Filmmakers ready for Kilgore screenings at festival

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Filmmakers from across the world are preparing to visit Kilgore for the Reel East Texas Film Festival opening Nov. 16 at the Texan Theater,

For Kilgore native Andy Jarrell, it will be a homecoming.

“I was in the Crim and the Texan all the time,” he said, noting he often got yelled at for putting his feet on the seats.

When he and his siblings went to see movies in the Texan as eight or nine year olds, Jarrell said, his dad would give them a quarter and they could get a ticket to the movie for 9 cents and then get popcorn and a soda and have 15 cents left over.

The first movie he saw was “Abbott and Costello” with his grandmother.

“I made her sit through it three times,” he said.

Now, his short film “CLOUDS” will be part of Reel East Texas Film Festival and shown in the Texan.

Saturday’s showing of “CLOUDS” will not be Jarrell’s first time having a movie appear on the big screen in Kilgore, though. In 1968, he was part of “Lady in Cement” with Frank Sinatra, and his name was put on the Crim Theater marquee alongside Sinatra’s when it premiered in Kilgore.

After moving to New York in 1966 and appearing in many commercials, he said, “I got lucky and did a film with Sinatra and from there it just kind of mushroomed into a good thing. I was working all the time from the last 1960s to the 1980s and on.”

In total, Jarrell has 25 acting credits, according to the Internet Movie Database, including appearances in “Casino,” “Dallas” and “Catch-22.”

When he comes back to Kilgore’s big screen, though, Jarrell will be appearing along with, in addition to the other actors, his grandson.

Jarrell is excited for the festival to begin in Kilgore and bring a new industry to the East Texas oilfield.

“It’s a real achievement for Kilgore and for East Texas… I think it’ll be a real good feather in Kilgore’s cap,” he said.

For some, though, their visit to Kilgore will be their introduction to small-town Texas.

Mike Vezza, who will be coming in for the festival from New Jersey, said he has never been anywhere near East Texas.

In addition to being executive producer of the short film “Reality Disorder,” Vezza appears as an actor in the project. Although it is being marketed as a short film, he said, it is really a pitch pilot for a TV show. In addition to being the first screening in Texas, the Friday morning showing will be its first in the American South.

While he is in Kilgore, Vezza said, he hopes to explore the city, network with other filmmakers visiting to promote their projects and maybe find filming locations in the area, calling it an “untapped market” for filmmakers.

“We’re just happy to be there,” he said. “I’m excited to get a look at a new city… We’re excited to be part of their first year.”

Also venturing to Kilgore is James Christopher, who is bringing with him two projects to screen during the festival.

Although Christopher is based in Austin and grew up in Houston, he said, “I have this love affair with small-town Texas.”

Christopher, who has been involved in the film industry for about 11 years, will bring two feature movies (“The Last Beautiful Girl” and “The Five Year”) to Kilgore for the film festival.

“To have a festival driven by stories is super, super important just for the culture of film we’re creating,” he said, noting film festivals of all sizes throughout the country are important for this reason.

As people continue to watch movies at home instead of in the theaters, Christopher said, they do not have the same shared experience they get when going into a theater and watching a movie together with others.

Excited to explore Kilgore and meet other filmmakers and people associated with the festival, Christopher said, “There’s nothing about it I’m not excited about.”

Jennifer Townsend will not be able to attend the festival, but her feature-length documentary “Catching Sight of Thelma and Louise” will play Thursday evening at 7:30 in the block following the annual Derrick Lighting celebration.

The experience was all new for the 78-year-old who was new to the business as she began work on the project as a 75-year-old.

She described the feeling as “terrifying.”

“There’s so much to learn when you’re new to the business and all the processes and all the elements that have to come together,” she said. “I’m learning every single day.”

Her favorite part about attending the film festivals is interacting with the audience.

Her goal with the documentary is to get people to start having conversation with each other and then take it a step further and act.

“I want people to think about how they can make society a safer place for women,” Townsend said. Part of that is getting men to support and speak up for the women in their lives. “We need their help. We can’t do this on our own because we’re all in this world together and we’ve all got to join hands and make this a safer place.”

Even though she cannot accompany her film to Kilgore, she said, she hopes people will take advantage of her contact information and reach out to her with any comments or questions they may have.

Reel East Texas Film Festival will begin Thursday, Nov. 16 at 10 a.m. and will continue through Saturday evening with the awards ceremony scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

The all-day screenings are broken up into two-hour blocks with half-price, one-hour lunch blocks on Thursday and Friday at noon.

Tickets for each block are $10 each with lunch block tickets $5. All-day passes are $50 each and all-access passes are available for $120. Both the all-day and all-access passes include entry into the REEL Lounge, set up in the Old Post Office (a.k.a. the Kilgore History and Art Center) across from the Texan, featuring the Bill Phinnie Art Exhibition.

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