This is the tale of two Charlotte film festivals born four years and four blocks apart. Both moved to better locations in 2018 – but one had to quit the Queen City to find the financial support it needed.
Joedance, created in 2010, has shifted from a courtyard in Fourth Ward to McBride-Bonnefoux Center for Dance. It’ll run there Aug. 3-4, both inside the air-conditioned building and outside on the lawn (for those who’ve enjoyed its relaxed, sometimes sweltering tent set-up).
The 100 Words Film Festival, which began at McGlohon Theater in 2014, will go 590 miles north to one of North America’s three film capitals: Toronto, where it will play at Ted Rogers Cinema Oct. 14. That’s the home of Hot Docs, an internationally respected documentary film festival.
Why did one stay, and why did one reluctantly go?
Founder Diane Restaino never envisioned her fest as anything but a Fourth Ward event. She has lived there with husband Mike before and after 20-year-old Joe Restaino died of cancer at Levine Children’s Hospital. The family created the festival that year in memory of their son, contributing proceeds to the hospital. As of last year, Joedance had raised $130,000 for pediatric cancer research there.
Joedance remains unique by programming only movies with a Mecklenburg County connection: Filmmakers grew up, went to college or shot here. It’s been known for breezy informality: Your $25 ticket bought you a hot dog as well as a night of movies, you had to bring your own chair, and people jockeyed for space with decent sightlines.
But even before rain blasted through the tent flaps and sent almost everyone home early last summer, Restaino knew she wanted to move. And she knew where.
She and Mike, longtime Charlotte Ballet patrons, chatted with artistic director Hope Muir and executive director Doug Singleton at the 2017 Innovative Works concert. Diane gave them tickets to the August screenings, which they attended pre-deluge. Everyone agreed the fest should travel three blocks east to the dance center this year.
“We realized in 2016 we were outgrowing our courtyard,” says Diane Restaino. “We squeezed through last August by installing three screens. We didn’t want to go to the McGlohon or Belk Theater, because that’s not Fourth Ward. We’re banking on the building vision for the North Tryon corridor and want to be part of that.”
“If you’re going to build up the community, you should build in your own backyard,” says Singleton. “Our dancers are on layoff right now, so it’s perfect timing.” He has a personal interest, too: His mother and uncle died of multiple myeloma: “They say it’s not hereditary, but you always worry.”
Muir’s tenure has brought stronger ties with the non-dance arts community, and the center has hosted non-ballet performances for a while. This will be its first film festival; because only 200 people can sit indoors, a VIP tent outside will hold another 75 to 100.
You’ll pay more to sit in the heat. But Restaino has committed to raising $70,000 needed to fund a lab technician for Levine’s pediatric cancer translational research laboratory.
“Joe didn’t know we’d start a film festival,” she says. “He told us he hoped we’d do something that would establish a paid internship for cancer research and fund a clinical trial for sarcoma, which we have done. There’s more to do.”
100 Words Film Festival
Scott Galloway’s festival also has a charitable side: It links student directors to local nonprofits that need promotional documentaries, then connects these filmmakers to experienced mentors who improve the product.
But unlike Joedance, whose backing has been anchored by founding sponsor Archer Daniels Midland, 100 Words never located sponsorship to establish it on a firm footing – until now.
Galloway’s TED talk about 100 Words found its way to Canadian cinephile Dione Goyette. She and husband Paul checked out the festival website and invited its founder to move it to Toronto. Students from Johnson C. Smith University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte will present work there this year, among the usual roster of world premieres.
“The Goyettes are raising all the money through family, friends and connections in the film industry,” Galloway says. “I don’t have to do any of that, which is great. I just have to be a part of the two-person team curating the films.”
The event will keep its unique personality: Every movie must have neither more nor less than 100 spoken words, however long it runs, and a small clock in the corner of the screen counts them down. This builds suspense, as audiences wonder how a storyteller can wrap things up in the last few words.
And it will retain local ties. Susie Films, Galloway’s media production company, stays at North Church Street. He’ll continue ancillary events, such as the monthly seminar by film experts at the Google Fiber Building and the 1K series of podcasts lasting 1,000 seconds.
What’s gone, at least for now, is the film lineup that drew directors from as far away as Turkey. Though Galloway says audiences grew annually, and filmmakers regularly came to lead seminars, 100 Words lost money each year.
“It might have been my salesmanship – or lack thereof – but we never had one of the big companies get behind us,” he says with a rueful smile. “Charlotte audiences did, but its institutions did not.”
What comes next?
Restaino wants Joedance to grow in place. The festival increased its marketing push this year, the Omni and Dunhill lined up as official festival hotels, and Rock Bottom created two beers in its honor. (The dark one: Joe Schmo.)
If audience demand remains high, she could add a matinee or expand to a three-day festival – “maybe add music or storytelling, even a Sunday brunch. This area has lots of restaurants, and it’s walkable. A film festival could become a destination.”
Galloway’s unsure. He’d like 100 Words to expand in Toronto from October’s one-day event to at least the two days it ran at McGlohon. He maintains relationships with Blumenthal president Tom Gabbard, who provided that theater, and Charlie Elberson of the Reemprise Fund, who backed student-mentor partnerships. But he doesn’t know if Charlotte screenings can resume.
“We haven’t closed the door, though it may lose luster when the films have premiered somewhere else,” he says. “We put together a ‘Best Of’ tour last year that played Seattle, San Francisco and other places; maybe something like that could come here. But I don’t know if it can work in two cities, and the Toronto people have really embraced it.”
If you’re going
Joedance runs at 8 p.m. Aug. 3-4 at McBride-Bonnefoux Center for Dance, 701 N. Tryon St. It will show seven shorts – narratives, documentaries and music videos -- on Friday and six on Saturday. Basic tickets cost $25, with privileges such as a pre-screening reception or VIP party available at higher levels.
The 100 Words Film Festival runs Oct. 14 at Ted Rogers Cinema, 506 Bloor St West, Toronto.
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.