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  • Lee Anderson and Patti White, founders of the Annapolis Film Festival, answered a few questions on the red carpet on opening night of the film
    Photo by Leslie Dolsak
    Lee Anderson and Patti White, founders of the Annapolis Film Festival, answered a few questions on the red carpet on opening night of the film "LBJ."

Hollywood Meets Annapolis: Film Fest Draws Big Names And Retains Charm

Leslie Dolsak
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April 7, 2017

If the litmus test of a successful film festival is the five-year mark, the Annapolis Film Festival (AFF) earned it. Director Rob Reiner hit the red carpet in front of Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts during opening night for his film “LBJ,” starring Woody Harrelson. The seats were filled by 1,000 locals, New Yorkers, Californians, internationals and everyone in between. When asked what Reiner thought of Annapolis, he smiled and said, “Quaint. Quintessential New England.”

It’s precisely that cozy, intimate vibe with crooked streets and cobblestone walkways that made for the perfect backdrop of 70 recently released films from 26 countries at AFF this year from March 30 to April 2.

It was Hollywood meets the Free State, with a few big features coming straight from Sundance, South by Southwest and Toronto International Film Festival. Also spotlighted was “Much Ado About Maryland,” a full-house screening of local shorts.

What makes AFF different from other movie festivals? Film aficionados would pin it to the fest’s diverse assortment of shorts, features, documentaries, celebs, up-and-comers, panels, and mixers over morning coffees and evening cocktails.

AFF advisory board member Joe Neumaier explained what makes a knockout fest. “A beautiful ambiance, fantastic slate of films, a great dialogue, collegiality and conviviality,” he said. AFF hit a homerun on every one of those fronts this year.

Annapolitans Patti White and Lee Anderson started the fest in 2013. “Our five-year plan was, first, to actually make it to year five with a vibrant, financially secure festival,” White said. “We also wanted to be a filmmaker-friendly networking festival. We believe we surpassed our goals with a smashing opening night that brought our community together.”

Rich Henrich, festival producer, spoke to the importance of the community element. “We need the community to rally around the fest. We tried to appeal to a younger demographic this year,” said Henrich, adding that the next milestone for AFF is to reach the level of panache garnered by events like Nantucket and Woods Hole.

One ardent local fest supporter is Maureen Nemecek. She’s been going for three years now. “It’s 10 minutes from my house. I think the films are better every year. It’s just fantastic,” Nemecek said, diligently casting her vote after watching the documentary “Shelter,” which is about an Iranian woman who helps heal wild and domestic animals.

Annapolis’ own Tim and Trevor White, sons of Patti, now live in Los Angeles and founded Star Thrower Entertainment, a film and television finance and production company. The White brothers were producers on two feature films at AFF: Rob Reiner’s “LBJ” and Matt Spicer’s “Ingrid Goes West,” an award-winning Sundance film. They praise their family, Annapolis roots and education for helping them navigate the fierce film industry.

“As I get older, I appreciate the Key School more and more,” Tim said. “All the critical thinking and analyzing and writing they drilled into us in ninth and 10th grade — this is how you organize your thoughts and make an argument. That’s really helped me.”

Trevor White couldn’t agree more about the importance of education, tipping his hat to the Key School. “It championed creative thinking,” Trevor said. When he was just a kid, left to his own devices, he set his Hollywood dream into motion. “I knew when I was 10 years old, this is what I wanted to do. I had a Hi8 camera and we used to make movies with friends,” Trevor added.

Tim is juggling several film projects in 2017, including “The Post,” about the Washington Post’s role in exposing the Pentagon Papers, with Steven Spielberg directing Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.

Taking home awards in the fest’s juried shorts competition were “DeKalb Elementary” for Best Narrative Short and “Snails” for Best Documentary Short in both the audience and juried competition.

In the audience competition, the Best Documentary Short was again “Snails.” The Best Narrative Short was “Rated.” The Best Documentary Feature was “Breaking Point: The War for Democracy in Ukraine.” The Best Narrative Feature was “Burn Your Maps.”

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