When the Route 66 International Mother Road Festival started in 2002, some locals speculated that a film festival linked to the street festival celebrating the famous highway might be a good idea. Today, some 20 years later, the Route 66 Film Festival continues after forging a completely distinct course from the event of the auto show as an internationally renowned, well-respected and well-attended film festival.
Originally, the festival started with a grant to the Reel to Real Film Club at Lincoln Land Community College and took place at the now demolished Esquire Theater. After the first year, funding ended and the film festival moved to a succession of locations including the Hilton, the Hoogland Center for the Arts, the Legacy Theater, the Capital City Bar & Grill Theater and the Route 66 Hotel and Conference Center, until it was fully online last year during the 2020 pandemic. Shows at these local locations have shown films produced in dozens of countries, including Belgium , France, South Africa, Japan, Brazil, Spain, Great Britain, Uruguay, Mexico, Canada and the United States. Some shorts went on to be Oscar nominees and other entries received Netflix distribution deals as well as recognitions and awards at various festivals. Stemming from global choices, the Route 66 Film Festival was awarded in 2008 by Filmmaker magazine as “one of 25 festivals worth the price of admission” and the 2009 Las Vegas International Film Festival Summit ranked the Springfield-based event as the featured festival.
Credit goes to Linda McElroy, along with a team of volunteers, as the first director for getting it all started in the first place. Since 2012, a six-member board of directors with officers and the ever-present and ever-needed cadre of volunteers, have taken on the heavy lifting of curating film submissions from around the world and presenting the films consistently for locals to watch, as well as online viewers around the world via the Internet.
“It’s no longer about the cars or the road itself, but about ‘the journey’,” said Thea Chelsy, board member since 2012 in charge of communications and media, as well as uploading of films and the production of festival films. program book. “This year we have 44 films from 12 countries represented, including some from Iran. One thing we would like to highlight and encourage is that everyone who watches is voting for their favorite films.”
Indeed, voting, once taken in person during cinema screenings, is an integral part of the Route 66 Film Festival. Now available through an online process, viewers make choices which are then tabulated by festival employees and these awards can be invaluable to filmmakers looking for audience feedback and ways to promote their films to a global audience. The judges associated with the festival also award prizes by choosing from the various selections in various categories. As independent artists, usually with extremely tight budgets, these directors, producers, actors and others involved in the making of contemporary international films rely on word of mouth and screenings at smaller festivals to reach a wider audience. Even being selected to participate in this event is beneficial for a filmmaker, according to Lana Wildman, a member of the board of directors.
âIf you go to the websites of these films, they will have recognized their acceptance into the Route 66 Film Festival and it can help them get noticed by other festivals or distributors,â she said. âOur judges then vote as a group to select what we think are the best entries and these awards can further help a filmmaker in the promotion. We keep these categories flexible to fit what best suits the films we show. Then there’s the audience favorite voted by viewers along with those other selections. ”
Of the five current board members, Chelsy and Siobhan Johnson, festival director since 2014, count 2021 as their final year. Wildman, Crissie Trigger and Christine Samoore will continue as CEOs, with Laura Richter and Ben Harl expected to be new board members soon. Anyone interested in helping in any way should email the group at [email protected] and you too can be part of this local organization coordinating a global event.