Here on the Northshore of New Orleans, in the separated suburbs of the big little city, we have but a few movie theaters. The programming can be ok but mostly caters to the more mainstream, more convenience-oriented community of viewers, who now have their snacks brought to their seats. Covington has two active cinemas (and one used primarily as a prop in film productions) both of which operate for the maximum audience possible. Quantity over quality? That’s a bleak way of looking at it, and really depends on who you’re asking. Ask me, and I’d give a shrug.
Jessy Williamson of Covington’s burgeoning film community has started the DTC (Downtown Covington) Film Festival, and is about to launch its second year today (February 8th). Showcasing an eclectic presentation of locally made movies – shorts and features – DTC looks to bring what the Southshore is all too familiar with to an area crying out for more.
I chatted with Jessy about the specifics of the fest, about this current era of regional moviegoing, and what it takes to put on an event like this:
Bill Arceneaux: Has the Northshore film community flourished under the era of Hollywood South? What have hyper-local film festivals like DTC done for the culture?
Jessy Williamson: I think so. For a while now it seems like once a month I see a big Hollywood film or TV show come to the Northshore for a few days to take advantage of a country location or a small town look. I think last year a Kevin Costner film rented a city block and several businesses right in Downtown Covington. One of the great things about the greater New Orleans area is that we have every imaginable location except desert, I think. Within two hours you can go from the beach to a big city to a small town to rolling hills to backwater bayous and swamps.
Downtown Covington is always up for a party, and we are hoping that the film fest adds to the the rich history of art festivals, block parties, Covington linen night, and the music festivals. Also, by bringing filmmakers and the community together hopefully some connections get made. Maybe a director finds a restaurant for his next film or a local farm for her next documentary.
BA: For those wanting to learn about how to set up their own events, what all goes into planning a film festival?
Jessy: The first thing you need is a location. We are so very thankful for The Southern Hotel opening their doors to us. They have projectors, screens, built in surround sound, seats, a bar, literally everything you need for a party. Once you have your location I recommend using FilmFreeway. I had used it for years submitting my films to various festivals. It’s user friendly and works seamlessly with Facebook and Twitter. Since I work in the film industry, I just shared our fest with all my filmmaker friends and in film groups to get the word out. The film industry is a small world.
BA: What is your goal when programming and scheduling movies to screen? What kind of films do you look for?
Jessy: We just want to provide the audience with the best films we can. We like to include local films so filmmakers have a chance to attend the screening, do a Q&A with the audience, and network with other filmmakers. This year we have scheduled 15 films that will all have directors attend and do a Q&A.
We just look for the best. We have 20 judges that watch all the films and rate them on everything from direction to sound. Each film is watched by at least three people but most films are watched by five. The grades are averaged then we select the top 30, give or take a few. Last year we did 32, this year 29.
BA: How has DTC Film Fest evolved since it first began? What is it doing differently compared to the Baton Rouge Louisiana International Film Festival and NOLA’s Film Society Fest?
Jessy: Last year we were in the Olympia Room, which we squeezed 96 chairs into; this year we are in the Ballroom and have room for close to 300. We are also bringing in Jason Waggenspack of The Ranch Studio in Chalmette. He’s going to give a presentation on the studio, film tax credits, and filming in Louisiana. We are also having a King Cake party on Saturday morning and offering snacks at lunch. We have also made a handful of improvements that should make everything run a bit smoother. We are trying to learn and get better every year. I have attended tons of film festivals for my films and the big thing I always found lacking was hospitality. One festival didn’t have passes for me or didn’t believe I was the director, another showed my film then said: “Alright, we have Kathy the director in the audience.” My name is Jessy. As the director of the DTC Film Fest, I strive to shake hands and say thank you to every filmmaker that has succeeded in not only making a great film but taken the time to attend our festival. I know how hard both are to accomplish. You wanna make your film the best it can be so you sink every nickel into talent and production, and rarely have anything left for festival submissions much less traveling to a film fest.
Every filmmaker that attends our festival gets free champagne for the entire weekend.
BA: How cool would it be to screen at the old Star Theater in Covington?
Jessy: Haha, wow. That would be a dream come true. I used to go there with Autumn Boh when we were kids. It was briefly reopened in 2000 and I saw Castaway there. Sadly, I heard it is in a state of disrepair. I was in Mill Valley CA a number of years ago and they have a downtown quite similar to Covington. Art galleries, restaurants, boutiques, and they had a two screen theater with a line out the door waiting to see a film. With the resurgence of the DTC and The Southern Hotel, it would be great to have a locally owned theater with in walking distance of everything.
Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved.