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Film festival brings slate of movies to University of North Georgia-Dahlonega
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Antwanette McLaughlin at the SouthEastern Film Festival on Friday. McLaughlin is a producer at The Spice Group located in Atlanta and has produced many music videos. - photo by Erin O. Smith

For the second year, the SouthEastern Film Festival is bringing 80 award-winning, independent and otherwise uncommon films to Northeast Georgia for the weekend.

The festival, which began Friday, will continue at 10 a.m. today at the University of North Georgia-Dahlonega’s Hoag Auditorium.

Today’s showings feature a variety of films from animation to comedy, documentaries and short films, along with a question-and-answer panel and networking opportunities. The event is free to the public, but attendees are encouraged to preregister online at www.southeasternfilm.com. Seating is first-come, first-served, but the organizers expect to have seating for unregistered guests all weekend.

“I am compelled by the range of storytelling in this year’s section,” said Seth Scofield, programming director for the festival and a film instructor at UNG. “The 2015 program will engage and challenge audiences with a wide range of stories.”

The program was determined by 75 judges from around the world who specialize in all areas of creative development. More than 1,700 films from 43 countries were submitted for this year’s festival.

The weekend began Friday morning with a series of short films, including one written and directed by UNG student Luke Pilgrim. His 10-minute creation, called “It’s All Part of the Plan,” is about a man who practices proposing to his girlfriend — something Pilgrim was doing at the time he wrote the film — who gets mugged while on one knee.

“While we were filming, we actually had the cops called on us because this guy (the actor) kept getting mugged over and over again on the street,” Pilgrim said. “It was actually the second time we had the cops called on us because we set off a smoke alarm with a fog machine on another day.”

Pilgrim, a 28-year-old senior film student from Cleveland, came up with the idea as part of a screenwriting class at the university. Now, it is in contention for short film awards at the festival and a UNG student award, all of which will be given out Sunday evening.

Another student in the program, Brad Kennedy, 21, worked with Pilgrim on the short film, along with creating a short of his own, titled “The Block.” The pair are currently working on another film together for their senior project, called “The Apology Service.” They launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to back the film and are now looking for extras, locations and more details to begin filming.

Georgia native Chris Simoes, a retired law enforcement officer, created his first film for the festival, a thriller titled “Bigfoot: The Curse of Blood Mountain.” It will be featured on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The festival is also shows films from 10 countries, including Spain, India, Kuwait, France and Australia.

The festival’s founders, Scofield and director Ava Leigh Stewart, hope the experience will give students a way to network with industry professionals, see different genres of film and gain inspiration. They hope that SEFF will open the community’s eyes to new, independent, creative pieces and give them an opportunity to broaden their film horizons.

To accomplish this, the festival will feature the screening of 20 spotlight films that run the gamut from light-hearted animation to hard-hitting documentaries and will include two award-winning local independent films: “Imba Means Sing,” a documentary set in Uganda about the power of music and the impact of education, and “Paradise Garden,” a documentary about legendary folk artist Howard Finster.

“The whole premise is that we’re bringing a distribution method to places that may not have the chance to see these types of films,” Stewart said.

The idea for SEFF was already in the works when UNG expanded to create a four-year degree program in the Media, Communications and Journalism department, but the festival has certainly expanded the chances for students to be creative and make industry connections.

“We are trying to make sure that our students are absolutely ready to enter the film industry when they graduate,” Scofield said. “We are one of the schools that the governor has chosen to be part of the Georgia film academy.”

Friday’s panel featured production experts from different areas of the film industry, such as screenwriting, sound engineering, directing, producing and more. The panelists spoke on essential topics such as how to prepare to work in the industry, creating a portfolio, completing internships and more. Antwanette McLaughlin, a director and producer with The Spice Group, emphasized how important real-world experience is to filmmaking.

“I like to talk to students who are rising stars because they can get certain kinds of education outside of class,” McLaughlin said. “In Atlanta, (film production) is happening right in front of their faces, so I want to bring some productions up here because it would be really helpful for these students.”

Through SEFF, McLaughlin and other Atlanta-based companies are able to network with people in North Georgia to identify talent and extend working opportunities to students that would not otherwise have a way to connect with filmmakers in the city.

The panel today features actors from a range of shows and films, such as Jason MacDonald from “The Vampire Diaries,” and Eaddy Mays from “Teen Wolf.” Sunday’s panel includes members of Whitestone Pictures.

The Southeastern Film Festival will also screen family-friendly films throughout the weekend and will have question-and-answer sessions with some of the filmmakers following screenings.

For more information or to register, please visit www.southeasternfilm.com.

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