NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - The Nacogdoches Film festival is kicking off Thursday night at the Fredonia Hotel.
At the festival, East Texans will have the opportunity to see several unique films and to sit in on panels hosted by film industry professionals. The festival is beginning with an introduction by the Stephen F. Austin film program, which is bringing back a special former student who has gone on to find success in the film business. For him, it all started at film school in Nacogdoches.
“From your freshman year here, you’re given a camera and you’re encouraged to make film," SFA film instructor Peyton Paulette said. "You have access to tons of industry-standard equipment. So, when you graduate from here, you’ll have an amazing portfolio of work that you could have developed.”
It was here at the SFA film school that an East Texas native was set up for Hollywood success.
“It’s hands-on; it’s in your backyard. It’s in the Piney Woods of East Texas," alum Derek Wayne Johnson said. "No better place to make a movie, trust me.”
Johnson, a filmmaker, spoke fondly of his days as a film student. He says he began making films while he attended Carthage High School and made his first feature-length movie in college.
“I’m just very fortunate to be able to be this small-town kid from East Texas that got to make movies,” Johnson said.
One of his projects is a documentary paying tribute to one of his favorite directors, called “John G Avildson: King” of the Underdogs. Avildson directed popular movies like “Rocky” and “The Karate Kid.”
“We got a lot of people together to come tell a story," Johnson said. "Sylvester Stallone, Ralph Macchio, Martin Scorsese, a lot of people that worked with John through the years.”
It was this project that set him up for what he’s working on now.
“We’ve got a Rocky documentary called ’40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic,'" Johnson said. "What’s really cool about that one is he did ‘King of the Underdogs,’ and he liked it so much that he offered me to do the Rocky documentary with him.”
Johnson and other filmmakers said film is a uniquely significant art form of our time and that watching a great film can be equated to reading a great novel.
“I think film stories are really compelling," Paulette said. "If you do it correctly, then you can make a connection with somebody.”
“They give them a chance to escape and maybe raise questions, maybe answer questions, maybe inspire them to be better people,” Johnson said.
Johnson said anyone that wants to make their first movie simply needs to go ahead and “make a movie."
“There’s no excuse now," Johnson said. "You have an iPhone. Go make a movie, there’s no excuse. Just go out there and tell stories. “
Johnson’s documentary "John G. Avildson: King of the Underdogs "will be playing at the Nacogdoches Film Festival in the Fredonia Hotel Saturday at 7:30 pm.