The 16th annual Savannah Film Festival, set for Oct. 26 through Nov. 2, is all about Savannah College of Art and Design students.
That's the way it's always been and always will be, says Danny Filson, the festival's executive director.
"I'm extremely excited about the film festival because the students can showcase themselves in such a phenomenal setting," he says.
"After 16 years, that's still what our festival is all about. Our students do such an exceptional job."
Hosted by SCAD, the Savannah Film Festival has become one of the largest entertainment events in the Southeast. Although the focus is on the students, many famous faces have been seen in Savannah over the years.
Past festival attendees and honorees include Peter O'Toole, Michael Douglas, Oliver Stone, James Franco, Matt Dillon, Jane Fonda, Sidney Lumet, Diane Lane, Sir Ian McKellen, Isabella Rossellini, Lily Tomlin, Ellen Barkin, Liam Neeson, Vanessa Redgrave, James Marsden, Tommy Lee Jones, John Waters, Roger Ebert, Sydney Pollack and Milos Forman.
This year, Jeremy Irons, Abigail Breslin, director Alexander Payne, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Dern and many others will be in attendance. Although Terence Stamp will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, a film shooting conflict will prevent him from attending the festival.
The festival will offer special screenings and film competitions for students and professional filmmakers. This year's Director's Choice, a special surprise screening that is always highly anticipated, is set for Oct. 30.
At the time of the interview, Filson was in South Africa.
"There's a film production company in South Africa that wants to work with our students and provide them an opportunity to showcase their talents, abilities and skill sets and professional status in the film and entertainment industry," he says.
It's not just acting, film and television students who benefit from the festival, Filson says.
"More than 60 percent of the students in all majors can find direct employment in the film and entertainment industry," he says.
"We consciously program the festival to have that broad-based appeal, to say as an institution we want to prepare students for a professional career. Students are not limited by what their major is.
"Whether it's photographers or storyboard artists or production designers, there is something for them. We have writers, directors, actors, producers coming to the festival.
"We also have marketing people, technical producers, animators and video game and theme park designers coming to the festival," he says. "That means about 60 percent of our students can find direct employment in the film and entertainment industry. That was the intent of the festival when President Wallace started it for us."
SCAD students will be involved at all levels, from ushers to presenters of their own films.
"It's all about all the potential and all the possibilities," Filson says.
More than 40,000 people are expected to attend the festival.
"The special screenings are not to be missed," Filson says. "Some are tremendous. As a whole, the special screenings are not just the evening premieres, but also the daytime special screenings.
"All are really interesting, diverse and dynamic," he says. "We have never had stronger competition films in all 16 years. People are going to be screaming about our competition films, on both the student and professional levels."
The success of the film festival is due to a group of dedicated people, Filson says.
"I am tremendously proud of the group of people who put together the Savannah Film Festival," he says. "All of them wear multiple hats at the university. Every aspect of SCAD comes together to produce the film festival."