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Third Annual 100 Words Film Festival Gets Timely

by Nicole Fisher

October 31, 2016

Photos: (below) Entrants in the third annual 100 Words Film Festival, top to bottom: Battle Friend, by Trevor Walsh; Still Sophie, by Caroline Knight; Freedom Line, by Andrew Smith; Barn Dance, by Ted Richardson

"The first thing people usually notice is the counter," Scott Galloway says.

Galloway, a Charlotte-based filmmaker and founder of Susie Films, is animated as he discusses his brainchild, the 100 Words Film Festival. Now in its third year, the festival showcases and celebrates concise cinematic storytelling. (The festival returns to Uptown Charlotte’s McGlohon Theater Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4-5; ticket and times info here). Submissions in all genres are accepted from around the world. The only stipulation—and it's a strict one—is that each film must contain exactly 100 spoken words.

That's where the word counter comes in.

It appears onscreen as each film unspools, counting down how many of those allotted words have been used. Galloway got the idea from watching his three children's YouTube viewing habits—invariably they impatiently checked the time counter halfway through each video to see how much time was left. Substituting language for seconds, Galloway came up with the 100-word counter, a succinct concept and trademark for an event dedicated to getting straight to the point.

"It’s kind of neat," Galloway says. "People will periodically peek at it, thinking, 'Oh my gosh, there’s only seven words left. How is this going to wrap up?'"

Cutting to the chase "remains a significant challenge to young filmmakers," Galloway maintains, noting that aspiring producers and directors are often adept at shooting, editing and effects, but stymied when it comes to storytelling. Though that situation grows worse in the wider film world, Galloway notes that submissions to the festival have improved immensely since its launch in 2014. "Overall craft has sharpened" because the 100-words limit forces filmmakers to focus on the fundamentals of visual and verbal storytelling.

"This year's films are by far the best we've ever received," Galloway notes. "From just under 100 submissions, we are showing 36 films, 18 each night at the McGlohon." That tally is up from 34 in 2015, and 30 in 2014.

The subject matter has changed some, too. With the Keith Scott shooting and its aftermath catapulting Charlotte onto the world stage, 2016 has been a tumultuous and contentious year for the city—a fact reflected in the  festival's submissions, says Galloway.

"We have two films that deal directly with race and the police. One is a documentary and the other is a narrative piece." For the non-fiction State of  Emergency, Charlotte Director Kelvin Edwards "was downtown in the middle of all of the action and activity," Galloway notes. "He has footage that no one has ever seen before."

Maryland Filmmaker Andrew Smith directs the dramatic film Freedom Line. Set in the 1850s, the story is " about a slave who runs to the north for freedom and what happens when he gets there," Galloway says. "I don't want to give too much away, but the filmmaker has a very clever way of taking the story from the 19th Century to the modern day."

Clearly the festival doesn't shy away from controversial submissions.

"We embrace all stories, so there are no (political) guidelines," Galloway maintains. "We tell filmmakers, 'Make a film. Tell the best story you possibly can and if the judges believe it's worthy, then you're in.'"

This year the judges are Director/Actor Christina Beck (Suburbia/Perfection), Writer/Social Media and Content Strategist Kristen McCracken and Robin Canfield, Programs Director for Actuality Media, a documentary production organization. In addition to American produced films, the panel will score submissions from Latvia and Turkey. The award categories this year will be the same as previous years.

"We’ll have two student winners, and we keep that broad," Galloway says, noting fluctuation between the number of documentary and narrative submissions from year to year. "We decided to simply award the two best student films," regardless of category, he explains. "In the professional category, we have the documentary and the scripted narrative divisions." A total of four awards will be given out on the festival's second night.

One popular element carried over from previous festivals is the Student/Charity Program, which matches aspiring filmmakers with non-profit organizations seeking new branding and outreach opportunities.

"In the first year we reached out to colleges and universities and asked those schools to identify students who showed real promise," Galloway explains. Once they met the students and determined their areas of concern, Galloway and the Festival organizers connected the young filmmakers with charitable organizations that best matched their interests. The charity helped the students with contacts and research, and the student provided the non-profit with a short film they could use to spread their message. "It was a win-win," Galloway says.

The resulting films generated enough interest to raise funding in 2015 from the Reemprise Fund, managed by the Foundation for the Carolinas. With the extra money, the program was able to provide the student filmmakers with professional mentoring. "We'd bring in a cinematographer to help (the students) shoot, or give them a day or two in post with a professional editor," Galloway says.

"We gave the young filmmakers the opportunity to work at the best of their abilities," he continues, "and by doing so they made even better films for the charitable organizations, which was more helpful for the non-profits."

"Call it a win-win-win," Galloway says, laughing.   

This year the program, now called the Student/Charity Mentoring Program, grows apace. "The Student/Charity Films are significantly better this year than last year."

Like the festival itself, the program is part of a larger initiative to democratize filmmaking, a cause close to Galloway's heart.

"In college I wanted to be a filmmaker," Galloway recalls. "But I didn't have contacts or the money to make that happen. It took me 15 years to make my first film. Fifteen years is too long to chase your passion."

In addition to encouraging narrative skills, Galloway devised the 100 Words Film Festival to give storytellers from any background an opportunity to tell their tales.

"They can make their film at any length, on any topic. The only criteria are that it has to have 100 spoken words. Financially speaking, anyone can do that."

Festivalgoers benefit by seeing the world premieres of these exciting new films from fresh new talent, but the filmmakers may reap even greater rewards, Galloway believes.

"If you're a filmmaker and your work is selected, you receive five things," he says."One, you will have your film professionally judged—an invaluable learning experience. Two, you'll have the opportunity to compete for prize money. Three, you'll have your film shown in a huge venue that seats over 700 people.

"Four, you're going to earn a credit on  IMDB. In our business, that credit is so important. A lot of times when you apply for a job people will look at your IMDB (entry) before your resume."

Fifth, and most importantly, Galloway concludes, "at the end of this experience the filmmaker will have completed a short film," something rare and precious.

"For a filmmaker in today's world, a short film is gold," he says. "It's a visual calling card."

The 100 Words Film Festival takes place Nov. 4-5 at the McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square in Uptown Charlotte. For tickets or more information, go to www.100wordsfilmfestival.com.

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Tags: 100 Words Film Festival, Charlotte, Scott Galloway, Susie Films, Reemprise Fund, student films, McGlohon Theatre

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