Film festival takes shape with community support

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Chip Hale’s passion for Kilgore’s historic theaters and his work as an independent film director will combine in November with the Reel East Texas Film Festival.

Hale had the idea for the film festival during last year’s Derrick Lighting event, thinking it could go on for a few more hours if organizers wanted.

“What could we do to add to that? I just looked down the street and saw the Crim, the Texan and Post Office, and said we can put people in there,” Festival Director Chip Hale said. “That’s pretty much how the idea came about. It was really just kind of simple. In doing so, I’ve found that everyone is so passionate about those three buildings, and it has become such a fun experience so far.”

The film festival will follow this year’s Derrick Lighting event with a short film and a feature film Nov. 16. Then, the screenings will continue through the weekend until Nov. 18.

Although Hale is motivated enough on the project, he said, having the excitement surround the festival has heightened that motivation.

“I am pleased with the overall commitment from the community,” he said.

What amazes him is when people he has never met come up to him to ask about the film festival or the status of the theaters.

“I’m kind of at that point where I have extra incentive. Now I have the added pressure to make the film festival that I want to make, now that I know how supportive everyone is,” he said.

With 60 submissions, Hale said, he has been surprised by the response he has seen from filmmakers. In addition to many from Texas and the United States, the festival has received international submissions from Iran, Hungary, France and Great Britain.

“We’re programming 45 (films); right now we’ve got 50 submissions,” Hale told the Kilgore Lions Club Aug. 3. By the submission deadline Sept. 16, he and other film festival organizers might have to turn away 15 or more films, which he did not anticipate. “I really thought we’d barely get enough to even program the festival… It has been very fulfilling to be able to come up with an idea that everyone seems to enjoy. I’m pleased by that.”

With the East Texas Oil Museum, the Rangerette Showcase Museum, the Rangerettes, the Texas Shakespeare Festival and the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival in Kilgore, he said, the film festival will give people one more activity and passion to support in town, comparing it to “one extra thing at the buffet line.”

“It’s all kind of starting to line up. It feels good, and it feels good to give the city something else to be proud of and to give their energy to. We have a lot of good things in this town,” he said.

The festival will also see new visitors to Kilgore with the filmmakers and other film enthusiasts coming to see the movies. Others may just attend to see the Texan and the Old Post Office – now the Kilgore History and Arts Center – in use. Hale hopes many of the sponsors will be local as well.

“If we could look up and have 90 percent of the sponsors and 90 percent of the support be Kilgore for this film festival, I think that is a very great testament to our little community.”

In addition to the movies, the Reel East Texas Film Festival will also include other events during the weekend and throughout the year.

One of those events during festival weekend is the Roundtable Series in which industry professionals will come speak with each other and visitors about their craft.

“To be able to create an entire event, a weekend long event, to where people don’t want to leave – people want to stay; people want to experience something – to me that’s the most important thing,” Hale said. “The filmmakers are going to come see their movies, and while we have them, let’s keep them.”

Hale also plans to have multiple events throughout the year outside of the November festival.

“I keep using the word footprint – but I want to be able to, at least two or three times a year, have another event that takes place,” he said.

The first of these events will be a Movie in the Park event Sept. 30 (see Page 1A) featuring the 1985 film “The Goonies.” To continue supporting local organizations, the entry fee for the movie will be canned goods for Kilgore Helping Hands.

Sponsored by Citizens National Bank and Longview-Kilgore Cable, the Reel East Texas Film Festival will set up a screen under the amphitheater in Kilgore City Park for anyone to enjoy.

Next summer, Hale also hopes to start a film summer camp where student directors, actors and technicians can learn about the industry and how to create and edit a film.

“It’s funny how one little idea of a film festival has now spawned itself into other things, but again it goes back to having such amazing local community support. Anytime I mention the Crim or Texan or Post Office, everyone just gets really excited… Even though it’s out of my way to drive by them, I just drive by them all the time. Sometimes I’ll just make random blocks around the whole entire facility and just start daydreaming about what we can do.”

Hale sees any increased foot traffic downtown as beneficial to the merchants and to the city itself.

“Kilgore – the downtown area – is no different than the Los Angeles downtown area geographically how they’re designed,” he said. “They’re on a grid, you can walk to all these places. The difference, obviously, is square area and population. If we can get people downtown, you have everything that you need… The main idea is really to try to encourage tourism here as well.”

Along with that, Hale hopes the festival will help promote Kilgore as a filming location for movies and TV shows.

“Kilgore actually can more than take advantage of that film friendly title that it has,” he said, noting Kilgore’s designation as a Film Friendly City by the Texas Film Commission. “I feel that we can actually probably end up getting some television shows here as well, and I don’t see any reason why this area can’t become what Austin was 30 years ago.”

The festival will include a screenplay contest with Overton Films to produce the winning project, so long as Kilgore serves as the main location.

“I will let them use my equipment. I will help them find locations. I will essentially act as a producer with the agreement they bring that project back here,” Hale said. “That’s just one way of maybe trying to entice some sort of film industry to start. I’ve had zero issues making movies here. I can go set my camera up in the middle of the street, and people will just drive by and wave at me.”

The festival will also contribute money to the Theater and Post Office Renovation Fund that will help renovate the buildings.

“Of the festivals that ‘Sweethearts’ played in, five of them were in theaters that were no different than the Crim and the Texan at some point in time that had been renovated and turned into not just theaters where you can go and watch a movie, but event centers… That really is the end game for me. I want to turn Kilgore into the arts and entertainment capital of East Texas,” he said.

In addition to any monetary donations, Hale said, people can support the festival by attending the events and many other ways, including donating lounge furniture which will be set up in the Texan for people to use while watching the movies.

“My goal is to, instead of just having fold-out chairs and tables, I actually want to try to accumulate furniture to try to create an atmosphere, so whenever you come into watch the movies, you actually can sit in a recliner or a sofa,” he said.

For more information about the festival or to donate any items, contact Hale at info@reeleasttexas.com.

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