Founder hopes 3,500 will attend film festival

$500,000 impact also a goal for state's first such event

Movie industry

February 19, 1999|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

If the first Maryland Film Festival doesn't draw at least 3,500 moviegoers and produce an economic impact of at least a half-million dollars, says its founder, Jed Dietz, he will be stunned.

To distinguish his April 22-25 event from the more than 600 other film festivals worldwide -- including 220 in North America -- Dietz said, he hopes to make a gift of between $20,000 and $30,000 to film preservation.

The beneficiary is well chosen and might help draw industry people and moviegoers, said moviemaker John Waters.

"Film preservation is a big national movement," Waters said. "If you have to pick a cause, it's a very good one. The audience is going to have to be in favor of it."

Because film is such a fragile medium, 50 percent of all films made before 1950 are gone, along with 80 percent of all silent movies, Dietz said.

Dan M. Lincoln, vice president of tourism and communications for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, said the festival -- to be held in Baltimore's Charles and Senator theaters -- will be featured in its $150,000 spring advertising campaign.

"I don't think you're going to see in the first year it filling up all the hotel rooms," he said. "But I think in the long term, it has the potential to. It could be another Sundance or Telluride or Seattle, but it will take a lot of years."

The festivals he noted are some of the most well-known in the nation and are among the models used for Maryland's.

Dietz expects that as word of the festival spreads, it will double in size each of the next two years. He estimates that this year, about half those attending will come from out of town.

Beyond possible boosting tourism, the festival's significance is likely to be far less tangible, related to the exposure that it offers Maryland within the film industry.

"I think it could have a huge impact on film production," Dietz said. "The beautiful thing is that even if it doesn't, it should have a positive impact on the community. There's just no downside."

Maryland's profile in the film industry has been growing. The state's film office predicts that the economic impact of movies made in Maryland in the fiscal year that will end June 30 will surpass the $77 million brought in last year. In fiscal 1997, that figure was $62 million, and in fiscal 1996 it was $42 million.

"You get just one film here and it's worth it," Michael B. Styer, director of the Maryland Film Office, said of the festival's potential. "They spend $500,000 to $2 million a week filming."

Features that have been filmed here, at least in part, include "Absolute Power," "The Accidental Tourist," "Die Hard With A Vengeance," "Guarding Tess," "Patriot Games," "The Pelican Brief," "Sleepless in Seattle," "Enemy of the State," "Beloved," "Diner," "Avalon" and "Tin Men."

"We could double and triple the production business in very short order," Dietz said. "The film festival is just part of that, but it could play a significant role."

Waters said the time is ripe to launch a film festival here.

"I hope it's an eccentric one that reflects what Baltimore does best," he said. "I think it will certainly attract attention to Baltimore. I'm hoping the best for it. I'm going to be there."

The festival evolved from $50,000 provided by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, which required a three-for-one match from the private sector. The Rouse Co., First National Bank of Maryland and the city of Baltimore have made a three-year financial commitment to the festival.

About a quarter of a million dollars will be spent on the first festival.

Among the biggest festivals is Sundance Festival in Park City, Utah, where in 1996 those attending spent $3 million on lodging, $1.2 million on food, $878,000 on discretionary spending, $693,000 on transportation and $443,000 on skiing, Dietz said.

Officials in Austin, Texas, which has two film festivals each year, South by Southwest and the Austin Film Festival, said the city reaps an economic impact of $4.5 million from each.

The benefits go far beyond the dollar amounts of those two 5-year-old festivals.

"It's good for the film business because it builds that image of being a film-savvy place," said Gary Bond, director of film marketing for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"If a city of a half-million in Texas can do it, then certainly Baltimore can."

Tom Copeland, director of the Texas Film Commission, said that introducing film industry people to an area is invaluable.

"If you have the infrastructure, what you're doing with a film festival is you're highlighting it," he said. "It's an exposure that money can't buy, and you can't get any other way."

The biggest obstacle is sustaining the event, he said.

"Can you keep it going, or are there just too many?" Copeland asked.

Pub Date: 2/19/99

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