Oscar is coming to this year’s New Orleans Film Fest. Or, at least a potential nomination.
In January, the NOFF became an Oscar-qualifying film festival for the first time — in the category of documentary shorts.
“What that means is that the person who wins the award for best documentary short at the festival — it’s a jury prize, three people decide it — that film can automatically submit to the Oscars and is eligible for an Oscar nomination,” said NOFF Executive Director Jolene Pinder.
“It’s part of a relationship we’ve had with the Academy,” added Pinder. “They funded the festival at a pretty high level after Katrina with a three-year grant and last year they came back and funded Emerging Voices, which is our mentorship program for filmmakers of color in Louisiana, as well as a strand of programming of films by black directors, both veteran and emerging. So I think it’s a strong bond and it shows that they believe in what we’re doing.”
Along with the big jump in prestige, that Oscar brings comes a much larger field of applicants this year – 58 percent larger, actually, from 100 countries – with a total of more than 3,400 films.
To screen all of those films requires “a really strong commitment from our staff and from a community of screeners we work with,” said Pinder. Along with the festival’s programming team, organizers involve members of the New Orleans Film Society to screen the films and provide feedback.
And there should be no let-up next year for the screeners, as the NOFF will add animated shorts and live action as Oscar-qualifying categories.
The festival opens October 14 – at the newly restored Orpheum — with Born to be Blue, a film on legendary jazz musician Chet Baker starring Ethan Hawke. “I’m reluctant to say it’s a biopic because it’s really not this expansive view of his life and his work,” said Pinder. “It’s more around this one particular period of his life that was a real struggle for him.”
The film has a local connection as well, as the post-production work was done at Plantation Village studios just outside Baton Rouge.
Other films getting a lot of Oscar buzz and festival attention, Pinder said, include Carol, a new Todd Haynes film starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara; Room, starring Brie Larson about a woman who has been locked up in a room for several years with her small child; Legend, a gangster movie starring Thomas Hardy and produced by local company Cross Creek Pictures; and Brooklyn, an Irish love story that will close out the festival October 22.
Aside from the programming and networking opportunities, the NOFF will provide a chance to understand the changes that have been made to Louisiana’s film tax credit program in the last legislative session.
“I think the festival’s the first big public event since session,” said Pinder, “and it offers an opportunity to really educate people on where we’re at and what it means.” The schedule includes a free, public Q & A session with top officials from the Louisiana Entertainment Office in Baton Rouge to answer questions about the changes.
“One thing that is an interesting part of the festival that is related to the incentives, sort of indirectly, is that we launched a new program called the Creative Louisiana Filmmakers Grant,” said Pinder. “We’re going to give out one grant to a Louisiana filmmaking team, $50,000 to make a short film here.”
That short film will premiere at the 2016 NOFF, but the recipient of the grant will be announced on the festival’s closing night.
Several different ticket packages are available for this year’s New Orleans Film Festival. For more information, visit http://www.neworleansfilmfestival.org.