issues (CSLI), which conducted a study on the event after last year’s festival. “I think,” he said, “with many such events, retaining the base of those who previously attended and expanding it to include a new audience is the key.”

Among the information that Nataf and his team gleaned from the study is that two-thirds of last year’s attendees had not been to the first festival. “But the people who went generally liked it, so you’d expect to see a fan base upon which to build,” he said.

The study also indicated that, while the festival is growing up, it hasn’t necessarily drawn as many fans from afar yet. The top three zip codes of the attendees were 21403 (21%), 21401 (17%) then 21409 (6%), which cover sections of Annapolis.

“That’s 43% from Annapolis,” he said. “Next were 21012 (Arnold, 6%) and 21146 (Severna Park, 5%).” Nataf added that the median age of attendees was 53, with half of the movie buffs having household incomes at $100,000 or above, “so there was reasonable disposable income.”

He also noted some kinks that are being worked out for the upcoming event.

“We had some people say the Compass Rose Theater [which is not part of the upcoming festival] was too small and had long lines [all venues this year will seat at least 225 guests], the ticketing [which is being streamlined for this year] seemed complicated to many people and the weather wasn’t good last year. But if the weather cooperates this time around, I would think the attendance would go up.

“All told,” Nataf said, the residents of Annapolis can take pride that an event like this is happening that meets the cultural needs of residents and presents the town as a cultural center to the region.”

Marquee Event

That’s also the feeling at the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitor’s Bureau (CVB), where Chief Marketing Officer Frank DiVenti called the festival “a great addition to our mix as a destination marketing organization.”

The festival “has really grown by leaps and bounds,” said DiVenti, noting that it helps the city have events to offer on an almost constant basis, as the Military Bowl, the Annapolis Boat Shows, the Annapolis Film Festival and the inaugural Annapolis Irish Week attract visitors from early fall until early spring.

A veteran of the Baltimore market, DiVenti has “seen the Maryland Film Festival take off, thus bringing a great event to the city. So, I’m looking forward to seeing similar progress from the Annapolis Film Festival.

“Remember,” he said, “the Sundance Film Festival started small in a very small town. Our event could grow just as easily. Their staff has done a great job in a very short period of time.”

“Remember,” he said, “the Sundance Film Festival started small in a very small town. Our event could grow just as easily. [The directors] have done a good job in a very short period of time.”

And, of course, the local landscape won’t do anything but encourage attendance.

“What a great way to spend a weekend in Annapolis,” said Debbie Donaldson Dorsey, director of the Baltimore Film Office. “While walking from venue to venue, stopping for a drink or meal in between screenings, the Annapolis Film Festival is a wonderful blend of film and charm in a setting that’s inspiring.”

Exploring Locally, Globally

Among those agreeing that the festival presents “a great opportunity” for the city was Annapolis native (and Patti White’s son) Trevor White, who directed last year’s Opening Night film, the Maryland-produced “Jamesy Boy.”

White has participated in many film festivals at various locales, some international. He called the Annapolis Film Festival “a filmmaker-friendly event. From the moment you get there, you can see that they give you the best tools possible to have your best show. They offer great projection equipment, great screening rooms and lots of networking opportunities.

“They also do a great job of filling seats,” he said, “and offer good transportation, since film festivals give visitors a great chance to do some exploring.”

And exploring, be it on the ground or in the mind, is what the directors, and just about everybody else involved, want the Annapolis Film Festival to be about.

“At the end of the day,” said Patti White, “we hope to leave people with full hearts and open minds.”