The Annapolis Film Festival: New Festival on the Rise

AFF1The Maryland film community recently descended on the state capital for the Annapolis Film Festival (March 27-30), and I was lucky enough to receive a press pass for the event. At first, to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was going to bother going. It’s a relatively new, smaller festival, and I had some doubts about whether it would be worth of the effort. Then I found out that a few people I know from Twitter were going to be there (never miss an opportunity to take your networking offline!), including my intrepid editor, Jeanne Veillette Bowerman, who was scheduled to speak on a screenwriting panel.

That sealed it. I was going. And I’m really glad that I did, because it was a great experience.

You see, while the larger festivals (Austin, Sundance, Toronto, et al.) come with more movie stars, higher-profile films, and those ever popular world premieres, the Annapolis Film Festival, along with other smaller film festivals that are sprinkled across the country, offer experiences that you just can’t get at the other, larger venues.

Filmmakers who will stop and speak with the general public:
It’s not the fault of the filmmakers, but when they’re at larger festivals, they simply don’t have a ton of free time to speak with people. Between panels, screenings of their film, meetings with execs, marketing, and their own networking events, they’re often stretched to the breaking point. But at the Annapolis Film Festival, it was different. Oscar-winning screenwriters and first-time directors alike would stand around after their events, happily engaging attendees in conversation.

Actually getting into the popular events:

Ambassador Shabazz

Ambassador Shabazz

Whether it was a panel on the African-American storytelling experience, moderated by Ambassador Shabazz, the eldest daughter of Dr. Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X Shabazz, with panelists Chris Haley, actor & Research Director for the History of Slavery in Maryland, Maryland State Archives (nephew of Alex Haley of ROOTS), Scotti Preston, actor and Living History consultant, and Rain Pryor, producer, writer & actor (daughter of Richard Pryor), to a much ballyhooed conversation with David S. Ward (the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Sting), if there was an event you wanted to get into, chances are you could.

Networking, networking, networking:
In part because of these other points, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Annapolis Film Festival was the rampant opportunity for networking. With the smaller crowds, you actually had a chance to get to know pretty much everyone in the room with you for an event. And once those events were over, you didn’t have to force yourself through a mass of humanity to try and grab the attention of the speakers. They were right there, ready and willing to engage.

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Lee Anderson, David S. Ward, Jeanne Veillette Bowerman

Overall, what struck me most about the Annapolis Film Festival was the sincere sense of community. Whether the people you encountered were staff, press, part of the audience, a panelist, or screening their film, we were all there together for one reason: to celebrate film.

So the next time you’re planning out what festivals to attend, think about including a few smaller ones on your list. You’ll get just as much out of them, if not more, than the larger festivals, and, in the end, I think you’ll be glad you made the time for them. I know I am.

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