It’s not often in one’s life that an idea or vision comes to mind and you realize that you must plant the seed and see what grows. That was the case with the Milledgeville Film Festival, now in its fifth year. I’m brought back, not to something great about me, but to the stories of a lot of amazing people who have given and shared their hopes and dreams by being a part of our community festival, a festival which has grown to the place of receiving over 1000 films submitted from more than 45 countries, welcoming visitors from ten plus countries, including Oscar and Golden Globe nominated guests, and offering six days of panels dealing with topics from comedy to social justice.
Imagine a small, southern town. A warm breeze rustles the leaves of giant oaks as students rush to classes at the state's top liberal arts school. Local shop owners place chalk board signs on historic streets that once felt the footsteps of General Marquis de Lafayette, Oliver Hardy, and Flannery O’Connor.
Now imagine twenty-nine-year-old me working on one of the most famous reality shows in history and hyped on coffee from my favorite coffee shop, Blackbird Coffee. I’m too naïve to fear anything. Jeremiah meets Milledgeville, and the Milledgeville + Eatonton Film Festival is born. When I came to Milledgeville, I had been unemployed for several months and had found a one-day gig on Craigslist while browsing jobs in an Atlanta coffee shop. The job involved moving some gear and doing some painting for a reality show. That first summer day in Milledgeville was long and hot, especially painting inside a building with no AC, windows, or water. Fast forward a bit, and that one day led to over two years of work producing one of the top reality shows in the world.
During those two years, Milledgeville evolved from a place I had never even heard of to a place that holds a special spot in my heart. After being on the “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” show for about nine months, I began to realize that Milledgeville had a lot of untapped potential when it came to television and film. I had volunteered with the Atlanta Film Festival when I lived in Atlanta, and I missed not being around a film festival. One day while back in Atlanta, I was meeting with a fellow producer. I mentioned to him that over the last few months I had felt that Milledgeville would really benefit from having its own film festival. His reply was, “Are you sure? That’s way too much work? That really can’t be pulled off.” Well, anyone who knows me knows that his response was all the inspiration I needed. Over the next few days, I met with a couple of great folks from the Milledgeville Visitors Bureau and Milledgeville Main Street, and we planned a meeting of government, business, and education leaders. For the first meeting, about fourteen folks showed up. I explained what makes up a film festival then asked them to join the board. One year after my first visit to Milledgeville, the Milledgeville Film Festival was born.
The last few years have been full of so many amazing guests. Producers from “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Still Alice,” “Boyhood,” and “Captive,” Oscar-and-Golden-Globe-nominated folks, have visited and spoken on panels and at Q&A’s. Members of the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild, the Writers Guild, and the Directors Guild have shared their insights with a younger generation of filmmakers. Filmmakers have flown in from more than ten countries including Spain, Japan, and Hungary, while guests have rocked out at amazing parties and posed for thousands of pictures on the red carpet. Though all of this is great, nothing compares to the spirit of the indie filmmakers—the sweat, tears, and true grit they exhibit each and every day to make projects they believe in. That’s why I’m so excited that the city of Eatonton is joining with the Milledgeville Film Festival to create the Milledgeville + Eatonton Film Festival, ME Film Festival, offering six days to celebrate journeys, love, and heartaches on the silver screen.
We are a film festival created for filmmakers by filmmakers. While I might have the honor of being called founder and president, none of this would have been possible without amazing board members, generous sponsors, hundreds of volunteers, and daring filmmakers. I look forward to seeing you all in Milledgeville + Eatonton on April 24th-29th for the 5th ME Film Festival, and let’s have some more Blackbird coffee!