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Film festival organizer moves planning forward

By Melissa Crowe
Jan. 16, 2012 at 6:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 15, 2012 at 7:16 p.m.


Almost two months away from opening night, Anthony Pedone's dream is becoming a reality: the Victoria, Texas Independent Film Festival.

Sure, hundreds of hours of volunteer work are left. He and his staff have movie trailers to scrutinize, meetings to coordinate, jurors to find and programming to wrap up.

Through it all, the 41-year-old Victoria resident maintains a positive focus on his goal to support independent filmmakers.

"It's hard for my heart - I don't like talking about myself," Pedone said. "My real mission is to lift up these artists."

The festival, now more than three years in the making, is scheduled March 22 to 24, the weekend after Austin's South by Southwest festival, at the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts Center.

"I'm doing it for the independent artists who work tireless and spend their own money to make their own films," Pedone said.

He plans to bring about 14 films and filmmakers to town for a potential signature Victoria event.

Tuesday night, Pedone will know whether the city council will spend hotel occupancy tax funds on the festival and if so, how much of his requested $43,150 amount will be funded.

The money would be allocated to the Victoria Performing Arts Center, Inc., which operates the Welder Center, and would husband the festival.

According to a proposed budget Pedone submitted to the council during a special workshop Friday, the $43,150 would cover travel expenses, the venue rental and artist lodging.

Staci Robbins, executive artistic director of Theatre Victoria, the nonprofit resident company at the Welder Center, teamed up with Pedone to assist with the festival's business aspect.

"It's about the artistic and creative side of it for him," not the business and budget aspects, she said.

Together, their skill sets complement one another.

"I hope that everybody feels very strongly that Anthony is going to be the person to make this happen and lead this," Robbins said. "All the potential is there for this to happen."

Pedone has the support of half the city council, the mayor and the Welder Center board of directors.

While he stays positive that the festival will be well-received, he has met some negativity surrounding his past.

In 2001, he entered a 41/2-year prison sentence in Arizona for forgery, credit card fraud and identity theft.

While incarcerated, he started journaling and formed the story that would become his first screenplay, "The Why?"

He joined work programs and earned a certificate in writing social commentary from Penn State University's distance learning program.

After his release, he produced "The Why," which has screened in six countries and received many awards in festivals worldwide, according to Pedone's online biography.

Now back in Texas, he said he has rehabilitated from his crimes. He works at his father's company in downtown Victoria and is raising a family. He is an active member of Theatre Victoria and executive director of the Victoria chapter of Texas Artists' Cultural Alliance.

He has been involved in 10 film projects, writing, directing or producing, and sometimes all three.

The festival "is so much bigger than me talking about what I've done since prison," he said. "It's not about the blogs or the comments, or 'Look what Anthony's done in the community.' It's not about any of that. It's about the people who've made these films."

The festival's staff have the same motivations of opening Victoria to a place for idea-sharing and cultural-exchange.

Program Director Christine Elise McCarthy, of Boston, sees how film festivals can impact communities.

McCarthy spearheaded the Waterfront Film Festival in Saugatuck, Mich., 14 years ago.

That festival has grown an economic impact of $1.6 million.

"The first couple of years we didn't break even," she said. "That isn't the case now - it pays for itself, but it is expensive to do."

Good films attract a broad audience, which grows year after year, she said.

She said Pedone's standing in the independent film industry gives him a head start.

While Victoria's film festival may not bring $1.6 million its first year, by year 10 maybe it can, she said.

"There's no reason Anthony shouldn't be able to pull it off with a little bit of community support and the connections he has in his own career," McCarthy said. "I don't think having a festival is curing cancer, it just needs to be managed and promoted well."

Another staffer, Education Director Elizabeth Spear, of Austin, maintains the same confidence in bringing film to Victoria.

She and Pedone met in 2009 at France's Strasbourg International Film Festival.

"Anthony works tirelessly as an arts and film advocate," Spear said. "I think that it's time that the town of Victoria rally behind his energy and work together to put on the Victoria, Texas Independent Film Festival."

Pedone will start soliciting entrees for 2013's festival in May.

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