WCTE-PBS Downtown Film Festival set for August

Getting in the mood for the inaugural WCTE-PBS Downtown Film Festival set for Aug. 29 are pictured l to r: Laura Holloway, festival director; Avery Hutchins, WCTE director of development and marketing; Brent Clark, WCTE director of content and digital media; Becky Magura, WCTE CEO; and Chad McDonald, Cookeville Leisure Services cultural arts superintendent.

By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ

COOKEVILLE – Plans are set for the inaugural WCTE-PBS Downtown Film Festival to be held Aug. 29 in Cookeville’s Historic West Side district. WCTE, in partnership with the Cookeville Performing Arts Center and The Storyteller Agency, will celebrate the best in non-fiction film, including a one-minute competition of viewer-submitted content via the PBS American Portrait digital platform, starring Upper Cumberland locals.

“This has been such a dream of mine for a long time because public television, public media is America’s story tellers, and we are the home of nonfiction film,” said WCTE CEO Becky Magura. “My vision and dream of having a film festival in Cookeville that was focused on nonfiction content – that really would encourage local filmmakers, but also just everyday citizens through the American Portrait portal to capture their thoughts and share them with us, so that we could share it through this film festival setting is a dream come true, really.”

Everyone has a story, and this year those stories will be told in a big way at Downtown Film, with a full schedule of festival award-winning documentaries, interesting talkbacks, engaging workshops with filmmakers and delicious food and drink from area restaurants, bars and area favorite food trucks. 

On Saturday evening, as the sun goes down, the festival takes cinema under the stars for an after-dark film walkabout, with the top local videos from the American Portrait video categories projected onto the sides of Cookeville’s landmark west side buildings. 

The PBS American Portrait video project is open to anyone and everyone who would like to submit, requiring only a one-minute video look into your life, guided by prompts such as “I was raised to believe … ” and “What gets me out of bed in the morning is … ” WCTE officials say now is the time to tell your story and see your face on the big screen.

“I think the one-minute videos are going to capture people’s feelings about where they live, about when I go out my back door, what do I see, I never imagined this kind of time,” said Magura. “I think with COVID and what people have experienced from the tornado, I think just being in this particular period of the country will allow people to share their thoughts in one minute. That’s the fun part of it.

“I actually did one. I was traveling to visit a friend of mine, and it was the first time I’ve been in an airport when this happened,” shared Magura. “I was in Pittsburgh and normally you can imagine Pittsburgh is packed. There was no one in that airport. There was nothing open. Everybody had on a mask, and I thought here’s where I’m going to do my one-minute video because it was so unique, and I just answered one of those questions. That’s what we want. We want to capture people’s true feelings of what this time period means to them.”

Submitting your American Portrait video is simple, and because the short films are glimpses into real, everyday American life, non-professional cell phone video submissions are encouraged. It’s a chance to see your face and your story illuminated in a big way during the festival, and also an opportunity to be a part of the national American Portrait storytelling project, featured online and on PBS channels around the country.

American Portrait Submission Link:  https://www.pbs.org/american-portrait/create

Those wanting to see examples of the one-minute films should tune in to American Portrait on WCTE. The next two episodes air Monday, Aug. 3 at 1:30 a.m. and Thursday, Aug. 11 at 10 p.m. The deadline for submissions is Aug. 14.

“We are shooting for 100 American Portrait submissions,” Magura said. “We hope to have 10 different locations downtown that will have a loop of those one-minute shows, so literally you and your friend can walk by and see your video on the side of a downtown wall at night. That’s the open part of our festival. We will have great content in the Cookeville Performing Arts Center. We will have great content in Dogwood Park, but those are going to be more of the documentary submissions. The American Portrait one-minute sessions are going to be all around downtown, and we’re going to pick the top 20 and make them into a TV show.”

Downtown Film Festival is open to submissions from filmmakers around the world, and winners will receive recognition and a direct pipeline to public media, with work featured on WCTE. Awards will be given for Best Documentary and Best Mini-Documentary, as well as special awards including the Stanger Award (honoring and celebrating the best unfinished documentary), the Young Filmmakers’ Award (celebrating and honoring works submitted by filmmakers ages 14-19, and the American Portrait Awards (honoring the best one-minute video submissions to the PBS American Portrait storytelling project). 

Submission for this festival can be made by visiting: https://filmfreeway.com/WCTE-PBSDowntownFilmFestival

Downtown Film has been an idea in the works for years, and WCTE is proud to partner with Cookeville Performing Arts Center and The Storyteller Agency to offer a new community initiative and creative outlet, something that can continue to offer a voice and storyteller platform for our region and home. 

Storyteller Agency founder and Film Festival Director Laura Holloway said, “It’s wonderful that this will provide a new experience for the community, and it also gives the opportunity for creative people to do what they need to do right now: create:”

“WCTE PBS is committed to telling local stories, but also to continuing being the home for independent nonfiction filmmakers,” Magura commented. “The WCTE PBS Downtown Film Festival is a dream come true for me. I’m excited to partner with Chad McDonald and the Cookeville Performing Arts Center, as well as to have Laura Holloway of The Storyteller Agency leading our team. PBS American Portrait is a new series of user generated content and will be a focus of this year’s inaugural festival. Laura has a wonderful vision of taking these films to the streets. I hope this is only the beginning of a growing community of festival enthusiasts as well as a pathway for filmmakers to partner with public media in sharing their stories!”

Careful consideration is being given to current community, state and national precautions regarding COVID-19. The goal for Downtown Film is to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy, and special precautions of will be taken at the festival to encourage social distancing and offer sanitation opportunities. We are staying abreast of this current and ever-changing situation and taking every suggested step to ensure safety, and our precautions and planning will be fluid as the situation evolves.

Flashing the camera with their masks off (while socially distanced) are pictured l to r: Laura Holloway, festival director; Avery Hutchins, WCTE director of development and marketing; Brent Clark, WCTE director of content and digital media; Becky Magura, WCTE CEO; and Chad McDonald, Cookeville Leisure Services cultural arts superintendent.

Downtown Film’s walking cinema tour is free and open to the public, with no ticket purchase required. Workshops, screenings at CPAC and other festival happenings will incur a separate ticket cost. VIP wristbands are available for festival-goer purchase and include a full schedule of happenings, festival merchandise, discounts at local restaurants during the festival and more. VIP wristbands will be available for $75/individual or $125/couple and are on sale now. 

Sponsorship opportunities are available and can be found by visiting the festival webpage. For more information, please email Laura Holloway lholloway@wcte.org.

Making final plans for the Downtown Film Festival are (l to r): Getting in the mood for the inaugural WCTE-PBS Downtown Film Festival set for Aug. 29 are pictured l to r: Avery Hutchins, WCTE director of development and marketing; Chad McDonald, Cookeville Leisure Services cultural arts superintendent; Laura Holloway, festival director; Becky Magura, WCTE CEO; and Brent Clark, WCTE director of content and digital media.

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