When the organizers of the Black Cat Picture Show started throwing around the idea of a film festival last year, they figured they would start small.
“I don’t want to say it got away from us, but, at first, I thought it would be the home team,” said Le Chat Noir’s Krys Bailey. “I really thought it would be all of our favorite little film people hanging out for a weekend.”
After all, Augusta has a pretty respectable film community. What it turned into, however, was something much different.
In its inaugural year, the Black Cat Picture show will screen 27 movies, documentaries and shorts. Held at Le Chat Noir August 21-23, the festival will show 27 official selections from not only across the U.S., but from places like Norway, Japan, Ireland, Sweden, the Philippines, Denmark, Italy and Turkey.
“We were overwhelmed by the number of entries we received and they are from all over the world,” Bailey said. “Since we had so many international entries, we didn’t expect to have a lot of the filmmakers turn out, but we’ve got confirmations of people coming from Tokyo, and they’re picking up family in Dallas on their way here. We’ve got a couple coming from Ireland. We’re really surprised by the number of international guests we’re going to have.”
It was, he said, quite a shock.
“When we had people start booking their flights and hotels, we were like, ‘Oh man,’” Bailey said of the enormity of the project. “We planned on having a swanky party and all that, we just suddenly had out of town guests and we were like, ‘Oh my god, we need to get staff, everybody’s got to be wearing uniforms…’ When you realize people are coming from far and wide, you want to make an impression.”
Fortunately for the organizers, this is far from their first picture show. Most, including Bailey and Duane Brown, had worked with the Southern Fried Flicks film festival, which ran for two years at the Imperial Theatre until its demise. Bailey and others tried to resurrect the idea and make it a part of the Westobou Festival, which also didn’t work out.
The good news out of their lack of success, though, was they already had the basics laid out when they began to plan last year.
“When we presented it to Westobou in its second year, you’ve got to write out your budget so we already had the nuts and bolts. So when we were talking about it last year and someone said we really need a film festival, I said, ‘We’ve got one,’” he said as he mimicked picking up a stack of papers and blowing off the dust.
Though this is the Black Cat Picture Show’s inaugural year, Bailey said organizers modeled it after well-known film festivals like Sundance and Cannes, even using the same submission program online. Unlike other film festivals in the area, or even Southern Fried Flicks, they decided not to make it region-specific or even give it a theme.
“We kind of tossed that out,” he said. “We wanted to take all comers.”
And unlike Southern Fried Flicks, Augusta filmmakers didn’t receive special treatment.
“That was another thing we battled with,” he said. “Southern Fried Flicks had an unspoken rule that if they were from Augusta, they were automatically an official selection. It was a good idea for marketing reasons — that means the family is going to come, everybody who’s in the movie is going to come — but it didn’t sit well with some of us because it was kind of like cheating. We wanted to keep it on the up and up.”
That conundrum did lead to an idea for next year’s film festival: an “Exhibition Block” of films by locals, whose submissions either didn’t make the cut or whose cast and crew are part of the festival’s organizing committee.
“A lot of the guys in town who are good at this are the ones throwing it, which kind of stinks because they couldn’t enter their own movies,” Bailey said. “We made the decision that you can’t wear a staff badge and have your movie playing.”
Now, however, organizers are focused on this year’s Picture Show, which will screen movies in several categories including feature narrative, documentary, shorts, student films and a special category unique to this event.
“There’s a group of filmmakers in town who call themselves Wages of Cine, and their thing is bad movies with heart, those B movies that are so bad they’re good,” Bailey explained. “We’ll have a Wages of Cine Award, which is them pretty much picking out the worst movie but one they thought the filmmakers really tried hard.”
The public is invited to come to any and all nights of the Black Cat Picture Show, and those who buy an all-festival pass get a couple of perks: they get to attend the film artists’ reception on Friday night and they also get a ballot to vote in the viewer’s choice award.
Even though Bailey and other organizers are working down to the wire on this, their first event, he said they can’t help but look into the future.
“We hope we’ll have to expand in a year or two,” he said. “After you get past your first or second year and establish a good name, you get more and more submissions. But even this year? This year we got more submissions than our big year at the Imperial (with Southern Fried Flicks). That would be a great problem to have, to maybe expand to Sky City next year or hit up somebody else around here with a screen.”
Black Cat Picture Show
Le Chat Noir
Friday, August 21, 6 p.m.; film artists’ reception, 9:45 p.m.
Saturday, August 22, 6 p.m.
Sunday, August 23, 11 a.m.; awards ceremony, 3 p.m.
$15, Friday (including reception); $8, Saturday or Sunday; $25, all-festival pass (includes a ballot to vote for the viewer’s choice award)