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Q and A with Jeff Jackson

by Elizabeth McKee

June 6,2007

Tell us about the NoDa Film Festival. How did it get started?

The NoDa Film Festival’s mission is to foster community by presenting free high-quality cinema that is largely unavailable elsewhere. We aim to highlight great movies from international film history and multiple genres including documentary, foreign, vintage Hollywood, independent, experimental, and silent films. We hope to show that these films can be just as fun and relevant as the ones playing at the local multiplex. We offer films that have been shown minimally around the country some of which simply are not available – rare films that you can’t rent.

The film festival was conceived in a conversation with a neighborhood church minister who wanted to engage the community during Black History month. In February 2006, we offered 3 days of African American films and had over 800 people show up. That August, we went on to offer Asian films (1400 attendees), then in February 2007 French films (1500 attendees). Now we are excited to offer Exploring Animation June 10 – 13 at the Neighborhood Theater in NoDa. Additionally, I always loved film and I saw a gap in the Charlotte community – with the Manor under new management, we are getting fewer art house films. So, in that way, we are filling a gap.

What kind of response have you been getting to date?

People come to the film festival and say “I can’t believe this is Charlotte” or “I can’t believe this is happening in Charlotte.” It is an easy way to access and be part of a different type of Charlotte. We hope to contribute by reaching across age groups, bringing the population from The Manor and kids from the Mall and the kids from the Visulite and the people from Uptown while reaching out to the NoDa neighborhood. We market in an accessible, fun way to many different audiences. We want to be open-minded about cinema and art. The Neighborhood Theater offers a non threatening space that is accessible to many different populations. We believe it is possible to be edgy and populist… without dumbing down.

Your next festival is “Exploring Animation.” Why animation?

This is not your child’s animation. There are no Disney or Pixar pieces on purpose. Even the Looney Tunes were chosen because they push the bar of what we would normally assume for Looney Tunes. The lack of an “intellectual spotlight” on animation allows it to be experimental and entertaining. Play and fun go hand-in-hand with being cutting edge; experimenting with the form while being very thoughtful and very thought-provoking. Animation hasn’t been institutionalized. The negative to that is that it is not taken seriously or afforded instant respect. The positive is that it is more vital and not self-conscious so we get cutting edge AND entertaining.

Anything unique about the films being shown?

These are wonderful films, but due to various distribution woes they’re not well known. At this festival, we’re offering “The Fabulous Baron Munchausen,” a film that won the top award at Cannes in 1963 and influenced Monty Python, but it’s never been available on VHS or DVD. It’s probably played 10 times anywhere in the country over the last 15 years. But we’re screening it here and it’s tremendously entertaining. We’re also showing an innovative anime called “Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space” that only made the festival circuit and isn’t available domestically in any form. These are real treats and they’re here in Charlotte! You won’t find them anywhere else.

What challenges do you face with the Festival?

The Festival is in a sticky place right now. The audience is large and steadily growing, but we need more volunteers and especially more sponsors to make the festival sustainable. We’re pleased to receive a community grant from the Arts & Science Council, but we need local businesses to partner with the festival as well. We’re a grassroots organization run by a handful of skilled and energetic volunteers and operate on a shoe-string budget. We’ve got exciting plans going forward, but we need partners to realize our vision – both financial partners and people interested in donating their time. This is a real crossroads moment, no way around it.

What else concerns you?

I think there is a danger of ‘dumbing down’ our culture – let’s make things as easily digestible as possible. I think there is a danger of content being watered down and programming to the lowest common denominator. What we have found is that there are more people in Charlotte that are interested in the uncommon denominator than at first glance. So, rather than taking the safe route and offering films that you could get anywhere, we are offering something you might not normally see for free. We need events that bring people together to see different possibilities of what Charlotte could be. I hope the film festival will grow with that concept.

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