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North Carolina Travel Guide
Asheville Cinema

Being There, Biltmore House

Asheville Film FestivalThe Asheville Film Festival debuted in 2003. Over the course of four days in October, the festival featured competitive and noncompetitive screenings, seminars and workshops, cocktail parties and receptions, celebrity "Evening withs," awards galore and some serious schmoozing, making the trip for an extended weekend well worthwhile for movie fans and insiders alike. The festival attracted such industry luminaries as David Lynch, Ken Russell and Ron Howard who said of the festival: "Not only is this good for Asheville, but festivals like this are changing and evolving this whole medium. You folks are on to something here."

Asheville is deserving of a film festival of this caliber. Its history with film is a storied one, dating back to 1911 when Thomas Edison visited these mountains to shoot short films. A feature film, Conquest of Canaan, was then shot here in 1921.

Gorgeous backdrops, a wealth of talent and nonunion labor have kept production companies coming to Western North Carolina over the years, but certainly the two most illustrious films shot in and around Asheville are Thunder Road - Robert Mitchum's homage to moonshining, shot on the back roads of Bent Creek and elsewhere - and the classic Being There, with a stunning performance by Peter Sellers, shot largely at the Biltmore House.

Bernard FoxAs an aside: The making of Thunder Road was quite an event. The self-proclaimed, and convicted, pot smoker Mitchum was a larger-than-life presence, and the party was reportedly nonstop. And as another aside: The legendary crash scene at the conclusion of the movie would reappear in two films: They Saved Hitler's Brain and Species. Crazy.

And on a personal note: I once got very drunk with Welsh character actor Bernard Fox - best known as Malcolm Merrieweather on The Andy Griffith Show, Col. Crittendon on Hogan's Heroes and Dr. Bombay on Bewitched - when he was in Asheville making a movie with Don Knotts and Tim Conway called The Private Eyes (1980). Fox was actually in both A Night To Remember (1958) and Titanic (1997) which in a way puts him in the distinguished company of Violet Constance Jessop who achieved fame by surviving the sinkings of both the RMS Titanic and the sister-ship HMHS Britannic in 1912 and 1916. But I think I am getting away from the storyline here.

Anyways  cinema is near and dear to Asheville denizens. So when the Asheville Film Festival went wherever it is that film festivals go when they disappear, its place was taken by the Asheville Cinema Festival which actually has a much nicer, European ring to it. The Asheville Cinema Festival is put on by the ACS which is the Asheville Cinema Society. ACS is an independent film society that screens films over nine months starting in March through November; culminating with the Asheville Cinema Festival.  In addition to over 40 films shown during the festival, there are also workshops for more in-depth discussion on a variety of film making subjects. The venues for the films are the Asheville Community Theater at 35 East Walnut Street, the oldest continuously operating theater in Asheville as well as one of the oldest community theaters in the nation, and the Regal Biltmore Grande Stadium 15 at 292 Thetford St, the only movie theater in Asheville with stadium seating. Films are also shown at the Mt Hermon Masonic Lodge at 80 Broadway St.

Integral to the promotion of the visual arts is the Media Arts Project. The MAP "cultivates innovative arts & technology," providing area artists with exhibition programming, professional development, outreach and education. Kudos to them for their good work.

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