Behind every successful artistic enterprise is a core group of people who really, really love what they do. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t. Because it’s hard. Just ask Lee Anderson and Patti White.
“This festival is filled with people with a passion for what we do. Passion is the ingredient that makes it cool,” said White, who, along with Anderson, is the co-founder and co-director of the Annapolis Film Festival, which this weekend mounts its 11th outing.
The duo, along with 200 of what Anderson said are “the friendliest volunteers in the world,” have once again arranged four days of about 70 eclectic shorts and features from around the corner and around the world, complete with panels, parties and surprises. It’s a lot to pull off. But their goal, they say, is about more than showing movies; it’s about showing their community.
“It’s the capital city, but with a small-city feel to it. It’s a diverse city. At times, things have gotten really divisive. We’ve brought people together,” White said. “You have people talking to their neighbors, having conversations. Some people will never see the gems that we have here at the Annapolis Film Festival.”
The opening film, Stephen Williams’ “Chevalier,” was chosen to inspire more conversation. It tells the true story of Joseph Bologne, born in Guadeloupe as the son of a slave and a plantation owner, who rose to fame as a virtuoso violinist in pre-revolutionary France.
“He comes face to face with racism,” White said. “This community is so rich with Black history, and we wanted to include that community in the discussion. This film hits on everything — a story of relationships, people and politics. We always try to bring something special.”
White and Anderson have been partners in directing the festival for more than a decade. “People ask ‘Why are there two?’ But that’s our role,” White said. They’ve been friends for 30 years, the kind that delightfully finish each other’s sentences and speak in a shared language of looks, raised eyebrows and the particularly binding magic of a shared goal.
“We go way back,” White said. They met through their hairdresser, who knew they were both in the television news business (Anderson in local ABC and CBS affiliates, and White for CBS News), and figured they might have something in common.
“I don’t think we could be as productive if we didn’t have this shorthand, of two people — ” White began.
“ — the two of them together,” Anderson continued.
“ — we couldn’t do it,” White finished. (I am an identical twin who has been having these kinds of conversations my whole life, so this made me love them even more.) They admit that the hard-charging, no-time-for-questions style they honed as journalists at first didn’t allow for many niceties as festival runners, but “we’ve gotten better. If you’re not growing every day, if you’re not on the climb, you’re dead in the water.”
Anderson and White “were the first people to believe in this idea and support it,” said Omar Al Dakheel, whose documentary short “Everybody’s Watching,” about New York’s Muslim Community Patrol & Services, was conceived as part of the festival’s shorts program. “They are very generous, the way they’ve organized it. They have really well thought out programming.”
Like all public events, the pandemic slammed film festivals hard. Some haven’t completely recovered, such as the Maryland Film Festival, which announced last year that it was pausing for 2023 and will return in 2024. The organizers in Annapolis found themselves “pivoting as fast as we could” to put their programming online just nine days before their 2020 edition, White said. The festival remained virtual in 2021 before coming back in person last year.
Anderson said this is still “considered a recovery year, but we made smart calculations and decisions so we could navigate through this.” Filmmakers who are showing at Annapolis, such as Al Dakheel and Sophie Kargman, director of the feature “Susie Searches,” are grateful that such physical spaces still exist.
“There’s nothing like watching a movie in a theater,” said Kargman, whose film stars Kiersey Clemons as a college student and true crime podcaster who finds fame and unexpected complications as she covers the kidnapping of a classmate. You’re “feeling the audience, hearing what they’re responding to. There’s nothing like it. There’s a collective energy you don’t get anywhere else.”
Film is personal to people like Kargman — a “creative baby,” as she called it — and bringing something to life and then trusting someone else to see it through to the world isn’t an easy proposition. After meeting Anderson at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, she knew that Annapolis was a place that “Susie Searches” could shine. “You have to love every aspect of film, the collaborative nature of it,” she said. “Everyone is working together to make it work.”
That collaboration will be evident this weekend, Anderson and White say, not only because movies will get shown, but because conversations will start that otherwise never would have happened between people who may never have met. And that’s worth all the work.
“We need all those voices,” White said. “We can get so locked into our muddy world, but we’re here to be connected.”