For a 20-year-old person, that 21st birthday is not only special, but also a signifier of adulthood — a shift into maturity.

It’s safe to say that the SCAD Savannah Film Festival doesn’t have to go through the same trials of maturity as a 21-year-old human, but the annual Southern cinematic celebration has found ways to blossom in its own 21st year.

 

While festivals such as Sundance, Toronto, New York, Telluride or South by Southwest may hold the cards when it comes to finding distribution or being the hub for world premieres, Savannah has found its niche among the next tier of festivals — ones directed at celebrating movies and the work being done by people both in front of and behind the camera.

"[The talent] loves that the audience is just people, and not cynical insiders wondering if they should buy [the movie] ... This is directly addressing the audience,” said Bill Keith, deputy editor of Entertainment Weekly. He added that the pacing of the festival is such that the filmmakers and actors "don’t feel like they’re running from one event to another. They can just really sink their teeth into it.”

Keith is among the members of the Entertainment Weekly team coming to Savannah for the week as part of a new partnership with the festival. Per a press release, the publication will be hosting talent panels and will be streaming video interviews with other celebrities in town across their platform.

This marks a new frontier for the festival, which has always enjoyed a host of movie stars, directors and producers gracing the red carpet outside the Trustees Theater, but almost brings an element of the large-scale festival to the Hostess City.

“The thing we found out with Savannah ... with our partnership with SCAD, the great thing about this festival that other festivals don’t have ... is that it is so accessible to people outside of the industry,” Keith said. “What we loved about this festival is that the caliber of talent and the diversity of that talent is so high, so it is something that we want to associate with and it’s so great that it's connected to not just students, but also the general public.”

The 2018 schedule in Savannah is no different. Opening the festival is “Roma” — the latest film from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuarón — which has already earned rave reviews in Venice and Toronto, and is a movie that demands to be seen on a big screen, even though a release on Netflix is coming in November. Shot in pristine black-and-white, the film tells the story of a housekeeper and the ins and outs of working for a middle-class family in 1970s Mexico City.

The centerpiece film is the next movie from the director behind Academy Award Best Picture winner, “Moonlight,” and was one that left those at its premiere in Toronto speechless (including this writer). “If Beale Street Could Talk” is the second straight lyrical masterpiece from Barry Jenkins, who will be attending the festival along with the movie’s stars, Kiki Layne and Stephan James, and is a title you’ll be hearing over and over again as the awards season rears up early next year.

Closing out the festival is a movie that is fresh from winning the audience award at Toronto as the most crowd-pleasing fare of the festival. “Green Book” stars Mahershala Ali — who helped premiere Jenkins’ “Moonlight” when it came to Savannah two years ago — along with “Lord of the Rings” star Viggo Mortensen. He stars as a working-class Italian-American bouncer who becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.

It would seem that comparing one and the other is a moot point. Telluride and Sundance have their niches, and will continue to lead the way in the fields that they excel in, but one can see the sky being the limit for Savannah.

In a way, the 21st year feels as fresh and invigorating as the first, and most people — both local and national — would agree.