Savannah Film Fest Rebrands Itself as a Must-Stop Destination for Doc Contenders

DOCUMENTED Life Itself Keep on Keepin' on Split - H 2014
Courtesy of CNN Films; Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures; Courtesy of Radius TWC

DOCUMENTED Life Itself Keep on Keepin' on Split - H 2014

The 17th annual Savannah Film Festival kicks off on Saturday and runs through Nov. 1 — and, starting this year, its organizers want you to think of it as a major player in the awards season, generally, and specifically the fest for best documentary feature Oscar contenders, much like people associate the Palm Springs International Film Festival with best foreign language film Oscar contenders.

To that end, the fest is introducing a "Docs to Watch" sidebar, as part of which it will screen nine top docs: Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas' Documented (CNN Films), John Maloof and Charlie Siskel's Finding Vivian Mayer (Sundance Selects), Alan Hicks' Keep on Keepin' On (RADiUS-TWC), Oscar nominee Steve James' Life Itself (Magnolia), James Keach's Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me (Area 23a), Oscar nominee Robert Kenner's Merchants of Doubt (Sony Classics), Gabe Polsky's Red Army (Sony Classics), Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and two-time Oscar nominee Wim Wenders' The Salt of the Earth (Sony Classics) and Mike Myers' Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (RADiUS-TWC).

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With the exception of The Salt of the Earth, each of the films' screenings will be followed by Q&As with their directors and, in a few cases, other special guests — Roger Ebert's widow Chaz Ebert at Life Itself, subject Shep Gordon at Supermensch, executive producer Jane Seymour at I'll Be Me and producer Paula DuPre Pesmen at Keep on Keepin' On. And then, I'm pleased to announce, on Nov. 1 all of those films' directors — except for Maloof, Salgado and Wenders — will join me for a panel conversation about their 2014 works and documentary filmmaking, in general.

The Savannah Film Festival, which is hosted by the revered Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and directed by the tireless Christina Routhier, has long been known for its beautiful setting, southern hospitality and terrific panels about various aspects of the business. This year, though, it will take on a much bigger profile, not only because of the new docs components, but also because it has secured screenings of more than 90 films, including numerous Oscar hopefuls — among them Big Hero 6, Escobar: Paradise Lost, Foxcatcher, The Homesman, The Humbling, The Imitation Game, Two Days, One Night and Whiplash — and will honor a number of high-profile industry figures: Matt Bomer with a Spotlight Award; Asa Butterfield and Analeigh Tipton with Rising Star Awards; and Gena Rowlands with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Renee Zellweger was also to receive a Spotlight Award, but notified the fest earlier this week that she would no longer be able to attend.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg