When I remark that this April marks fifteen years of my writing about film, people often and rather understandably think than I'm much older than I am--when in actuality my longevity can be attributed to my rather early start at the age of 13. Way back when, there was not much support for my little hobby, let alone from showbiz insiders, and how I would have loved for there to have been a local event such as youth-centered, celebrity-supported Giffoni Hollywood Film Festival.
Set to take place primarily at the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood from April 26 to May 1, Giffoni is based on the one-of-a-kind film festival that has taken place in the Italian town of the same name for 35 years. At Giffoni, youths from around the world in between the ages 9 to 17 are not only the primary audience but exclusively make up the judge and jury for the competition, in so doing inspiring, encouraging, and empowering their interest in cinema. The idea to bring the festival to Hollywood was that of none other than Jon Voight, who enlisted big names from both the screen and the executive suite for support. Most notably from the latter respect is Steven Paul, president of Crystal Sky Pictures, who helped spearhead the idea to fruition with Voight; and from the former, fellow Giffoni Board of Advisors member Will Smith, who joined Voight, Paul, and young actors Drake Bell, Josh Peck, Khleo Thomas and Skyler Shaye for a big announcement press conference at the Nickelodeon Studios in Hollywood on March 25.
Given the presence of a global multimedia superstar such as Smith, the media turnout for the event was a bit lighter than one would expect, but that was no way reflected in the undauntedly high spirits of him, Voight, and all the others on hand. The passion and belief in the project was palpable, and that came out in the light, celebratory mood for an event that is ultimately designed to impart nuts-and-bolts information. The event will kick off on April 26 with two days of activities, such as a trip to Disneyland and a tour of Paramount Studios, exclusively for the delegation of young jurors from the U.S. and fifteen countries around the world. The festival proper begins on Thursday, April 28, with the red carpet opening night gala premiere of Warner Bros.' Duma. Screenings of films, both feature-length and short, competing in the three sections (ages 9-11, 12-14, 15-17) screen over the weekend, culminating in a closing night awards ceremony at Nickelodeon on Sunday, May 1.
Of course, more was covered aside from the basics. Voight recounted how he first found out about the oriignal Italian festival, which is when he was invited to attend with a film he directed, The Tin Soldier, and how impressed he was with the event. Smith spiced up the proceedings with his usual ebullient energy and humor (at one point even breaking out into "The Greatest Love of All" at the podium) but his heartfelt anecdote about how Nelson Mandela related to him the importance of film in his youth, his entire life and the world poignantly summed up the intent and necessity of such a festival.