Winter Film Festival Success

STEPHEN SWOFFORD / NNY BUSINESS
The board of directors for the Snowtown Film Festival (from left) Marc Knapp, President, Steve Hunt, Member, Kylie Peck, Treasurer, Jason Maurer, Vice President, and Terry Brennen, Secretary.

Snowtown Film Festival sells record number of tickets drawing large crowds to downtown Watertown

BY: Norah Machia |  NNY BUSINESS

In an effort to bring more people to downtown Watertown this winter, the Snowtown Film Festival committee designated the Best Western Watertown/Fort Drum as the “official” film festival hotel, and encouraged those attending the event last month to explore the nearby dining and shopping opportunities.

     More than 700 people purchased tickets in advance for the film festival, held Jan. 27 and 28 at the Dulles State Office Building. Organizers had lined up an appearance on opening night by Viggo Mortensen, a well-known actor who has received numerous nominations and awards for a wide range of movies.

 Organizers had asked Mr. Mortensen, a graduate of Watertown High School and St. Lawrence University, to open the two-day event with a red carpet “flannel-casual” reception and screening of his new movie, “Captain Fantastic,” at the Dulles State Office Building.

     His scheduled appearance resulted in a dramatic increase in tickets sales from the past two years, said Kylie S. Peck, a member of the Snowtown Film Festival committee, which is a separate nonprofit entity.

      This is the third year the film festival has been staged in Watertown. Attendance at the previous events numbered closer to 200, said Mrs. Peck, who is also the director of the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce.

    She credited Mr. Mortensen for helping organizers in his hometown draw a much larger turnout this year. Mr. Mortensen has been recognized by groups such as the Screen Actors Guild, the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

    This year’s event attracted people from throughout New York State, some out-of-state attendees and even some Canadian travelers, she said.

      “We are really excited,” said Mrs. Peck, prior to the event as she reviewed the ticket sales on her computer screen. “We are pulling a crowd from all over the place.”

       The film committee was hoping to draw more people downtown by forming a partnership with the Best Western. It was a “natural fit” because of the hotel’s location at 300 Washington St., right across from the venue, said Mrs. Peck.

       The committee members also wanted to encourage people to frequent the downtown area for dinner and/or drinks before the event, she said. A suggested “Red Carpet Guide” listed on the film festival’s website even noted “Dash downtown for a tasty bite at a local eatery” prior to the screening of Mr. Mortensen’s film.

      “We were hoping this would generate buzz downtown,” she said. “But this went way beyond our expectations.”

    The planned appearance by Mr. Mortensen was “exposing people to something different, something new,” Mrs. Peck said.

     The annual event was started to “celebrate winter and Northern New York through film,” she said. The opening night was followed by a second day of numerous film screenings, many of which were produced in Northern New York and the Adirondack region.

     Seven “official selections” featuring regional cast and crew members were presented, along with Question and Answer panels that were hosted by the filmmakers. A presentation of 29 short film submissions competing for the festival’s Grand Prize was also conducted on the second day of the event.

     The film festival committee, which spent countless hours previewing submissions, included Mrs. Peck, Marc Knapp, Steve Hunt, Jason Maurer and Terry Brennen.

     “We have been trying to bring something unique to Watertown,” by staging the annual event, Mrs. Peck said.

     David A. Winters, president of the Downtown Business Association, said the Snowtown Film Festival was a “great event to host in downtown Watertown.”

     “An extraordinary group of community members have put this together, and it’s grown every year,” he said. “It has become a staple of the winter season.”

   The anticipated appearance by Mr. Mortensen added to the “notoriety of how big this could become,” Mr. Winters said.

    “Having the event downtown offered lots of great opportunities to grab dinner, or drinks before the show,” he said. “It also offered an opportunity for people to do shopping here the next day as well.”

        He praised the committee for designating the Best Western as the official hotel for the event, noting “it’s a nice anchor hotel for the downtown area, and there are a lot of places to visit within walking distance.”

    As the official partner hotel, the Best Western was offering a room discount to those planning to attend the film festival, said General Manager Christine Penrose.

      “We love where we are located downtown, and we’re always willing to work with other downtown businesses to promote the area,” she said.

     In addition to the Best Western and the Downtown Business Association, the film festival committee worked with these downtown businesses as well – Coughlin Printing, First Round Bar, AVL Signs and North Country Custom, said Mrs. Peck.

     “Wherever we were able, we were utilizing a downtown business,” she said. “That has been really great.”

     This year’s festival was supported by Car Freshner Corporation, Coughlin Printing, Atomic Signs, and Party Rentals.