Film festivals get started for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s for the sake of art. Sometimes it’s more about business. Other times it’s about pure entertainment.
For Downtown Covington Film Festival founder Jessy Williamson, however, it all started because of something closer to a dare.
Blame Facebook. That’s where a few years ago, he came across a post in which someone wondered how difficult it is to mount a film festival.
As the director of such films as the New Orleans music documentary “A Warehouse on Tchoupitoulas,” Williamson is no stranger to the film festival circuit. So, he had thoughts on the subject.
“Having been to 40, 50 different film festivals, I said, ‘I’ve been to a bunch, and it doesn’t seem too hard,’” Williamson recalled. “And people just said I didn’t know what I was talking about. So I said, ‘OK. We’ll see.’”
Williamson, a New Orleans native who grew up in Covington — and who, thus, knew how festival-friendly the St. Tammany Parish city’s downtown area can be — made a few phone calls.
This year, his Downtown Covington Film Festival — the result of that online challenge — marks its third year, playing out over two days at the Southern Hotel on Feb. 28 and 29.
And while it’s a fairly modest festival when compared to, say, the New Orleans Film Festival across the lake, Williamson said he expects its 2020 edition to continue the growth he saw in year two.
“The first year, I was blown away when 100 people showed up to watch a movie,” he said.
Last year, he estimated 175 to 200 people crowded into the Southern Hotel’s ballroom-cum-screening-room during the festival’s peak times. This year, he said, festival organizers have been working to spread the word beyond the local film community about what the festival has to offer.
At the top of the list of those offerings this year is the Louisiana-made feature “Lost Bayou,” an atmospheric blend of mud and mysticism that will serve as the Covington festival’s opening-night highlight. It’s a film Williamson said perfectly fits his festival’s Louisiana-centric focus.
Directed by Louisiana filmmaker Brian C. Miller Richard, it premiered — and earned positive notices — at last summer’s prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
It’s since played a long list of other festivals, from San Francisco to Savannah, Georgia, and from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Weyauwega, Wisconsin.
Given how intensely local “Lost Bayou” is, however — from its all-Louisiana cast and crew to its swampy setting — Lafayette native Richard said there’s something special about unspooling it for a Bayou State audience.
“The cultural aspects we have in our film aren’t foreign to the people here,” he said. “There’s a pride aspect when it plays in New Orleans and throughout the South.”
Even more important to Richard is the fact that the Downtown Covington Film Festival gives him — and other filmmakers — a place to showcase their work while they work to secure a distribution deal.
“It’s great to see more festivals popping up,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and it seems like, for forever, the only festival you had was the New Orleans Film Festival and the Southern Screen Film Festival (in Lafayette). Those were the only places to showcase your films.”
Other notable films set to screen at the 2020 Downtown Covington Film Festival include the documentary “The Unbelievable Plight of Mrs. Wright,” actor-director John Schneider’s horror film “4: GO” and the crime drama “Arceneaux: Melpomene’s Song.”
Like “Lost Bayou,” all were made by Louisiana filmmakers. That’s important to Williamson, who wants the weekend to do more than just entertain.
“It’s a celebration, and we want the public to have a good time,” he said, “but we have guest speakers aimed at Louisiana filmmakers.
“You meet real filmmakers, people who work in the industry,” he continued. “You can talk with them. You can be inspired.”
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