For its first film festival, Chattanooga will play host to a Golden Globe nominee.

And a Sundance Film Festival-featured selection.

And an American Film Institute Fest winner for Best International Feature Film.

Next weekend, the Heritage House Arts and Civic Center will serve as the main tent for Gig City Film Festival, a one-day, five-film event that finally puts the Scenic City on the film festival map.

The venue’s door will open at 8 a.m., with the first film beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning and the last film ending at approximately 10 p.m. 

“Chattanooga has every other arts festival under the sun, but we don’t have a film festival,” said Kris Jones, art department and locations assistant at the Heritage House. “Every major city in the U.S. that has any kind of arts community has a film festival. We are hoping this will be our breakthrough moment.”

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Film No. 1

North to south
Though Jones and his colleague Chris Holley, director of the Heritage House, had long kicked around the dream of a film festival in Chattanooga, it wasn’t until a conference call last October that the idea moved past the concept phase.

Representatives from the Nashville Film Festival approached the two, along with members of the Department of Education, Arts and Culture, hoping to explore the possibility of a two-city collaboration.

NFF had recently received a grant from the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission to expand its footprint across the state. For Chattanooga, this translated into an effort to leverage the older festival’s considerable expertise and organization to launch its own event.

“The commission and the NFF are interested in elevating the role of the film industry throughout the state for economic and social purposes,” said Ted Crockett, executive director of the NFF. “Chattanooga is the first city of our new program, Tennessee Film Tour. We plan to expand to Johnson City, Murfreesboro, Goodlettsville and others during the next year.”

The only catch was the time frame: The Gig City Film Festival would have to take place before the Music City’s event in April.

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Film No. 2

Holley explained that NFF, which has operated continuously since its founding in 1969, was of crucial help in the event’s costly and extensive processes, such as compiling the short list of films and securing the rights to the final five.

In choosing a theme for Chattanooga’s first silver screen celebration, Holley and Jones worked with their colleagues to remain relevant to a topic with which the community is currently struggling. 

They took their cue from the city’s Season of Nonviolence, an initiative running from Jan. 30 to April 4 that was promoted by a visit from Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi, last fall and has grown to involve countless events, including the film festival. 

As Chattanooga grapples with the surge in gang violence, festival organizers sought to show the promise of change in even the most dire of circumstances. 

Gig City Film Festival’s program includes a mix of documentaries and feature films and a range of subjects from the Rwanda genocide to a Michigan Skinhead’s path to redemption-all presenting moments of hope in despair, of life in a climate of death.

On the screen
Slated as the first film of the day, “The Interrupters” chronicles the efforts of the activist group CeaseFire as its members attempt to literally interrupt gang violence in Chicago. 

The three activists the story most closely follows each have an intimate past relationship with the aggressive and brutal gang culture, whether through their own jail time or their families’ involvement in gangs. 

The documentary, a featured selection at Sundance, goes door to door with the violence interrupters and captures the anger and grief each killing leaves in its wake. 

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Film No. 3