Written by: Claudia Stack | Photography provided by: Cape Fear Independent Film Network
Where in this area can independent filmmakers find talented, like-minded people and see cutting edge regional independent films? Since the year 2000, the answer to both of these questions has been: the Cape Fear Independent Film Network (CFIFN) and its namesake festival, the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival (CFIFF). That is the same year that Rich Gehron and his wife, Kathleen, founded CFIFN, a 501c(3) organization, to promote independent film in the region.
When the Gehrons moved to Wilmington in 1996, it was difficult for Rich to find work. The main studio at the time, Carolco, was up for sale and there wasn’t much production work going on. As Rich tells it, “I decided to beg, borrow and steal to make my own film. In the process, I discovered an amazing group of local professionals willing to help a guy out with a decent script and very small budget. I figured we needed some kind of way for these people to stay connected and share resources, to help each other out during lean times. So out of my experience of making this film and meeting these people came the Cape Fear Independent Film Network. It was my wife, Kathleen, who came up with the idea of making it a nonprofit.”
Although the CFIFN has sponsored many events over the years including free outdoor film screenings and educational workshops, they are best known for their annual film festival. The festival is run by the Gehrons and a core group of dedicated volunteers. Every few years they recruit a new volunteer director for the festival in order to bring a fresh perspective. In addition to this, panels of volunteers from a variety of backgrounds act as the selections and awards committees.
This year, the CFIFF will take place June 15th -17th, at the Hannah S. Block Community Arts Center in downtown Wilmington. According to Rich, the festival draws filmmakers and audience members alike due to its focus on local film. “We strive to include as many North Carolina-made, or North Carolina-connected films as possible. This group started as a way to connect and celebrate local and regional filmmakers, and we’ve never strayed from that purpose. And, even though we’re a smaller festival, we’re competitive. Filmmakers that are accepted have fairly good odds at winning a Category Award or even a cash prize. That has attracted a wide variety of genres. The FAITH/FAMILY and HORROR genres coexist at our festival, and both remain consistently popular. While the festival has grown since its inception, it’s never gotten too overwhelming. Things are structured so that one person can attend almost every event.”
It was a conversation with makeup artist Jeff Goodwin, after the 2014 film festival, that got the Gehrons thinking about another ambitious project, the idea of founding a Wilmington Film Museum (WFM). As Rich recalls, “After the state film incentives were stripped by the last [NC] administration and the work started to go elsewhere, we realized that there was very little in the way of a preservation effort.
When Jeff Goodwin won the Creative Spirit award at CFIFF in 2014, we sat down and discussed “the future of the past” for Wilmington film history. We have since done two free exhibits at the Hannah S. Block Community Arts Center. The exhibits were a big hit with locals and especially with tourists. We are opening our third exhibit there this June to coincide with the 2017 film festival.”
Looking to the future, CFIFN aims to create a place to showcase both the history and new developments of regional film. Rich shares that their main focus right now is to find a permanent home for the Wilmington Film Museum. As he notes, “The festival has existed at different venues over the years, but that’s not a sustainable model for the WFM project as we envision it. Ideally, we need to bring the Museum and the Festival together under one roof in order to manage and continue to grow both of them.”
Anyone interested in helping can contact CFIFN through Facebook or their website: www.cfifn.org