by Andy Smith, Festival Co-Director
We really didn’t know what we were doing. When the Nick hired me in January of 2007, we had five months to put a festival together. Larry Hembree, then Executive Director of the Nickelodeon, and ETV’s Betsy Newman and Amy Shumaker came up with the name. John Whitehead, Executive Director of the Columbia Music Festival Association, secured some funding. But we really didn’t know what we were doing.
At the time, cities all over the country were starting film festivals. It was essential that we were not just another entry in the [INSERT CITY HERE] International Film Festival catalogue. So we sought to carve out a space for filmmakers whose work didn’t fit into neat categories, who were overlooked by traditional festivals but were shaping a new reality for those of us living in the South. We knew from the beginning that our city would be a crucial part of the festival. I had recently moved back to Columbia and wanted to find a way to show off the great things I had rediscovered—from bands to artists to buildings—in hopes of drawing more positive attention to our city.
There were a number of disasters our first year. A thunderstorm derailed the outdoor screening we planned; another program spiraled out of control when a director told us his film was still rendering—30 minutes after the screening began. DVDs (yes, we tried to do our screenings from DVDs) skipped and stalled at will. But something special happened. On the final night of the festival, we invited that year’s filmmakers to join us in the (old) Nickelodeon, where we talked about all of the things that went wrong. We laughed and drank together, and it was on that night we stumbled upon something unique–a spirit of community and camaraderie that has been a hallmark of our festival ever since.
Now, as we embark on our tenth festival, I like to think we’ve got a better handle on things. No longer just a scrappy little arts event, Indie Grits has grown into one of the South’s premier film festivals, regularly drawing over 12,000 attendees. We’ve broadened our scope to include all different aspects of new southern culture, and begun receiving financial support from large funders like the National Endowment for the Arts. At our core, the driving force is the same. What’s changed, I believe, is Columbia. We’ve become a more creative and vibrant city. We are seeing more artists, filmmakers, and musicians create better and better work and audiences are more willing than ever to take a chance on something new.
With this in mind, we decided to offer a gesture of thanks to all of you who have supported us over the years. Thanks to the Central Carolina Community Foundation and our other financial supporters, this year’s festival will be completely free to the public. We look forward to opening our doors so everyone in the community can enjoy what has become such an indispensible part of our lives.