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Thursday March 30th

The show goes on as Chapel Hill's annual Film Fest 919 shifts to drive-ins

<p>Randi Emerson (left) and Carol Marshall (right), the founders of FIlmFest 919, a film festival based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.&nbsp;Photo courtesy of Emerson and Marshall.</p>
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Randi Emerson (left) and Carol Marshall (right), the founders of FIlmFest 919, a film festival based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Emerson and Marshall.

Regular attendees of Chapel Hill's Film Fest 919 will still be able to watch their favorite movies at the annual festival, with some changes due to COVID-19. 

This year, those who attend the festival will be able to go to a drive-in theater at Carraway Village, or watch from outdoor seating at the Green at Southern Village.

Randi Emerman and Carol Marshall, the two founders of Film Fest 919, said they played with several different ideas for this year's festival before settling on a drive-in. They considered making the event virtual but decided against it, because they wanted a way to bring the Chapel Hill community together. 

“Those movies were intended to be seen on the big screen,” Emerman said. 

With the isolation the pandemic has brought, Emerman said they saw this as an opportunity for family and friends to safely enjoy time together. 

Emerman said there will be one movie shown each night from Wednesdays to Saturdays from Oct. 14 to 31. She said viewers will arrive in their parking spots or assigned pods and enjoy food trucks, pre-show events and, of course, films. 

Film Fest 919 will operate with full COVID-19 safety precautions. Emerman said the event will enforce social distancing, and attendees will have to wear masks. 

“We’re going to be extremely diligent in making sure this happens,” Emerman said.

She said it was especially nerve-wracking for the founders to organize this event. They were reluctant to reach out to sponsors since they were uncertain if the event was possible, she said, and most of their funds came from money raised in their first quarter. 

Although the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, a major sponsor of the event, had to scale back its sponsorship, it still provided Film Fest 919 with $5,000 to rethink the way the festival is held. 

“In light of these unprecedented times, we are delighted they are able to offer this year’s program in person, enabling all to enjoy an evening under the stars and experience some of the season’s most compelling movies,” Laurie Paolicelli, director of the visitors bureau, said in an email.

Marshall said this year will also be different in how attendees will connect. She said festivals such as these are usually a way for participants to meet actors, exchange film recommendations and connect with other movie enthusiasts. 

Now, instead of meeting in person, Marshall said she encourages the use of social media platforms. 

Megan Spell, a Durham resident who has attended Film Fest 919 for the past two years, said that in the past, she had been able to meet actors, Netflix representatives and journalists through the festival. She recalled recognizing someone from a podcast after hearing their voice while in the bathroom.

“I’m not sure that would happen in an outdoor venue,” she said. 

But Spell said she still plans on attending this year. She is interested in seeing this year’s line up, as the festival has a reputation for premiering films that go on to win awards. 

The first night kicks off the program with "One Night in Miami" and "MLK/FBI." Other films will include "Nomadland," "Fatman," "Farewell Amor," "Night of the Kings" and "Uncle Frank." For a special closing night, there will be a 45th anniversary premiere of "Rocky Horror Picture Show." 

Those who are interested in attending can buy passes or tickets from the Film Fest 919 website. Each pass or ticket will allow one vehicle or five individuals to attend. 

“We’ve been very successful in putting together a really top-notch program,” Marshall said.


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