Fairhope Film Festival organizers seek city’s help to upgrade downtown theater venue

By Marc D. Anderson | manderson@al.com
on April 10, 2013 at 4:15 PM, updated April 10, 2013 at 4:21 PM

FAIRHOPE, Alabama — Over a 4-day period in November a group of dedicated volunteers will launch an ambitious film festival with the hope that one day it will rival some of the top venues in the country.

“We think that we have something special to offer here and there’s really not that level of festival in the Southeast,” said Phillip Norris, co-founder of the Fairhope Film Festival. “We think all of the pieces are in place to do that.”

Norris, accompanied by fellow festival co-founder Mary Riser, spoke to members of the Fairhope City Council at their work session this week.

“Our goal is to build a festival that is competitive internationally,” Norris said. “The theme of the festival is “The Best of the Best.” You can’t get in this festival unless you won a film festival in the last 14 months. So this is the winners of the winners.”

The festival has been billed as a first-class event featuring 40 films at four downtown locations over four days, Nov. 7-10, with an expected draw of 5,000 people. The venues will include the University of South Alabama’s theater, Faulkner State Community College’s Centennial Hall, Fairhope Public Library’s Giddens Conference Center and a covered outdoor venue.

While USA’s theater is ready to go, Riser said upgrades are needed at the Faulkner State and library venues in order for it to properly host the festival.

“What we really want is for you to help us with the library and turn it into a real theater because it’s really not a real theater right now,” Riser said. “It needs a full makeover.”

Norris added, “And when we say makeover it’s a new screen, a new projection system and some audio. And this is not just for us it’s for all the groups that use the library.”

Riser said she was encouraged by conversations with John Borom, director of Faulkner’s Fairhope campus, about upgrading the college’s film equipment. For the library, Norris and Riser told the council that $30,000 would cover the upgrades, including removable risers that seats can be put on to create a theater-like setting.

“As we look at other film festivals around the country. Virtually everyone has support from the (host) city,” Norris said. “We see this as a partnership with the city because we want to bring international recognition to Fairhope. We didn’t name it the Gulf Coast Film Festival. It’s the Fairhope Film Festival.”

With local film connections to actors such as Jason Schwartzman, who is married to a Montrose native, and Faulkner’s launch of its computer animation and visual effects program in the fall thanks to a partnership with Centre NAD Baccalaureate College in Montreal, city officials were receptive to the proposal, which also included placing banners around town and using the Welcome Center as a box office.

“I like the idea,” Council President Jack Burrell said. “I’m not going to sit here and promise you that we’re going to support you … but there’s one thing in your favor and that’s the next budget year. So you need to get this request in by June the 1st so that we can start talking about it.”

Burrell said he would also like to see an economic impact study done, and Norris said one was already in the works and should be complete by the end of May.

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