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Greenville’s Own Film Fest: An Interview with the Founder

by Lisa Ellison
Guardian editor

image2When I heard that Tipsy Teapot at Limelight was hosting their first TeaDance Gay and Lesbian Film Festival this fall, I sent off an email to find out more. “Whoever is in charge” turned out to be Tommy Faircloth, a writer and director from Columbia, SC. In our email interview, I asked him about himself, film festivals in general, working in film and what we can expect for this festival.

LE: I see the 2nd annual Crimson Screen Horror Film Fest in Charleston is coming up. [Tommy is also the founder of the Crimson Screen Film Fest.] What made you interested in putting on film festivals? Did you find, after making your own films, there was a need for a place for people to get together to show their films?

TF: I directed my first feature film in 1995 while still attending college at USC Columbia. At the time I had been working on a big-budget film, Die Hard with a Vengeance, in Charleston, and I decided I was ready to direct my own. I did a horror film called Crinoline Head. A few years later I did my second film called Generation Ax. After that, I took a break from making movies and concentrated on making roller-coaster and theme-park documentaries. In 2013, I decided to get back into the horror business and I wrote and directed a short film called The Cabin [watch the trailer]. With this film, I was returning to real filmmaking, and also was going to take a shot at film festivals. My first two films were made in the day of VHS, and there were no genre-specific film festivals like horror film festivals. There was no Internet really, or social media, to promote yourself like today. So with The Cabin, I began submitting it to various film festivals to see what would happen and to see what I could accomplish with no money and barely a crew.

To my shock, The Cabin started being selected as an Official Selection to film festivals all over the US and beyond. It even starting winning awards. It was something new for me, so I was stoked, to say the least. After playing festivals for about 8 or 9 months, I got a call from ShortsTV, the world’s largest distributor of short films. They have a cable channel that is worldwide and are responsible for the broadcast and distribution of Oscar-winning short films. Well, they saw The Cabin at a film festival where it won an award, and they offered me a broadcast deal for it. This was amazing. It was great exposure for my actors, but it also showed me that I could create something people were interested in.

Photo source: Tommy Faircloth

Photo source: Tommy Faircloth

Now, I did get plenty of rejection from festivals as well. Mainstream non-genre festivals time and time again turned down my film because of the “horror” theme, even though it was more of a thriller and had hardly a drop of blood in it. This rejection was the final straw and I decided I would start a film festival in South Carolina and Charleston would be the home. I decided on Charleston because it is a huge tourist destination and I know people would come to visit if not just for the movies, for Charleston. The second reason was that it was very welcoming and seemed to be more accessible than anywhere else I looked. The art scene is really big and Charleston already hosts a few film festivals as well, so I thought having a different type of festival, only horror films, would be a welcome change. And it was. Our first festival in 2014 was a great success. It was on Easter weekend — everyone warned us that no one would come, but it turned out to be the opposite. Filmmakers from all over the globe flew in and we literally had everyone there that won an award except one person. This year we added a third day to the fest to be able to show even more films and host some filmmaking workshops. As a filmmaker, I knew what would work and what would attract filmmakers to the festival. We tripled our number of submissions this year from last. My partner Robert Zobel is also from Charleston, so we had lots of friends who were able to assist us in getting artists and locations for the fest.

I actually shot my latest feature in Charleston this past summer, and I am planning on a new feature, Dorchester’s Revenge [watch the trailer] to be shot in Greenville, NC next year.

LE: How did you get interested in film? If I understand your IMDB bio, you did some acting first, then started working behind the scenes after going to film school. What made you want to go into acting, and then turn to directing?

Faircloth on the left. Then his actors Christian James, Lizzie Mears, and partner Robert Zobel.

Faircloth (at left) with actors Christian James and Lizzie Mears. Faircloth’s partner, Robert Zobel, is at right.

