Naples International Film Festival opens with 900 in attendance

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  • For more information on the festival go to naplesnews.com/filmfestival
Melanie Neu, second from left, talks about her experience being a part of the documentary 'Thespians' after the screening of the film Thursday, the opening night of the Naples International Film Festival at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in North Naples. Warren Skeels, left, the director of the documentary, and Ana Hill, center, another student actor featured in the film, took the stage for questions after the film was shown. The film follows four thespian troupes from Florida high schools as they try to make it to the state competition. Lexey Swall/Staff

Photo by LEXEY SWALL // Buy this photo

Melanie Neu, second from left, talks about her experience being a part of the documentary "Thespians" after the screening of the film Thursday, the opening night of the Naples International Film Festival at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in North Naples. Warren Skeels, left, the director of the documentary, and Ana Hill, center, another student actor featured in the film, took the stage for questions after the film was shown. The film follows four thespian troupes from Florida high schools as they try to make it to the state competition. Lexey Swall/Staff

Naples International Film Festival

2nd annual event kicks off with gala

The following filmmakers are participating in discussions after screening their films.

■ “Bedrooms” — Michael D. Olmos and Victor Teran

■ “Don’t Go in the Woods” — Vincent D’Onofrio

■ “Drawing with Chalk” — Todd Giglio and Christopher Springer

■ “Ten Stories Tall” — Kaer Vanice

■ “The New Year” — Brett Haley

■ “The River Why” — Matthew Leutwyler

■ “Coals to Newcastle” — Marca Hagenstad and Aaron Dunsay

■ “Greenlit” — Miranda Bailey

■ “How to Live Forever” — Mark Wexler

■ “My Run” —Terry Hitchcock and Tim VandeSteeg

■ “Warrior Champions” — Brent Renaud and Craig Renaud

For more information on the festival go to naplesnews.com/filmfestival and see page 8 in today’s edition of Showcase.

— With about 900 in attendance, the second Naples International Film Festival seems to have carried over last year’s buzz.

As a few hundred VIPs nibbled on sushi and oysters in Daniels Pavilion, at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts, friends Karen David, Phyllis Titlebaum and Bunny Kaufman mapped out their plan of attack.

“We’re seeing five movies,” Titlebaum said before Kaufman rattled off a list.

“I just had so much fun last year that I had to come back,” David said.

For its second year, the festival has taken a slightly different turn. Gone are the locally produced films in favor of indie cinema with more recognizable faces. Academy Award winner William Hurt, "Dexter" star Julie Benz and magazine cover model Amber Heard highlight a list of faces you’ll definitely recognize in this year’s films. Vincent D’Onofrio, star of “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” is appearing Saturday with his horror-musical “Don’t Go in the Woods.”

Ellen Goldberg, the festival’s program director, said it wasn’t a conscious effort to bring in famous faces or to skip over local filmmakers.

“It just sort of worked out that way,” she said. “We were just trying to bring in the best possible films.”

They were also looking for films that fit in some ways with the festival’s theme this year of celebrating the arts. In that vein, the selection of “Thespians” was a no-brainer, said executive director Rowan Samuel.

“Our mission is to give back to arts education, which is something this film celebrates,” he said.

“Thespians” is a highly personal film for its director Warren Skeels. He was a competitor in the same Florida drama competition it chronicles.

“I’d always wanted to do a sort of behind-the-scenes look at the competition,” he said.

The end result is a film that for a moment makes insiders out of outsiders, which is kind of what the festival is about. Organizers are trying to bring in more outsider films to a town where theater space is reserved for the biggest Hollywood offerings.

If this year shows the growth in receipts and enthusiasm organizers expect, then they might only be a few more years away from putting on year-round programming in addition to the festival.

“I’m already thinking of things we could do,” Goldberg says.

Going into the year, Samuel knew he had his work cut out for him to avoid a sophomore slump from a festival that surprised everyone in town. Thanks in part to a huge outpouring of support for the opening gala and its film — “The Cove.” With 1,100 in attendance for the opening ceremony, the festival went on to create an estimated $1 million economic gain for the community.

“Our mission is to give back,” said Tim Rowe, the festival’s president. “To give culture and the arts and economic benefits.”

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