SCAD Savannah Film Festival prides itself on involving the students at Savannah College of Art and Design in almost every aspect of its annual event, from welcoming talent on the red carpet to weighing in on cinematic programming. This year, while the fest, running Oct. 24-31, goes virtual in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, this tradition of inclusion remains alive and well. Just as they were in pre-COVID America, SCAD students are integral to the fest’s collective sense of diversity and community.
“I really appreciate the festival for consciously including content and guest speakers with diverse backgrounds,” says Elina Itugot, a junior pursuing a BFA in film and television. “I cannot stress enough how important it is to see people like yourself represented and recognized in the industry, especially as a young filmmaker. As a 20-year-old, queer, non-binary, Filipino immigrant filmmaker with mental illness, I find it very empowering to provide my perspective and have a say in the films that were reviewed for the festival.”
Itugot, who won the 2020 Coca-Cola Refreshing Films competition for a short film she wrote and directed, credits SCAD’s film fest programming for encouraging “minority artists.”
The festival will open with “I’m Your Woman,” directed by Julia Hart and featuring Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) and will close with “One Night in Miami,” helmed by Regina King. The gala spotlight screening is “Minari,” which will be followed by a Q&A with star Steven Yeun and director Lee Isaac Chung.
SCAD Savannah Fest’s line-up of honorees this year duly reflects its commitment to showcase a variety of talent from across the board. “Watchman” actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is receiving the fest’s Distinguished Performance Award, Brosnahan will receive the Spotlight Award and Millie Bobby Brown will be honored with the Maverick Award. Other honorees are Jennifer Hudson (Virtuoso Award); famed Disney animator Glen Keane (Lifetime Achievement in Animation Award) and “Da 5 Bloods” actor Delroy Lindo (Spotlight Award). Other honorees include Samuel L. Jackson, Tessa Thomson and Steven Yeun.
Ethan Hawke, who has been nominated for four Oscars over the course of his career as an actor and filmmaker, will be feted with the Outstanding Achievement in Entertainment Award.
“For me, the engine of my life is acting,” says Hawke, whose Showtimes limited series “The Good Lord Bird,” in which he stars and ex-produces, will screen at the fest.
“Acting brings me close to collaborators, allows me to be intimate with great writing and the audience…any other appreciation or experience with the other artistic disciplines extend from my relationship to acting,” adds Hawke, who also co-wrote “The Good Lord Bird,” which is adapted from James McBride’s award-winning novel about Antebellum America.
While in-person screenings and parties are on hold, Christina Routhier, executive director SCAD Theaters and Festivals, is making sure that the fest will remain an interactive experience for all attendees.
“What makes the fest special is that you are engaging with other people that are with you in this virtual environment,” says Routhier. “We wanted to make sure that the screenings and conversations are live — not prerecorded. And with the platform that we are using, there are functions so that people can chat with one another or even with the artists. Everything that we are doing with this festival, we want to make sure that there is some kind of engagement for all involved.”
“Production across the state is up and running — safely, responsibly — and so is our historic, beloved SCAD Savannah Film Festival,” adds Paula Wallace, president and founder of SCAD. “Georgia is home to the first and largest virtual film festival at any university in the world because SCAD knows this is how careers get made. Learning and industry networking are nonstop at SCAD, just like our insatiable desire for new films and stories that illuminate the human experience.”
When asked what professional advice he might share with budding SCAD filmmakers, Hawke notes that it’s not “wisdom,” but “experience” that leads one on a path toward success.
“For me, authenticity is the game,” says Hawke. “What do you love? I find that when I get close to an authentic love, it expands and gives back to me, and I grow. If the point of life is to care for ourselves and others this is essential. To Grow. Get inside what you love and good things will happen. May sound simple, but it works for me.”