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BORN IN BOONE: Locals Plan for Inaugural Appalachian Mountain Film Festival in 2016


For years they’ve seen potential in North Carolina’s High Country as a platform — one perfect for sharing with the world the lives and adventures of the Appalachian people.

Moved by the awe-inspiring tales told through the Banff Mountain Film Festival, which brings its world tour to the area every spring, local outdoor enthusiasts Jason Berry, Russ Hiatt and Bill Ireland have decided it’s time for Boone to have its own celebration of culture.

Photo by Ken Ketchie. Local outdoor enthusiasts (from left) Jason Berry, Bill Ireland and Russ Hiatt are pictured at Appalachian Mountain Brewery.

“We’ve all been in this community for several years and Banff seems to be a high point in our outdoor community. It’s a great celebration of what we do for fun, why people come to this place and how they plug in,” Hiatt said. “I was fortunate enough to be here at the very first Banff, and the question that seems to happen every single year is, ‘Why don’t we have one of these?’”

After months of deliberation, the team of three has planned to host the inaugural Boone Film Festival — “BooneFF” for short — in February 2016 as a prelude to the annual Banff world tour. They’re designing the program as an opportunity for the people of the Appalachian mountains to tell their own stories through film.

While the group has set a few details in place for the juried festival, they’re looking to the community for help in bringing their concept to fruition. They hosted a brainstorming session over drinks at Appalachian Mountain Brewery on Tuesday night and welcomed ideas from other interested locals.



Official dates and locations for the festival have not yet been determined. Submission deadlines have been set, however, giving interested videographers a chance to get started on their projects.

Submissions will be received beginning Nov. 2, 2015 and no later than 5 p.m. on Jan. 15, 2016.

Berry said submissions will be judged in three categories — Appalachian Culture, Appalachian Adventure and Appalachian Environment — allowing filmmakers and storytellers to depict the people of the Appalachian mountains, what they’re doing in their own backyards and the adventures they’re taking around the globe.

Photo by Ken Ketchie. Local outdoor enthusiasts convene at Appalachian Mountain Brewery on Tuesday to help plan the inaugural Boone Film Festival, tentatively set for February 2016.

“The concept is that we want to represent the Appalachian region. There’s a lot of stories that should be told,” Berry said. “It’s either about the region geographically or the people from here — that could be from Shenandoah to the Smokies, as far as we’re concerned, so it’s pretty far reaching.”

Submissions will be judged independently in two categories: an open class for all filmmakers and a youth class for those under the age of 18 (as of Dec. 31, 2015).

Ireland said the youth component will give students and aspiring videographers an opportunity to explore the world around them, as well as a chance to share their experiences.

“If you go to a ski area, every kid in the terrain park has a Go Pro. They’re used to taking selfies and using social media, and they’re putting it out there all of the time anyway,” Ireland said. “Why not give them a little bit of structure to tell their stories?

“You’re doing all of this stuff, but why? Let them ask that question of themselves and make a movie out of it.”

Tentative plans for the festival include a winner’s showcase event, at which finalist submissions will be screened for a crowd, and an announcement of winners in late February.

Additionally, the three have decided that all proceeds from the event will support Mountain Alliance — “a community of individuals committed to providing Watauga County high school-aged youth with opportunities to explore and develop their leadership potential through experiential learning,” its website explains.

With the help of Aaron Burleson and Spokesmedia, they’ve created a website for the event, www.boonefilmfestival.com, complete with a trailer explaining their goals and vision for the project.



Now that the three have established a timeline, regulations and a plan for Boone’s very own film festival, they need help from the community to make it a reality.

“There’s a lot still to be determined, and part of why we’re meeting now and inviting community folks to come is to see how they might be able to plug in based on their interests, backgrounds or skill — to help us determine some of those things that haven’t been worked out yet,” Ireland said. “We’ve done a lot of work in creating some structure … but, now that we have something, to pull it off we have to bring all of these other resources together so we can be successful.”

Berry, Hiatt and Ireland said they’re welcoming anyone interested in getting involved in the festival to jump on board and help make it happen.

Aaron Burleson/Spokesmedia
Aaron Burleson/Spokesmedia

They’re looking for folks to help organize the program, serve as speakers or judges and possibly to lead workshops for interested filmmakers. They’re also spreading the word to anyone interested in entering submissions, giving them a chance to plan ahead for the event.

“We’re not expert videographers, but somebody needed to get it started and get the ball rolling. There are a lot of people that we don’t know yet that should be involved in this thing,” Berry said. “This is the beginning of that movement to get those folks involved and make those connections. We’re excited, but it’s going to be much more of a scope than what we’re going to be able to handle as just the three of us.”

As with anything that requires a lot of organization, Hiatt said making the festival happen will require a commitment from the community.

They’re ready to get the project off the ground and they’re welcoming all of Appalachia to come along for the ride.

“I am always amazed at the people who live in this area and the things that they do, not just locally but also elsewhere. It’s a treasure trove of good stories and it needs to be celebrated,” Hiatt said. “We see examples from all over the world of people doing amazing things, and we’ve got a lot of that going on right here. Some of us in those intimate outdoor communities know those stories, but I think it could be celebrated on a larger scale.”

If you’re interested in being a part of Boone’s very own film festival, visit the project online to contact the organizers.

Watch their tailer here: