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Wednesday, November 4, 2009 - 12:06pm

Savannah Film Festival Interviews and Highlights

This year's Savannah Film Festival wraps up on Saturday. I've been attending some of the screenings and had the opportunity this year to interview two producers: Oren Moverman of The Messenger and Lee Daniels of Precious.

Look for those interviews here as soon as I do them and get them up.

But by way of introduction, I actually describe the Savannah Film Festival as one of the cultural highlights of the fall in the city. What the Savannah Music Festival is to the spring, the Savannah Film Festival is to the fall.

There are dozens of films. It's an economic driver with a half million dollars in spending. There are stars that come. Many attendees are industry insiders, directors, producers, financers and people whose names aren't household names.

But there are a few big stars who do show up every year. And it's all at the invitation of the Savannah College of Art and Design, which puts on the festival.

Some of this year's stars include Woody Harrelson. He was here to accept an honor on opening night. Of course, Harrelson is known from Cheers and dozens of films.

He appeared with Ben Foster, also an honored guest from HBO's Six Feet Under. Foster, at 29 years old, is one of several younger stars the college invited to this year's festival.

This is a slight contrast with recent years of the film festival, even if I don't know if it was an intentional contrast. In previous years, the film festival presented Hollywood icons like Milos Foreman and Lynn and Vennessa Redgrave.

So, it feels like a film festival looking to the future of film instead of its past.

Besides Foster, we also get the 34-year-old Hugh Dancy, an Emmy nominee for his television work; 24-year-old Golden Globe nominee Emmy Rossum; and 38-year-old Jeremy Renner, who is receiving some Oscar buzz for the Hurt Locker.

Compared to last year, I think there's a lot more energy in this year's festival. The star's ages in some way project that.

But also this is the first Savannah Film Festival that we're having in a long time when there's actually major film productions going on in Savannah.

Let's not forget we've had an almost decade-long drought of major film productions, not only in Savannah but in the whole state. And this year we came out of that in Savannah with two major films, including Robert Redford's Conspirator, which is shooting right now.

So, there's excitment about film in Savannah that carries over to the festival.

In terms of the films being screened, some films receiving the most buzz and attention include the aforementioned Hurt Locker, a war film.

But another war film got a prime spot on opening-night. That's the one with Woody Harrellson and Ben Foster, The Messenger. It's about two men who are in the Army's casualty notification service.

These are the soldiers who knock on the door to tell families their loved ones have died. I spoke with Oren Moverman about his directorial debut. You can hear that interview below.

Moverman actually had the head of the Army's casualty notification service on set with him during filming. In the interview, he talks about his struggle to do right by the military audience, military families and his own military service.

As far as other highlights, Precious is a movie about which New York Times asked, "Is America ready for a movie about an obese Harlem girl raped and impregnated by her abusive father?"

Provocative and ultimately inspiring, it's based on the novel Push by Sapphire.

I also recommend the student films. These are always a grab bag, but again, it's also inspiring to see the talent that we have in Savannah at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

I especially enjoyed some of the animated shorts. There will be a couple more student film screenings before it's all over.

The film festival concludes on Saturday night with Precious.

The Messenger Pt.1: Oren Moverman talks about politics, what The Messenger is all about and his own combat experience:

The Messenger Pt. 2: Oren Moverman talks about the inspiration for the film and what he got from military personnel:

The Messenger Pt. 3: Oren Moverman talks about the look of his film and reveals what soldiers gravitate to what characters in the film.

Precious: Director Lee Daniels talks about the actors and why he wanted to adapt the novel to film:

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