Photos by Libby Rogers
As a media producer and filmmaker for many years, Paul Shiver had always thought Huntsville, Texas, and more specifically downtown Huntsville, would be a perfect place for a film festival. He envisioned taking 12th Street and putting on some entertainment to draw people in and build an audience for independent filmmakers. “They work really hard investing their time and their own money to create their movies,” said Shiver. “In all likelihood, their movies will not get picked up by well-known film studios like 20th Century Fox, because such studios already have their own system in place, but for independent filmmakers, film festivals are how they showcase their work.”
In 2018, dream became reality with the inception of the “Prison City” Film Festival in downtown Huntsville, Texas. According to Shiver, many people ask how the name came about. It’s a well-known fact, that Huntsville, Texas, within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), is recognized for having the state headquarters and several prisons. For this reason, Huntsville is often referred to as, “Prison City.” Hence, the name, “Prison City” Film Festival. “We receive lots of submissions of documentaries about the prisons. In this respect, it has worked in our favor,” said Shiver. He also believes that the name is the reason they’ve received so many submissions. According to Shiver, many Independent Filmmakers said they don’t usually deal with first-year film festivals, but they admitted they were intrigued by the name, and decided to take a risk.
Originally, the idea was to create a small-town film festival to showcase independent films and filmmakers, with anticipation of getting anywhere from 10 to 15 submissions. Ultimately, they received over 40 submissions from all around the world. Before they knew it, Film Freeway had caught wind of it, then they were listed with the Texas Film Commission, and soon started receiving phone calls from the Houston Film Commission. Some of the main events last year included a welcome dinner and party for filmmakers, hosted by Mayor Andy Brauninger. Almost 40 filmmakers were in attendance. They met with the executive staff responsible for coordinating the event, and expressed their appreciation for the recognition and warm welcome they received. Other activities included a welcome luncheon hosted by the Wynne Home, and a mixer held at Crazywood Art Gallery, hosted by John Smither, Huntsville entrepreneur and art enthusiast. These various events created lots of opportunities for networking, and plenty to see and do. “Overall, the event went well, with a bit of a learning curve,” said Shiver.
As a result of last year’s success, Huntsville is now getting ‘revved up’ to host the 2nd Annual Prison City Film Festival (PCFF) at the Old Town Theatre located in downtown Huntsville. The 4-day event commences Wednesday, February 27 with a special guest presentation and Q&A session on Creative Screenplay & Script Writing, by James Christopher, Austin filmmaker, and founder of the Austin Revolution Film Festival. Film screenings will be shown in blocks throughout the week, and on Thursday, February 28, special guest Mark Allyn, Actor/Voice Artist/Producer, will have a presentation and Q&A session on Acting & Auditioning. Later that evening, John Smither, will host the PCFF VIP Mixer, at The ‘Crazywood’ Art Gallery. A luncheon in honor of the filmmakers will be held on March 1, at The Wynne Home Arts Center. Other activities include: the PCFF 12th Street Party, featuring R.L. Bell, of America’s Got Talent, and winner of the 2010 Huntsville Superstar. Also on Thursday, will be the VIP Reception hosted by Andy Brauninger, Mayor of Huntsville, TX, and the City of Huntsville, TX Tourism. The festival will conclude on Saturday, March 2 with the Red Carpet Event, followed by the PCFF Awards Show & Ceremony, and the PCFF After Party. For a complete schedule of the activities and film screenings, visit prisoncityfilmfestival.com, and go to filmfreeway.com to buy tickets. For those interested in getting the VIP All-Access Pass (valued at $340) for only $140 (includes access to all screenings, presentations and special events), tickets must be purchased before February 27.
This year, over 100 submissions were received from all around the world, including: Sweden, Australia, Switzerland, UK, Croatia, Belgium, France, Indonesia, Morocco, and Italy, to name a few, as well as from students from our very own Sam Houston State University. The selection committee carefully reviewed all of the submissions, and selected eighty-six films to screen at this year’s festival. Fifty-nine have been nominated to receive an award in one or more of the following categories: THE C.O. AWARD (Best in Category), THE SERGEANT’S AWARD (Best Production), THE CAPTAIN’S AWARD (Best Director), THE MAJOR AWARD (Best Acting), THE DESK BOSS AWARD (Best in Genre), THE NEXT-GEN AWARD (Best Student Filmmaker), THE OUTSIDE PICKETT AWARD (Most Original), THE AD-SEG AWARD (Most Intense, and/or Uniquely Creative), and THE WARDEN’S VANGUARD AWARD (Best Overall Submission).
The Prison City Film Festival comes together with collaboration of various local businesses and organizations that have shown interest in getting involved. The festival also opens up opportunities for visitors to learn about Huntsville, get to know the community, and visit local businesses. Many restaurants are on board, and will be offering discounts. “Sponsors also play an important role, and are very much appreciated,” said Shiver. Some of the strongest supporters this year include, Danny McNease, owner of McNease Drugs and Market Creek (a new food truck park that will be opening soon near the Huntsville Public Library). He will be providing funding for the awards, and will be helping out with the operations of the theatre throughout the event. H-E-B, the City of Huntsville, and Main Street Program are working together to create a party on 12th Street. There will be live music, food, and lots to see and do! Hampton Inn and Best Western will also be offering discounted hotel rates for visitors. Other sponsors include: Smither Co. Real Estate, Wish Wash Car Wash, Ceebee’s Furniture, and Smooth Rock 93.5.
Shiver hopes the Prison City Film Festival continues to grow year after year. It’s a great opportunity to promote the arts and provide a platform for aspiring filmmakers to showcase their work.