One might imagine that the last thing the world needs is another film festival. However, Janna Emmel believes otherwise.

Emmel is president of the Black Hills Film Festival, which will have its inaugural run May 14-16, 2010 in Hill City, South Dakota.  Film Threat caught up with Emmel to discuss the latest addition to the film festival orbit.

At the risk of being flippant, why do we need to have this new film festival?
Our aim is to promote film as an art form.  Our rural population – there are only about 800,000 people in the entire state of South Dakota – does not have exposure to film festivals, so this is new for us.

Our aim is also to promote South Dakota as a great place to film.  The South Dakota Film Office is organizing a familiarization tour for Location Scouts just prior to the Festival and we will be showing films at our inaugural Festival that were shot in South Dakota and produced by South Dakotans.  We have film going on in South Dakota!

Also, South Dakota has a significant Native American population and many filmmakers come here to get that story, whether it is a historical or a modern-day story.  Many of the films shown here are indigenous-themed and that?s an important story to tell.

What type of films are seeking for this festival? And what type of audiences are you trying to attract?
Our first year theme:  “Location, Location, Location” plays off the idea that we’re showing films in three great locations (Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Hill City, a small mountain town) and we were seeking films that demonstrate the importance of location to a film story.  But films in all genres on all subjects were welcomed.  We received historical documentaries, indigenous-themed docs, films shot in South Dakota, films shot by South Dakotans, films from students including from New York, California, Chicago and elsewhere.  We also received films from all over the world:  Nepal, Serbia, even Canada!

Our films will be interesting to teens on up and we’re promoting heavily to our region.  We’re finding that we’re selling festival passes to folks throughout South Dakota.  We’re very pleased with the response so far!

What educational and industry panel discussions to you have planned for the festival?
We’ve organized a Filmmaker Friday on May 14 at Crazy Horse Memorial for filmmakers, actors, composers and students.  We’ll get a behind the scenes look at the making of a 2009 Academy Award winning film; hear from local filmmakers how they worked through obtaining distribution for their films; conduct an actor’s workshop; a composers’ round table; and learn about the visual effects work of George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic and Kerner Optical.  We may be a small town out in the middle of the country, but we still have connections!

What is the state of filmmaking in South Dakota?  Is there a homegrown independent film scene?
Yes, there is a growing independent film scene here in South Dakota.  In the past, our talented people had to leave the state to work in the film industry.  That is changing.  Experienced filmmakers are coming back to the state to film and work. Up and coming filmmaker Chris Ordal from Sioux Falls has a great film in the festival, and I’m sure we’ll see more from him in the future.

Native American director Chris Eyre, has a home here and inspires Native American students to follow their film aspirations.  Several of the Native American Music Award winning videos have been shot and produced here locally including Best Long Form Video -Concert for “Reconciliation” by Brule.

There is a lot of history, interesting people and places to provide material for stories.  Pilots and trailers are shot locally and then pitched to Hollywood producers for consideration as future feature length films. Experienced support crew and equipment companies are available locally to help get these films produced for reasonable costs.  The Black Hills Film Festival provides another place to showcase these films, and hopefully launch them into greater public awareness.

What are the advantages of shooting a film in South Dakota? And what famous films have been shot in the state?
Advantages:   We have great locations.  Good filming locations are becoming more difficult to find due to increased regulation, permitting fees and lack of unobstructed views.  Here in South Dakota we still have places with no billboards, wires or traffic in your shots. You can still get a natural sunset or sunrise over a landscape without a single trace of human habitation.   And people are still willing to work hard and do more than is asked of them in our friendly South Dakota way.

Famous Films:  We’ll be showing one of them — Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” was filmed here more than 50 years ago and we’ll be screening it up at Mount Rushmore, which was the location for the ending, climactic scene for that film.  Lots of local “extras” are looking forward to coming and sharing their memorabilia.  “Dances with Wolves” was shot here and there will be a reunion at the Festival for “Dances with Wolves” production people form South Dakota.  Good reason for a party, right?  Walt Disney Pictures’ “National Treasures: Book of Secrets” was shot here in 2007.  They stayed longer than expected to capture extra footage in the Black Hills.

It’s beautiful here and we are good to the producers who come here to film.  They always want to come back.

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