Frame by Frame: 3 men build a film festival from the bottom up

Listen Eric Raddatz talk and you’ll think movies are an outlet for creative voice.

To hear Rowan Samuel tell it, they are a chance to learn more about life.

In Daniel Linehan’s mind, films have the potential to bring jobs and dollars to Southwest Florida.

The three founders of the Naples International Film Festival all have a slightly different take on the benefits the fledgling enterprise might have for the community. But they are all certain the festival is long over due.

“It’s kind of amazing this doesn’t already exist,” Raddatz says.

Film festivals aren’t anything new to the region, for many years the now-defunct Marco Island Film Festival brought in thousands of attendees. This year the Black Maria Film Festival came to Fort Myers.

But with its high-end arts venues such as the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts and cultural charities that include the blockbuster Naples Wine Festival, the Naples community seems ripe for its own festival.

“We live in a community that has proven itself when it comes to supporting arts,” Linehan says.

As with most new ideas, the folks surrounding the festival are full of optimism for the project, down economy be damned. But they are also being practical — at least for the beginning.

“No one is expecting this to be huge right away,” Linehan says. “Our expectations are that this is going to take a few years. Maybe two or three, maybe three or four, depending on the economy. But there’s no reason that this can’t be a big festival some time down the road.”

* * *

For Raddatz, the festival is an extension of his side-career in movies. By day, he’s an assistant art director at Gulfshore Life magazine. But his real passion is more celluloid than paper stock.

He started doing extra work in the early 2000s. It’s often a thankless job with very little in the way of rewards, either monetary or artistic.

“There’s a lot of watching movies and saying ‘Look, that’s my arm in that shot,’” he says. “But I had so much fun, that I wanted to keep working in the film industry.”

After an extra part in the Farrelly Brothers’ 2003 flop “Stuck on You,” Raddatz decided to take a more control of his film work. He wrote and directed an independent film “A Day to Love and Die,” which revolves around a couple of bored reporters uncovering an illegal manatee harvesting ring.

In June, he finished another film, “Barely a Chance,” which got a screening in Fort Myers, with more than 300 showing up to watch.

“It wasn’t the Academy Awards or anything, but it was a lot of fun to have people come out to see my work,” he says. “That’s when the film festival idea started.”

After being introduced to Linehan and Samuel, the three started plotting a course. So far they are well on their way, the group is working on lining up 501c3 non-profit status. They’ve set up an advisory board that includes former members of the Marco film festival board.

“We can learn from them,” Samuel says. “A mistake early on can doom an enterprise to failure. We want to make sure we don’t make a crippling mistake.”

And most importantly, the movies have already started pouring in.

“We already have more than 120 films of varying degrees of quality,” Raddatz says. “And that’s part of the fun. Not everything needs to be a great movie to be worthwhile.

“Maybe a movie will make someone say, ‘Hey, I can do that.’ Then it has done something good.”

* * *

The desire to do something good is part of how this festival got its start.

“One day I asked myself what am I adding to the community,” Samuel says. “Aside from making money (in marketing), I wasn’t doing anything.”

As a musician, Samuel was in touch with the arts community, which in turn put him on to Linehan. At the time Linehan had just started a new career representing artists. Although he’s not an artist himself, Linehan has a knack for spotting talent and introducing people.

After having conversations about their respective desires to do something more with their lives, the pair decided to open Six Degrees Exhibitions, an art gallery/music venue/artistic meeting place that has become the unofficial hub for the festival.

Everyone’s a critic. Or at least that’s what the festival founders are hoping. Every Thursday between now and the festival’s opening in November, held at the soon-to-be-open Silverspot at Mercato, they are screening potential films at Six Degrees.

It’s a way to get the community to buy into the idea of the festival, which is really what Samuel believes will make it a success.

“Success can mean money, but it doesn’t have to,” he says. “For this to be a success, people need to leave saying that they learned something or it made their lives better in some way. If we can make that happen, then the festival will be a success.”

Linehan agrees, but he thinks there is a much higher ceiling for the festival.

“I’d love us to be able to raise money to put cameras and equipment in local schools,” he says. “And there’s no reason why people shouldn’t want to make movies in Naples, bringing money and jobs to the community. There’s no reason we can’t do it all.”

* * *

IF YOU GO

* Naples International Film Festival pre-screenings

* When: 7 p.m. Thursdays

* Where: Six Degrees Exhibitions, 1100 Sixth Ave. S., Naples

* Admission: $1

* Info: 331-2678 or www.naplesfilmfest.com

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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