The Black Cat Picture Show film festival is a strange slice of paradise hidden in the small town of Augusta, Georgia.

It’s held at Le Chat Noir, a beautiful and intimate black box theater that could easily class up the most bohemian of towns. It’s the perfect setting for Augusta’s premier international, independent, adjudicated film festival.

Movies and people from all over the world ended up in this glorious theater oddity, and somehow I was lucky enough to land in the middle of them all. I’m just a small-time filmmaker from the south side of Atlanta. We primarily make horror flicks, which led us to enter our film Room for Rent to Black Cat—and subsequently win the “Wages of Cine” pick for the festival, a singular award that showcases the no-budget guys trying to run with the “it” crowd. We showed up with our ragtag crew and homegrown movie, and saw it played next to features such as Ash Avildsen’s American Satan and William González’s La Sargento Matacho, and killer shorts like “Night of the Slasher” and “Noire.” For three days that little Georgia town managed to go worldwide, with folks from Colombia, Hong Kong, and Iran.

I was awed by how silent the theater got as the lights darkened and the projector started. You could hear a collective breath as everyone prepared for a journey together. It reminded me of the first time I ever saw a movie: The curtains drew back and all of a sudden the only thing that mattered was what was on the screen. But this was the first time I’d ever seen a full theater of people feeling the exact same way. After the credits, everyone filed out to the lobby excitedly to talk until the lights flickered and the next show started. Not to be too cheesy, but it was a film-lover’s dream.

The staff of Black Cat went above and beyond in their third year to make what should have been a small festival feel like Sundance. Every filmmaker was treated with respect and excitement and every patron was given one hell of a show. Honestly, I can’t wait to submit to Black Cat next year and any year I can from now on—there is something special about its small-town charm and big-screen mentality. Every festival should strive for what Black Cat has. MM

Richard Tanner is the owner of A Buck Short Productions in Atlanta, Georgia and the writer-director of Once Upon a Nightmare, Room for Rent and the upcoming horror-comedy FrankenThug.