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Film Festival brings critically acclaimed films to the silver screen in Chapel Hill


Randi Emerman (left) and Carol Marshall (right), co-founders of Film Fest 919, smile together for a portrait. Photo courtesy of Carol Marshall.

Film Fest 919, a film festival focused on exposing the Chapel Hill community to critically acclaimed cinema, was held from Oct. 18 to Oct. 24.

The event focused on exposing residents to films before they reach the box offices. There were 23 films showcased over the course of the week, including "King Richard," "The French Dispatch" and "The Hand of God."

"The festival needed a small community that's educated with a zest for the arts," said Randi Emerman, film promoter and co-founder and CEO of Film Fest 919. "It was also important that it be a university town because it's vital for students to experience these films — it's an educational experience.”

Diane Warren, a 12-time Oscar-nominated songwriter and musician, was presented with the Spotlight Award during the festival's opening event on Oct. 18. The evening featured a moderated conversation with Vanity Fair’s Katey Rich and a special presentation of Warren’s catalog of hit songs.

Co-screenwriters Chris Bergoch and Sean Baker received the festival's third annual Distinguished Screenwriter Award. They are known for projects such as "Tangerine," "Red Rocket" and "The Florida Project."

The Rising Star award was presented to Eduardo Franco, a comedian and actor who co-stars in the animated feature film, "Koati."

"Movies take us places that we want to go to and give us feelings that we want to feel when we might not feel them," Bergoch said. "I like Film Fest 919 because it is intimate, and not too big. The audience gets to chat with the filmmakers and really connect with each other. The feelings are more intense.”

The selection process takes at least six months of analyzing buzz around films and meeting with high-profile or promising directors to connect.

“We talk to the studios and the film reps and feel out what the stories are and make our asks,” said Carol Marshall, festival co-founder and member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “We have both worked with the studios for quite some time, so we both have existing relationships.”

Marshall said the methodical selection process sets Film Fest 919 apart from most festivals, which typically take submissions.

“We do a careful examination of films, which sets out purposefully to curate the festival with an eye for films that are positioning themselves towards consideration for awards,” Marshall said.

Before meeting each other some thirty years ago, Marshall found her footing in the industry as a publicist, while Emerman worked as a reporter. Nearly 10 years later, the two began working together for the Palm Beach International Film Festival prior to moving to Chapel Hill. 

They fell in love with Chapel Hill during their travels and were motivated to create a new film festival to be held there, hence the creation of 919 Film Festival.

"They embrace our festival very nicely, which is how we are able to get the kind of films that we to get," Marshall said. 

Charlie Brownlee, a student at UNC, said the festival provided a very important space for community bonding. 

"I think films just have the power to let people come together and explore our humanity," Brownlee said. "Just sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers, but feeling the exact same thing as them, is a really communal experience.”

@DTHCityState |

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