By Laurie Paolicelli
There are just a handful of great film festivals in America and one of them is right here in Chapel Hill. Think of Sundance, Telluride, Austin – mainstays of the circuit for years. Add to that list a younger and perhaps more vibrant festival, Film Fest 919, which opens next week at Silverspot Cinema and The Lumina Chapel Hill. Since 2017, Film Fest 919 (yes, that’s our area code) has been among the first opportunities in the nation for movie goers to see first-rate, award-winning films. This year is no different: the 2022 schedule is jam-packed with top-notch and internationally-acclaimed films starring some of our most talented actors: Anthony Hopkins, Colin Firth, Olivia Coleman, Carey Mulligan, and Anne Hathaway, just to name a few. There may be fewer celebrities here, but who needs Brad Pitt or Olivia Coleman causing rubber-necking traffic jams on Franklin Street?
What Film Fest 919 has done since its inception is enhance the experience of being here, living in a small town that could boast such a fantastic festival. It strengthens community bonds. While there were initially some concerns whether a college town like Chapel Hill could host an event that would attract quality filmmakers – not to mention if a film festival would be of interest to residents – its longevity and continued strength has quelled those concerns.
Art Chansky was an early booster of bringing a film festival to Chapel Hill and remains an avid supporter of Festival organizers Randi Emmerman and Carol Marshall. “I’ve always appreciated how one of our key missions is to bring a heightened sense of media literacy to people,” he says, “an expanded ability to evaluate and analyze media and understand how it informs their daily lives. It’s a great opportunity to entertain and educate at the same time, to widen people’s view to what a film is and what a film can be and make sure that people are getting enough exposure to non-commercial cinema as possible.”
FF919 kicks off the week Wednesday, October 19 with a special presentation of the new Horizon Award to director JD Dillard, followed by the Opening Night screening of his action-drama Devotion, starring Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell. Set during the Korean War, this visceral film tells the story of the US Navy’s first Black aviator and his dedicated wingman, pilots who both confront geopolitical uncertainty and racist hostility with uncommon valor…an inspiring tale of friendship, courage and sacrifice.
FF919 was launched in 2018 and grew steadily in its first two years when movies like Green Book, Roma, The Favourite, and Parasite had their North Carolina debut and went on to win multiple Academy Awards.
At that time, Film Festival organizers began to talk with the university about how an international festival could be instrumental in recapturing some alumni who still missed the Radio, Television, and Motion Pictures major which was eliminated in 1990.
“Visitors who have attended Film Fest 919 absolutely loved it,” says Emmerman. “Our goal is to continue to sell out the screenings at Silverspot and the reopened Lumina theaters.”
Full passes and individual tickets are now available at www.filmfest919com.
Festival organizers hope to keep building on the 135 Academy Award nominations and 32 OSCARS that have gone to Film Fest 919 entries. “This surpasses any of the best-known national and international festivals in their first four years,” says Chansky. “We can truly have one of the most-respected film festivals on the planet.”
Among the many offerings will be Empire of Light, from director Sam Mendes. This is his most delicate film yet, a wistful short story about two people seized by circumstance who help one another find their way through life. It’s an achingly lovely film. The festival will close out on October 23rd with Glass Onion, the sequel to the surprise hit Knives Out.
Passes are now on sale which give everyone the opportunity to select their films prior to the October 11th public sale. Why wait? Seats can go quickly. FF919 is big and it’s getting bigger. And why shouldn’t it? Sundance, Telluride and Austin all started with the same thing we have: great films, great theaters, great people — and the best area code around.
Email Randi@filmfest919.com with any questions and for information how to get involved.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.