The State of Film in Louisville

Photo courtesy of Adam Snyder

Photo courtesy of Adam Snyder

Louisville is already well-known and respected as an arts community, but for one reason or another, film has never really taken off here. In order to stimulate this part of the city’s culture and make it a place for film, television and new media production, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced the creation of the Louisville Film Commission back in August 2015. The commission is comprised of 17 people who are well-versed in the local film scene as well as capable of serving as competent liaisons to the film community worldwide. The Louisville area’s film history dates back a century to pioneering director D.W. Griffith. It’s a statement that certainly holds up. According to the Internet Movie Database, all or parts of more than 330 movies and television episodes have been filmed in Louisville. Among those films were “Stripes,” “Goldfinger,” “The Insider,” “Elizabethtown,” “Secretariat,” “Rain Man” and current Academy Award-nominated film “Carol.”

The two main goals of the commission are marketing and education, the first of which will focus on bringing work to the talent already in the state. The educational aspect will reinforce and strengthen the already present local film festivals, namely the IF Film Festival and the Louisville International Film Festival, as well as prepare that talent to deliver the quality of work that outside film professionals expect. Even with the commission being a relatively recent affair, local films such as “Pleased to Meet Me” and “Where Hope Grows” have both developed the local film workforce.

Photo courtesy of Adam Snyder

Photo courtesy of Adam Snyder

Mary Ellen Wiederwohl is the chief of Louisville Forward, one of the city’s premier urban planning organizations, and wholeheartedly believes in the myraid benefits to filming here. “With Louisville’s central location, diverse urban and rural regional landscapes, affordability and streamlined business and permitting operations, we believe that Louisville has impressive options for all genres of creative media,” she said in a press release. “By growing our image through film and media, we have the ability to attract global talent and new job opportunities.”

House Bill 340, which is now signed as the law behind the existence of the film commission, offers some enticing tax incentives for bigger production companies to shoot in the Commonwealth. In fact, it has already helped create jobs, generate tax revenue and promote tourism. The reason is simple: under this new law, up to 30 percent of approved film budgeting can be awarded as a refundable income tax credit. The truly exciting thing about this new development is that this refund applies to not only the local films already mentioned but also any major studio productions that shoot in Kentucky.

Photo courtesy of Adam Snyder

Photo courtesy of Adam Snyder

Louisville is a city that fosters and cherishes the arts. Art galleries dot NuLu and Clifton, and the walls of local restaurants and coffee shops are often adorned with the products of local painters; writers can share their work at any number of regular literary events around the city; our music scene is, of course, thriving. Yet, there is very little emphasis on the art of film in our city. One organization that is striving to change that is the prolific Louisville Film Society.

Soozie Eastman is the executive director of the Louisville Film Society and serves as one of the 17 members on the Louisville Film Commission. She worked in the film industry in Los Angeles for the past 12 years before returning home to Louisville to shoot an incentivized feature documentary. She has worked in TV and film development, produced documentaries, short films and infomercials. “Understanding production pre to post and the challenges that come with it allows me to consult productions on behalf of the film commission,” she says. “Producing award shows for hundreds of studio executives and top writers makes Oscar watch parties and film festivals for the film society a very enjoyable cake walk. Between my work for the film society, film commission and currently producing and directing my own film, every muscle in my brain and body is utilized. To live in Louisville and have that be the case is something I dreamt about when I lived in Los Angeles.”

Photo courtesy of Adam Snyder

Photo courtesy of Adam Snyder

It is certainly a boon for the Louisville Film Society and the city at large to have someone like Eastman, someone who can create and produce all of our programming including the parties, screenings and festivals as well as run the day-to-day operations for the organization is invaluable: “On behalf of the film commission, members represent the city to visiting productions, promoting Louisville and our local crew as the ideal setting for their next film or TV shoot. From casting to locations and permits, suggestions on hotels, payroll companies and infrastructure, we connect filmmakers to their local production needs and highlight what sets Louisville and the collar counties apart from the rest of the country.”

Photo courtesy of Adam Snyder

Photo courtesy of Adam Snyder

Having a unified body dedicated to representing the locations and talent in Louisville has already had a positive impact on the scene if films like “Where Hope Grows,” “Pleased to Meet Me” and “Runoff” are any indication. “Runoff,” the directorial debut of local filmmaker Kimberly Levin, is gorgeously shot on working farms, where actors and real farmers share the screen. Joanne Kelly delivers a raw performance that lends itself to the riveting character study of a woman in the underbelly of the agricultural world. The film has been well-received, with the review by Matt Soller Seitz of rogerebert.com serving as proof positive: “I can say without hesitation that if you want to be able to say you were there when a great American filmmaker’s career kicked off, you need to see ‘Runoff.’”

postersIf you’re interested in supporting the mission of the Louisville Film Society and the exciting enterprise that is the Louisville Film Commission, you might be interested in the Oscar Watch Party on February 28 at Copper & Kings. There will be great food from Khalil’s and an open bar featuring Jefferson’s Bourbon, Coppola wines, Tito’s Vodka and Ballotin Whiskey. Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar statuette will be on display, and there will be a silent auction full of some unique items including 21c Museum Hotel stays; tickets to shows from the Orchestra, Actors Theatre and the Louisville Ballet; and signed movie posters from Jennifer Lawrence. More information can be found at louisvillefilmsociety.org.

While the strength of Louisville’s theatre community is potent, the idea of craft-driven films is something new. It’s definitely an exciting development, especially for local actors struggling to build careers while having to find work regionally. This way, the much-needed work will come to them. “Our organization aims to highlight the work of local filmmakers and create unique film-related experiences and programming throughout the year,” says Eastman. “There is a definite need for our organization in the community to put on screenings that include sneak peeks for our members of both large blockbusters and indie flicks, but we also focus on being a conduit for connecting local filmmakers, providing fiscal sponsorship to local projects, liaising with visiting productions and introducing them to local crew.” The local filmmaking scene is something that needs a good bit of nurturing, but with this commission in such good hands, Louisville is sure to get it. VT

  • Jimmy R

    How about actually showing movies somewhere, Film Society, instead of a bunch of fund raising parties at overpriced hotel bars? My partner and I gave these people $100, and we ended up with nothing. First, one must be on Facebook to get any notifications, and I detest Facebook. We joined as film buffs, mistakenly seeing this as an opportunity to support local film and see some alternative-type films. Since we joined over a year ago, there has been one lousy studio screening of Hollywood crap at the Tinseltown, and that’s it, as far as I know. The only way I knew that was to burrow thru their clumsy website. I feel ripped off and want my money back. By the way, Ms Eastman, I have a master’s in film theory, and I also worked in New York, and I can think of far, far better ways to waste a hundred bucks…which is a lot of money to me…for nothing.