The Asheville Film Festival ended Sunday with “Slumdog Millionaire,” the Danny Boyle drama about an Indian teen that won the audience award at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival. Asheville's fest had opened three days earlier with “The Wrestler,” which has gained Oscar buzz for Mickey Rourke's understated performance.
Think about that. In just six years, Asheville has forged ties to heavyweight distributors of independent films. Those two came from Fox Searchlight; Miramax supplied “The Boy in Striped Pajamas,” a drama about the Holocaust aimed at young adults. “Pajamas” should open next week in Charlotte, but the others won't reach us until December (if then).
This festival fulfills two needs. First, it showcases smaller movies that may fall through cracks: I judged the 25 documentaries, and the victor has no distributor. (It's “Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai,” about the Nobel Peace Prize winner who started an environmental and political revolution in Kenya.) Second, it provides regional premieres for buzzworthy titles that turn the festival into a destination.
RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem has taken steps in that direction, too. Any small fest – including the three that graced Charlotte over the last couple of months – may have to do the same, in order to stay competitive in a market where entertainment choices are increasing and disposable income is now dwindling.