By most metrics — attendance, economic impact and film industry notoriety — the International Black Film Festival of Nashville has garnered respectable success since its inception in 2006.
Now, the nonprofit event is primed for a more broad-based and national level of impact as the Fourth Annual IBFFN runs this week through Oct. 2.
Of note, the festival’s organizers have secured a strong group of 20 sponsors, highlighted by Comcast, Film House, Sunday School Publishing Board, The Africa Channel, HCA/TriStar, Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University. In addition, film and government sector officials representing multiple U.S. states and 10 countries will attend. Included is the French Consulate General in Atlanta, BET and NBC Universal. Lastly, the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel will serve as the event’s hub.
Last year, some 5,000 people attended the festival, according to Executive Director Hazel Joyner-Smith. She estimated the 2009 event injected into the local economy a minimum of $1 million of direct spending, a figure the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau — which did not compile event-specific statistics — said seems accurate.
Joyner-Smith declined to note the IBFFN budget for this week’s event but said it is “at least 5 percent” greater than that of the 2009 event. She said the IBFFN continues its year-round educational outreach efforts, an element that differentiates the nonprofit from most other film festival entities, regardless of theme or focus.
Depending on definition (factors such as the number of films, number of days and number of venues are considered), there are between 25 and 50 black film festivals in the nation. Darrell Smith, Los Angeles-based vice president of marketing for The Africa Channel, said the International Black Film Festival of Nashville ranks in the “upper 10 percent” of those events.
“There are several festivals we are invited to [each year] that don’t have the cachet [of the IBFFN],” said Smith, who added that The Africa Channel — which has as a key investor former NBA great Dikembe Mutombo — is also a co-sponsor of the Los Angeles-based Pan African Film & Arts Festival (arguably the most prominent black film event of its type) and the African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.
Smith said The Africa Channel co-sponsors the IBFFN, in part, because of Nashville’s reputation as an entertainment city.
“From the music side…from a cultural and arts arena, this market has evidence it can sustain [long-term] from a film perspective,” he said.
Linn Sitler, executive director of the Memphis and Shelby County Film and Television Commission, said IBFFN’s accomplishments over a mere four years in terms of sponsorships, attendance and creating a national buzz are nothing short of dramatic.
“I can say that of the film festivals I’ve been to [worldwide], they are definitely in the Top 10,” Sitler said. “I’ve had more people contact me after the festival than [after] any other festival. There is an atmosphere of dialogue and camaraderie.”
Connie Kinnard, senior vice president of multi-cultural development with the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her group uses the film festival as a recruiting tool of sorts. For example, Nashville’s successful attempt to be one of the U.S. cities that would host a World Cup is helped, to a degree, by diverse and cosmopolitan events such as the IBFFN, she said.
“It heightens the perception of Nashville,” Kinnard said, adding the event “helps solidify” the city as an international destination. “Events of this type strengthen our efforts to secure conventions.”
The IBFFN’s 65 films will be shown at the Belcourt Theatre as well as Vanderbilt’s Sarratt Cinema and the Scarritt-Bennett Center. Lipscomb will host various other events including Youth and Kids Day. Gray Line is offering attendees a tour of historic North Nashville academic and cultural sites.
An annual IBFFN highlight is the Arts and Fashion Gala, with last year’s iteration generating an estimated $50,000 in sold art. This year, one gala gift will be a week’s stay in an exclusive oceanfront estate in. The owner of the $17 million Caribbean property will offer the home (and a yacht) for sale at the gala at a reduced price and with a percentage of the proceeds to support the IBFFN. Of note, the home’s marketing agent is Sharon Durham, who both serves as an advisor on the IBFFN board and is a local architect.