With a bevy of film festivals chasing the attention of urban dwellers in just about every metropolitan area, how does a festival stand out?

When James Hawthorn and Andrew Steel co-founded Flicks 4 Change a short year ago, they were worried less about these commercial implications and more focused on inspiring actual change. With a strong philosophy rooted in the convictions that positive social change begins from the ground up with you and me, and that art holds an unlimited capacity to change the world, Flicks 4 Change is ambitiously branching out in its second year. It’s doing this by facilitating direct channels between talented filmmakers and non-profits who possess the infrastructure to empower content creators. Opening this Sunday November 12 at the Boomtown Brewery in the Arts District, Los Angeles, Hawthorn and Steel have curated the perfect environment for Angelenos itching to get involved and engage with one another over a craft beer, all the while viewing some great shorts.

Flicks 4 Change Co-Founders Andrew Steel and James Hawthorn

Caleb Hammond, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): How is the festival growing in only its second year?

James Hawthorn (JH): The biggest difference between this year and last year is realizing what we had in terms of potential. We want to give humanitarian filmmakers a platform to have their voices heard, and we want to benefit nonprofit organizations that are doing good work. But, more importantly, we really want to connect difference makers with people who want to make a difference. A big part of our festival is having our nonprofit partners there to have some sort of interactive experience that they can engage our audience with. We hope that when people see these films, that they become aware of issues they didn’t know about, and it will impact them emotionally and inspire them to get involved. That’s the thing that’s changed the most: How the festival has turned into something that’s a spark for grassroots activism. That’s our goal moving forward with everything we look at doing when it comes to partnerships is to try to achieve that goal. When we look at all of the things that are going on in the world today, it requires people from different backgrounds and political ideologies coming together and saying, “We can all agree that pediatric cancer sucks. We can all agree that we can do better in the way that we treat animals to feed ourselves.” There’s a whole slew of issues that transcend political ideology and differences between our backgrounds. My goal is to use art to bring people together to make a real difference.

MM: What programming are you excited about this year?

JH: When we looked at all the different films that we are going to show, we realized that out of the 30-35 shorts that we’re showing, we’re covering 20 different socially conscious topics. The focus themes for opening night are veteran’s affairs, domestic violence, sex trafficking and individual activism. On Monday night we’re looking at different topics that some might not realize are social issues, like social media—communicating with one another, image, all of that. It greatly affects our ability to make an impact in the world and the way that we behave in the world. We are showing some films that poke fun and look at that. We even have a film that looks at online dating in your 80s. That’s something that a lot of people are surprised about. We have a number of films that are actually somewhat comedic. We take a funny look at these issues, because sometimes through laughter you can get people to look at issues with a new kind of energy. It can spark new and creative ideas.

On opening night I’m really excited about a film called “Running On Empty.” It involves a veteran who is wounded and comes back with PTSD and is battling with these powerful medication. He was a zombie. Without getting into spoilers—he ran 3,600 miles across America and raised $400,000 to help soldiers with PTSD and depression. I look at that film, and I see the social themes of activism, personal responsibility, bringing light to veteran’s affairs. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide a day; it’s an astonishing number. If you don’t watch that and want to step up and tackle an issue that bothers you, I don’t know what will make you get out and do it. He just does it. So that’s a film that I love.

What’s really exciting to me is filmmakers using different styles and genres of storytelling to shed light on topics that are sometimes tough and uncomfortable to talk about.It’s a different way to get people’s attention and impact people. I’m excited to say we have a lot of films that use alternative styles and genres in our program highlights.

“Running On Empty”

MM: Films around social issues are normally so serious, but those topics can be approached with humor as well.

JH: They don’t all have to be that try-hard artistic that loses their audience. They don’t have to be that—they can just be good. They can use traditional or well-known topics or themes and twist them in  way that grabs your attention. That’s what makes it really exciting. The fact that we have panel discussions afterwards with the heads of nonprofits, the audience, the filmmakers themselves who are activists makes for a really cool feature that other festivals don’t necessarily have. We have people on the panel that are making a difference, changing laws and have actually succeeded in engaging with our filmmakers and our audience.

Audience interactivity is huge to us. We’re trying to create a community where people can connect and get involved and stay involved year-round. After the festival we will have all these different ways for people that come to our festival and download the app to connect with our nonprofit partners. One example is to sign up and raise money for pediatric cancer by running the LA marathon or half marathon. There’s all these ways for people to get involved. We’re going to give them a way through the app to become an active member of our Flicks 4 Change community. The audience will vote in real time on their favorite films each night through the app, and we’ll have a couple of audience choice awards. We really want our audience to be an active part of the community.

We’re hosting it in a brewery for a reason. Not because we couldn’t get a theater, but because sometimes when you go to a theater there’s expectation of passivity. You turn down the lights; you don’t talk to anybody around you; you watch the film; you have your private experience and you go home. We want everybody on the same level in a friendly open space and environment. We have couches out front that can seat 32 people. We just want it to have a town hall vibe, so that people are encouraged to participate. That’s a very deliberate decision that we made in our brand and who we want to be. We want people to feel like they’re part of the community, and we want watching the film to be the first step—not the first and only step in their experience with us.

MM: Do you want to talk about the venue and programmed events outside of the screenings?

JH: Boomtown Brewery has been an incredible partner. They built a beautiful 18-by-12 foot screen into the wall. They basically gave us the venue for free. They just wanted to be able to sell beer and wine to our guests.

We’re doing some live performance pieces to kick off each film. On opening night nonprofit partner Hidden Tears Project, is going to do a live dance piece on opening night. They work to help the victims of sex trafficking through performance art and film. Those are the kind of partnerships with our nonprofits that we just love because they’re there to engage with our crowd, and they’re there to share their art, and they’re there to put on a live piece. We even have a socially-conscious, ten-minute play opening up our show on Monday night. These are the types of things that we do to differentiate ourselves from other festivals and say, “Hey, it’s all about art.” We’re able to do so much more than we could by having it limited in a theater.

MM: Where do you see the festival growing?

JH: Washington, D.C. My mother has lived there for four years and she’s on the board of a couple nonprofits. She really instilled in me the value of giving back and looking at how you can use your strength to help others. We’re looking to be bi-coastal next year and leverage the community that we’ve established through our growing social media channels. Our hope and goal since is to apply for a lot of grants. We are fiscally sponsored by Creative Visions and they’ve been a phenomenal supporter of us. They exist to help filmmakers, artists and event planners like us put on events and create projects that have a social conscience. Our next goal is to be able to have a full-time part-time staff. We are a bunch of young millennials that are on low-to-no pay, doing it for the passion of the cause. We want to be able to create jobs and build and maintain that team moving forward. We have some incredibly talented young people that have been so generous with their time. Our objective is to employ them on a part-time basis year-round. If we can do that I really think we’ll be able to grow tremendously because they have proven themselves more than worthy of taking on this challenge. We’re very lucky. MM

The Flicks4Change Film Festival runs Nov. 12-14 at Boomtown Brewery in Downtown Los Angeles. For more information, visit their website here.

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