While the glitz and glamour of the annual festival won’t be regaling Broughton Street in 2020, that doesn’t mean Savannah’s film community is going to be silent this year.
Armed with a virtual platform that emphasizes interaction and engagement, the SCAD Savannah Film Festival will be back and featuring the best and brightest from a year of movies like none other.
Despite being virtual, the usual suspects populate this year’s festival line-up. For the executive director of SCAD Theaters and Festivals, Christina Routhier, though, the real highlight is how this festival engages with people in a more exclusive fashion.
"We are set apart from other festivals in that we're doing a lot of live components to it," Routhier said.
Among the live components are the conversations with actors, filmmakers and other industry professionals who frequent guests of the festival have come to expect. "We have some great conversations that are going to be live with our honorees (such as) Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Hudson," Routhier added.
"So we have some great guests that are going to be exclusive just for (the SCAD Savannah Film Festival)."
She added that the emphasis on appointment viewing for the panels, discussions, programs and films themselves is what people have been asking for. When the allotted time comes up, that’s when you watch it — no re-runs. "You're not going to see that anywhere else, unless you're logged in, and you're there at 3 o'clock and ready to watch," Routhier said.
"I think all those different components will make it a unique festival this year, and being able to do things virtually has really broadened our reach. And it allows for so many more people to find out about the festival. So that has been huge. We saw that as a big plus."
The appointment viewing takes emphasis in a year that has seemed constantly in motion with things changing on a dime. It also allows for that festival atmosphere that fans of the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, or any similar film festival around the world, offers.
"I still wanted people to feel like they were getting an exclusive, something they can't see anywhere else," Routhier said. "Another bonus for this year is we have gotten so much talent and directors, and producers that want to participate (in a Q&A) together. So it's not just one person participating in the Q&A.
"Those things put together will still allow for people to feel like the SCAD Savannah Film Festival is one of the best festivals in the United States."
Among the headline gala screenings at this year’s festival are "One Night in Miami," "Sound of Metal," "Minari," "Francesco," "Uncle Frank," "I Carry You With Me," "Nine Days," "The Father," "I’m Your Woman" and "Sylvie’s Love." Those films will be paired with an honoree list that includes Millie Bobby Brown, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jennifer Hudson, Rachel Brosnahan, Delroy Lindo, Ethan Hawke and Glen Keane.
Again this year, Entertainment Weekly returns as a media partner to help curate this year’s programming and moderate select talent panels. EW will host two exclusive panels: Entertainment Weekly’s Women Who Kick Ass Panel and Entertainment Weekly’s Breaking Big Panel and Awards.
Other popular panels and programs such as Southern Voices, Student Shorts, Wonder Women, Below the Line, TV Sidebar and After Dark will also be returning.
While the movies, panels and programs appeal to film fans, a lot of the film festival regulars will be missing the biggest piece on display – Savannah.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg has been making the trek to Savannah each year for the past eight festivals to curate the Docs to Watch panel. He said that while he is a big fan of the virtual platform that the festival is hosting this year, he will really miss the city itself.
"I'm sad to not have an excuse for being able to come to Savannah," he said. "Just because I love the town, I love the people, I love that environment of being around a lot of other people who love movies, as well."
He added that he has his usual stops such as some ice cream at Leopold’s and a walk through the squares, but will have to put it on hold a year and plan for a bigger time when he returns in 2021. "It's a bummer to not be able to take advantage of (the city)," he said.
"But it's definitely the more responsible thing than trying to forge ahead, knowing what we're up against."
Routhier would agree. She said the festival organizers have been in discussions for awhile on what steps should be taken in order to not only have a safe festival, but to have a festival at all. Hoops had to be jumped through, such as working with distributors on the virtual platform and finding ways to keep the spirit of the festival once they decided to move forward.
It helped that filmmakers and industry professionals alike have come to respect what Savannah has to offer.
"Just being around studios, agents (and) different people in the industry, that we are a university-run film festival is very appealing, and especially to filmmakers and to honorees, they love giving back," she said. "Also to create opportunities for our students as well as just being able to be around that younger demographic.
"I think that has really helped us and it also really set us apart from every other festival."