Scott Galloway had a clever idea for a festival, the like of which Charlotte has never seen. It would offer a variety of pictures: dramas, documentaries, movies made by professionals and movies made by amateurs. The coolest thing would be a component linking charities that needed promotional videos with student filmmakers who needed experience.
Tickets would cost just $10. Films would be so short he could show dozens in one night without boring audiences, and they’d have one thing in common. What is it?
Well, if this article were a screenplay for one of them, it would end ... right here.
Yes, the 100 Words Film Festival lives up to its name. Every entry had to be exactly 100 words, and a countdown clock in the corner of the screen lets you know how many words remain.
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Some directors played with this formula, using title cards to cram in extra information. Some brought minimal dialogue to visually rich projects. A few used that clock to increase tension: In the family drama “Hey Jason,” Cecil Stokes and Josh Summers get down to their last four words and let the actor lapse into silence. Finally, they close their movie with one perfect sentence.
Galloway, himself a documentarian and the founder of Charlotte-based Susie Films, adopted this motto: “The only film festival that doesn’t outstay its welcome.”
He realized his kids (aged 12 to 17) all like watching short-form content more than ever: “Instead of watching ‘Shark Week’ on the Discovery Channel, they’ll search for ‘great white shark’ on YouTube and watch three minutes of some surfer getting bitten in South Africa,” he said with a smile. “They also check out how long a video is before they commit to it.”
Galloway has made some of his living at Susie Films creating branded entertainment for companies: five seconds of logo, 50 seconds of word track, five seconds of logo again. So he has an appetite for the form, and he realized it’s financially accessible to almost anyone.
He didn’t put a time limit on entries, so he might have gotten a fistful of features. (The Oscar-winning “The Artist” uses fewer than 100 words.) But virtually all were brief: One Canadian filmmaker turned in a 74-minute picture about post-apocalyptic Manitoba that didn’t make the cut.
Galloway got a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which he says “responded to the innovative idea: They were aware of the cultural shift to shorter forms. And they were excited about the student-charity partnership.”
He connected nonprofits and students; the former pay an honorarium to cover gas and meals, and the latter get to work on a challenging project guaranteed to find an audience. Queens University of Charlotte student Tim Cloud made one for Regional Aids Interfaith Network; Drew Barnett of UNC School of the Arts worked with Charlotte Rescue Mission; Mark Borja of UNCC collaborated with the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, which encourages literacy for kids.
Perhaps the best thing for all entrants will be the chance to hear strangers respond to their work, almost certainly for the first time. “Being in the audience at a film festival is like watching your kids play in traffic,” says Galloway. “But it’s crucial to a filmmaker to get that audience reaction.”