Organizer: Time right for films

This is an international film festival and it was open for submissions  from all over the world. We wanted the best — the best story,  the best acting, the best cinematography.” Chesley Heymsfield, film festival organizer

The organizer of the first Louisiana International Film Festival said she hopes next month’s event will further the development of the movie business around the state.

“The real core thing that is driving the purpose of this festival is the economic impact far beyond the actual dates of the festival,” said Chesley Heymsfield, producer and organizer of the film festival.

It will be held April 18 and April 21 at venues across Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

“We have an incredible film community here, and the potential we have to grow it further is more than people realize,” she said.

The Louisiana film industry has had recent successes both on the local artistic and the big-budget business sides. On one hand, there’s Shreveport-based Moonbot Studios, which produced the Academy Award-winning animated film “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” and New Orleans writer-director Benh Zeitlin, who made the Oscar-nominated movie “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” On the other hand, blockbusters like the final two “Twilight” movies, “Django Unchained” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” all were filmed in Louisiana.

“We have an intersection between the larger commercial films that shoot in the state and the incredible indigenous spirit,” Heymsfield said.

Plans are to screen more than 30 movies during the film festival. Heymsfield said there will be a mix of world premiere movies and Louisiana premieres. More than 200 films were submitted for screening at the festival.

“This is an international film festival and it was open for submissions from all over the world,” she said. “We wanted the best — the best story, the best acting, the best cinematography.”

The full lineup of movies for the festival will be announced April 1. Two titles have been released so far: “West of Memphis” and “At Any Price.”

“West of Memphis” is a documentary produced by “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson. It is about three teenage boys who were unjustly sent to prison for the murder of three children and the investigations that led to their release.

“At Any Price” is a family drama starring Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron.

The festival will kick off with an opening night screening at the Joy Theater in New Orleans. The rest of the events will be held in Baton Rouge, including film screenings at the Manship Theatre and Cinemark Perkins Rowe; a producer’s conference and industry expo at Raleigh Studios in the Celtic Media Centre; and an awards ceremony at the LSU Rural Life Museum.

There will be free events and movie screenings, including a daytime event at the Manship Theatre on April 21 that will tie in to Louisiana Earth Day festivities that will be going on downtown.

Heymsfield expects several thousand people will attend the festival. While most of the people who attend the festival will be locals, she’s hoping to attract some regional visitors from Shreveport, Lafayette and surrounding states.

“We’ve had people attend our previous screenings who drove in from Mississippi,” Heymsfield said.

The goal with the first festival is to create a brand and set a footprint that allows for future growth. After all, major international film festivals such as Cannes and Sundance have built up over years and decades, Heymsfield said.

Chris Stelly, head of Louisiana Entertainment, a division of the Louisiana Economic Development department that promotes the state’s movie, music, theater and digital media industries, said in an email statement that the festival is a natural progression in the growth of a self-sustaining film industry.

“The focus on Louisiana films and filmmakers is an added bonus, but more important is the mentorship aspect,” Stelly said. “Any program that provides an opportunity to our young aspiring filmmakers is amazing.”

Heymsfield said it would normally cost about $1 million to put on an event like the film festival, but this year’s festival and additional movie screenings the organization will hold this year will be covered by about $250,000 in contributions and in-kind donations.