Festival brings patrons, business to Shoals area

Actor Mark Boone Jr. accepts the jury award for best actor at the 2012 George Lindsey UNA Film Festival. The festival brings filmmakers from all over the world to UNA and the Shoals.

The Florence area felt a community impact as it welcomed visitors to the George Lindsey UNA Film Festival at the beginning of March.

The festival, running in its 15th year, featured approximately 40 filmmakers and screenwriters as well as 10 special guests, such as actors Michael Rooker and Ernest Borgnine.

“This event brings recognition to UNA from across the country; (it) brings filmmakers and others to the area who might never have come to Florence otherwise, and events such as these certainly contribute to the quality of life in the area,” said Libby Jordan, director of cultural tourism for Florence/Lauderdale Tourism.

Despite bearing the school’s name, the festival is more than just a UNA event.

“At least half of the stuff takes place off campus,” said Jason Flynn, co-director of the festival and assistant professor of film and digital media production. “It’s as much a community event as a campus one.”

Flynn said an economic impact made by the festival would probably be difficult to calculate, but the impact on Florence’s reputation was clear.

“Word of mouth is a huge thing,” he said. “I heard people referencing local stores to their friends and saying, ‘This is great. Have you seen this?’”

This year’s festival was one of the best in recent years for attendance from both the filmmakers and the audience, Flynn said.

“We give out 11 major awards,” he said. “Of those 11, we had eight of the winning filmmakers or screenwriters in attendance. And two of the three others had planned to attend but couldn’t.”

Co-director and instructor of English Dr. Cynthia Burkhead said the film brings in people regionally as well.

“A lot of people who have friends in this state came in to see the films,” she said. “We have large numbers of people from middle Alabama and lower Tennessee every year.”

Flynn also emphasized the appealing difference between going to the movies and going to a film festival: having the filmmakers present.

“One of the benefits of our festival is that we’re smaller,” he said. “There’s no curtain between the guests and the filmmakers.”

As for the festival in years to come, growth and recognition are the goals, Flynn said.

“There’s always room to grow our audience,” he said.