It’s easy for the festivals, as they come and go, to become a blur. We’ve already had Rhythm n Blooms, Big Ears and Earthfest. Rossini is this weekend and we haven’t even gotten to the heart of the Dogwood Arts activities downtown. Many more will follow. In the middle of all that is a festival that I’ll have to confess didn’t make it into my festival write-up: The Scruffy City Film and Music Festival.
It slips in after Rossini and overlaps the Dogwood Arts Festival on Market Square, running from April 26 through May 1. I’m not sure why it slipped past me as it does so many other Knoxville citizens. Maybe if it closed a main street for a day or took over multiple venues or Market Square we’d notice it more.
Instead, it happens quietly, unless you know about it, in a couple of venues – Regal Downtown West Theaters which, of course, are not downtown, nor any longer very far west – and Scruffy City Hall. It seems, according to festival director Michael Samstag, people from outside Knoxville are much more keenly aware of the festival and its very impressive line-up of film and music.
Originally from the northeast, after college Michael landed a job with the Ruby Tuesday corporation in Mobile, Alabama where he created their media department. In 1998, after three years in Mobile, his job was transferred to Maryville and he moved to east Tennessee. He stayed with them until 2000 when he began a two-year stint with IPIX in Oak Ridge. His last day on that job found him in Burbank, California pitching IPIX to the producers of a new movie series revolving around the Harry Potter books. For the next three years he produced special features for the first three Harry Potter movies, splitting his time between L.A. and London.
Around 2006, after returning to Knoxville, he and friends created Knoxville Films where they produced about a dozen films. He became involved in several renditions of Ten Hour Film Fest and took control of the festival in 2010, changing it to the 24 Hour Film Fest. By 2012 he began exploring the possibility of merging music and film into a unique festival and in 2014 the Scruffy City Film and Music Festival was born. This year marks its third rendition.
Focused on music in film, the festival is different from others which have proliferated in recent years. Awards are given at the festival for “Best Soundtrack,” “Best Composer,” and “Best Music Video,” for example. Two special awards will be given at this festival. The Smoky Mountain Cinema Award will go to former Knoxville citizen Quentin Tarantino, while the Scruffy City Music Award will be given to Ben Sollee who will perform in Scruffy City Hall on Saturday night.
But the films are the focus. Out of around 400 submissions from all over the world, only fifty were accepted. The highly selective nature of the festival is an attraction, but Michael told me having a music focus is unique for a film festival and that, along with being in a state associated with music brings participants from all over.
You’ll find blocks of film each day at 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM, with more presented at various additional slots. Seven feature films will be presented along with blocks of shorts. The feature films include the world premiere of “West of Her,” which will feature a Q&A with both the film maker and composer after the screening. A pre-release screening of Ethan Hawke’s new portrayal of Chet Baker in “Born to be Blue” will be a highlight. That’s right, you can see Ethan Hawke’s new movie at this festival in Knoxville before it is released in theaters.
I’m very intrigued by “In Pursuit of Silence,” and very excited about ” Late night at Scruffy City Hall on Friday will feature Ben Maney providing a musical score to a Charlie Chaplin silent movie. The film I’m most excited about is “A Song For You: Austin City Limits Story.” I’ve loved that series over the years and look forward to learning more about its story.
Panel discussions will be held on Saturday (Opening Credits) and Sunday (advanced crowdfunding). Admission for the festival is $40 for full access to the events, though admission for single events will be available at the door. VIP passes are also available which include various parties and gatherings, plus special seating and more ($100). You may get your tickets here.
So, there are a lot of reasons to come out and enjoy the music, films or both at the Scruffy City Film and Music Festival. Michael assured me some of the films featured in this festival will be in line for awards in the near future – and you can see them before the rest of the world. It’s a great festival, but he feels it is more known and respected outside the city than it is locally. The festival needs to grow and to do that, it will need local (corporate and public) support. Consider this little jewel as you run about to other festivals in the next few days and weeks.