TF: I did start in acting because I knew working in film was something I wanted to do. My first “big role” was on the TV series In The Heat of the Night. I loved working with all the actors and after that, I was hooked. I did lots of small roles here and there, but I knew that I liked telling a story from behind a camera more than being in front of it. So I moved from Aiken, SC to Columbia, SC to attend the University of South Carolina film school.

LE: What’s your favorite thing about a film festival? I imagine it’s a good time to meet other filmmakers and actors and other people involved in production and distribution as well as a time to get your work out to a larger audience. Is that right? What else does a filmmaker get from a film festival?

TF: For me, meeting other filmmakers and making lifelong friends has been the best part of film festivals. I have been from coast to coast and run into the same filmmakers all over the country. It’s a great way for actors and just those interested in getting into film to see what goes on in the indie scene and really inspires you as to what you can do yourself.

LE: I’m trying to imagine the turnout for the festival. There are the filmmakers and crews (do they have to be able to come, or can they just submit their films?) then there are people who have a specific interest in LGBT media and finally, I imagine, there are the people in Greenville who wouldn’t necessarily travel for a film festival, but would definitely enjoy one dropping into their own city. Can you speak to any targets for attendance? Which group do you think will come in the largest numbers to the festival?

TF: Indie film really is a specific type of film, and when you add LGBT to it, you narrow it down even more. Just like a horror festival, its a genre of film that has an audience but there are not that many outlets to see the films, or if you are a filmmaker or write, not that many places to have your work seen. My friends in Greenville who own the Tipsy Teapot at Limelight have been big supporters of my films — they’ve even traveled with me to festivals. They thought having a smaller LGBT film festival in Greenville would be something new and would be welcoming to people in the surrounding areas. They wanted to host the festival and can also host the parties after a long day of films as well, so it’s the perfect place for people and filmmakers to mingle and talk about movies.

LE: Regarding the festival itself, I see it’s Sept. 25-26. How is that time organized? Will features be shown for a certain block of time, documentaries at another, shorts at another, etc, with Q&A following each film? Who will judge the best film and filmmakers for the awards? Do you anticipate events going on all day? Will there be activities other than screenings and Q&A sessions?

image1TF: Once the film submissions deadline is closed, the judges will begin screening the films and judging them, and we will pick a selection of films based on those scores. We have two days and a specific amount of time we can show films, so we will program as many as we can in that period of time. We will show feature films alone and put short films into blocks. Filmmakers who attend will do Q&A sessions after their films. At the close of the fest, we will give awards for the best short and best feature films, as well as screenplay and the filmmaker awards. We will also have awards for best NC-produced films and filmmakers. It’s really important to support local artists so I make it a point to always have some type of local recognition at all my festivals.

LE: Can you say yet how submissions are looking? If not, based on your other festivals, does one category tend to fill up more quickly than the others? Do you think there will be a difference in response for LGBT films as opposed to horror films?

TF: We have got some really great submissions, and some from NC as well. More than what I imagined. We are still open for submissions and you can submit films via FilmFreeway.com. It’s an online submission platform that film festivals use. It’s paperless and really convenient for the filmmaker and film festival.

LE: What aspect of this festival are you most excited about?

TF: Meeting the filmmakers and seeing the response from the films.

LE: And, by the way, did you decide on one of the chalets or the cabin in Gatlinburg? [As I was scouring IMDB for information on Tommy, I noticed his one “self” credit was for a 2012 episode of “House Hunters.”]

TF: That episode of House Hunters is on Amazon streaming I believe. Look for “Tommy and Robby search for a mountain home.” That is the cabin we shot the short film The Cabin at as well.

The first annual TeaDance Gay and Lesbian Film Festival at Limelight’s Tipsy Teapot is free and open to the public. It runs September 25 and 26. Screenings will be held both days. Limelight will host after-parties following both days’ screenings.

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One Response

  1. Rich Elkins says:

    Oh that is a horrible weekend to schedule an LGBT film festival… Unless they’ve changed something this year, that is NC Pridefest weekend in Raleigh/Durham (last weekend in September)

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