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Celebrating the Fifth Annual Firereel Film Festival

08/25/2016 11:00AM ● By Jon Lewis

On the Red Carpet

September 2016
By Jon Lewis

The North State hasn’t gone Hollywood, but thanks to the Shasta County Arts Council, it is inching closer on a daily basis.

For the latest example, look no farther than the Cascade Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 10, when the fifth annual Firereel Film Festival hits the silver screen. 

The festival, which last year attracted 166 submissions, including international bids, is growing up and so are the ambitions of the filmmaking couple that launched it.

“We want it to be the Tribeca or South by Southwest of the North State,” says Matt Thayer, who started the festival in 2012 with his wife, Joy. He was referring to popular and influential film festivals held each year in New York and Austin, Texas, respectively.

Although Firereel currently limits its entries to short films, Thayer says he envisions a time in the not-too-distant future when the festival expands to multiple days and multiple venues and includes feature-length films.

“If we really want to put Redding on the map as a hub, we really need to attract the world to Redding. We need to get filmmakers from all over the world pointing their faces to Redding,” Thayer says.

The festival started as a small-scale, fun way to screen the films created by students in a film class the Thayers taught. The first two festivals were held at The Stirring, the third was held at the Redding Civic Auditorium and last year, the guidelines were expanded to include international submissions and some 36 short films were screened at the Cascade Theatre.

The Firereel Film Festival is now partnered with the Shasta County Arts Council, home to Redding’s community access TV station and the sponsor of a variety of film classes and workshops. The association is a good fit, says Debra Lucero, the arts council’s executive director.

“As an arts council, we are committed to this art form. We started the Silent Film Festival 10 years ago, and now doing the Firereel Film Festival,” Lucero says. Not only is film and video an art form in and of itself, she says, but the film industry is an economic engine with the potential to help drive the North State economy.

The U.S. Department of Labor lists 55 separate job classifications tied to the film industry, she says, and the arts council is eager to help people land some of those jobs. “The whole idea of our digital media arts studio is to create more capacity in the city of Redding for jobs like these and create more depth of experience. Once we can do that, we can attract more industry to the area.”

The North State is already home to a budding film industry: Thayer and his wife are co-owners of Speropictures, a busy production studio in Redding with a host of short films to its credit; Rene Perez and his iDiC Entertainment has featured regional locations and local actors in more than a dozen low-budget, feature-length films; Archetype Pictures came up from Southern California to film “Interpreters”; and Jim Phillips and his Trollaxx Productions have two films in the can.

With bountiful film location possibilities, including waterfalls, caves, lakes, rivers, forests, historic sites, volcanoes and lens-loving features like the Sundial Bridge and snowcapped Mt. Shasta, the North State is a potential gold mine for major studios.

Hollywood producers will be even more inclined to base projects in the North State if they can tap into a qualified on-site labor pool, Joy Thayer says. “This community is so accommodating and we really want to bring filmmakers in from outside the area and boost the economy. We just have to build up the quality of the crew and actors in our region.”

Jen Street, the film festival’s manager, says the event is intended to attract filmmaking talent to Redding and to encourage aspiring local filmmakers. “We want to provide an opportunity for storytellers of all ages to share their craft and share their experiences through the lens … the festival is a way to highlight the local talent and bring in culture and entertainment from around the world here to Redding.”

With technological advances making cameras and editing more affordable and accessible, “it can no longer be said that only Hollywood has access to great films,” Street says. “The game has changed. We really see Redding as a unique place, geographically and strategically.”

Tentative festival plans include a screening of documentaries in cooperation with the Shasta Historical Society on Thursday, Sept. 8 and possibly a reception for guest artists and festival sponsors on Sept. 9.

“We are quickly growing to become the Sundance of the North State,” Street says. “It’s an event to be at. We’re in our humble beginnings, but we have a vision to grow and become something substantial.”