Interview with Festival Director Charles McNeil (Cape Fear Independent Film Festival)

The Cape Fear Independent Film Network is dedicated to promoting independent film and preserving the Cape Fear region’s rich film history.

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I recently sat down with festival director Charles McNeil to learn more about the festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What is the CFI: Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Charles McNeil: We consider the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival a Filmmaker’s festival. For Filmmakers that attend we ensure that They first off have a good time, but we also like to focus on the networking aspect of a film festival, we encourage all of the filmmakers in attendance to meet the other filmmakers. For those who can’t attend we offer the notoriety of being in the festival, we are a very competitive festival.

Matthew: What would you expect to experience when you attend the festival?

Charles: We are a welcoming festival, those who attend, whether a filmmaker or someone who is just out for some entertainment, should expect to be approached by a member of the festival and engage them in conversation. We also encourage our filmmakers to engage with our audience and our audience to engage with our filmmakers.

Matthew: What are the qualifications for the selected films?

Charles: What is most likely to get a film into our festival is its entertainment and engagement value. Our screeners are looking to be compelled to watch the film they are reviewing, and we want our audiences to be compelled also. Short, feature, documentary, doesn’t matter, tell us a good story that draws our attention.

Matthew: Why would a filmmaker be motivated to submit to your festival?

Charles: The Cape Fear Independent Film Festival offers two monetary prizes, $250 for best short and $500 for best feature, however this isn’t the only reason to submit to our festival. Wilmington NC has always been a film hub, since Frank Capra Jr. brought Firestarter to film here over 30 years ago.

Matthew: What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

Charles: We do the film festival because we are filmmakers. We have attended festivals as filmmakers and audience members and love the sense of community you can get from some of the really great ones, and that’s what we are doing here. Creating a sense of community for our filmmakers and audience members, it’s great to see the same filmmakers submit again, not only because it’s great to have them visit if they make it into the festival, but it’s great to see the evolution of their craft.

Matthew: How has the festival changed since its inception?

Charles: At it’s heart it’s the same, but when we started we did a lot more screenings in local bars, they embraced us and made it easy for us to put films in front of an audience. We have grown over the years and now we use larger venues. But we are still there to make sure the filmmakers have a good time and network.

Matthew: Where do you see the festival by 2020?

Charles: This year we are showing films over 3 days. I would like to expand that in the next few years, our aim is to be a 5 day festival by 2020. More films, more filmmakers, more awesome. But we won’t change the fact that we are a filmmakers festival and want to not only show them a good time, but offer the chance at networking and honing their craft.

Matthew: What film have you seen the most in your life?

Charles: The film I have probably seen more times than any other, and it is my favorite film, is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with Dick Van Dyke. People don’t realize it’s essentially James Bond for kids with singing and dancing. Written by Ian Fleming, produced by Albert R. Broccoli, with Desmond Llewelyn ( the original Q) and Gert Fröbe (Goldfinger) as the bad guy. It’s gotten under my skin and I watch it at least a couple of times a year.

Matthew: In one sentence, what makes a great film?

Charles: What makes a great film is it’s ability to hold your attention, horrified, laughing, crying, edge of your seat, the emotion doesn’t matter.

Matthew: How is the film scene in your city?

Charles: With the reduction of the film incentive a lot of productions have gone elsewhere, but we are bringing it back, when NC went from a Tax Credit to a Film Grant it was originally $10 million, but now that has been increased to $30 million. Productions are coming back to North Carolina and to Wilmington in particular. Having a professional base of crew makes for a great independent film scene.