Platinum Opportunities: How the world's oldest indie film festival still finds fresh faces

March 3, 2017

 Welling Films actors, director, and producers after World Premier of "Legend of DarkHorse County". Winner of 9 festival awards, 4 actor awards, and 2 acting nominations. 


In April 2014, I was weeks away from my college graduation. Little did I know, I was also pretty close to my destiny as a filmmaker. While I couldn't leave the city of Waltham, Massachusetts for the WorldFest Houston International Film Festival 1,800 miles away, my future was being formed, changed for the better, there.


WorldFest Houston International Festival has a long history of recognizing untapped talent. As the oldest exclusively indie film festival in the world, WorldFest has a talent base to draw on (and has to draw on a base) that is essentially unexplored. It helps, though, that J. Hunter Todd, festival founder, has an innate eye for that spark.


WorldFest is a ten day festival, which screens its honorees at an AMC theater in the Houston area. Over the course of the ten days, WorldFest boasts 30,000 attendees, more than 1,000 intl filmmakers attending over the ten days from 74 nations this year –filmmakers from all over the globe.


Festival founder Hunter Todd serves as figurehead as well as a strong hand on the helm of WorldFest, bearing the astounding distinction of being the longest-running festival director in the world, as he started the forerunner of WorldFest in 1961.

 Welling Films world premier at WorldFest for "The Blimp Trap"


WorldFest also honors the winners in unique ways, including its trip to NASA, authentic barbecue event, and yacht regatta (the only film-festival-presented one in existence and the first place I ever had a beer)!


Welling Films' own Remi Award history is illustrious, including five awards above the platinum level. In 2017, Welling Films will bring an impressive slate to WorldFest, both for the screening and for the judging. In the coming weeks, we will know more about what those films will be and how they will fair. But possibly more importantly than that, Welling Films, brings an incredible wealth of personal history to WorldFest.


I, personally, have travelled the country for film festivals. From Beverly Hills, California to Austin, Texas I've received some touching honors and met some incredible artists. I've been lucky enough to have personal conversations with veteran film star Jon Voight, childhood idol Alexa Vega, and then-highest-paid screenwriter alive, Shane Black, among other amazing stars and icons, at other festivals all over the USA.

I have also had to miss opportunities to go to film festivals. Since my father, Nathan Carliner Goldman, and I collaborate on many screenplays, both on spec and for Welling Films, Dad has been our representative at several festivals.


So, when Dad met greats like Blythe Danner, Patricia Neal, and Harold Ramis at different film festivals, I was performing in school plays, writing well-researched papers, or crying over final exams. However, the best encounter my father had while I was in school was with someone no less talented and no less worthy of note than those luminaries of prior generations.


Despite my long history of writing scripts, I had not yet had one translated to the screen. As superstitious as creatives traditionally are, every time I had an eyelash or a birthday candle, I would wish to have one of my scripts produced.


WorldFest would just about literally make that wish come true. While I was hard at work studying for finals and finishing up my college musical, Dad was in the seats watching "The Legend of DarkHorse County," Shawn Welling's dramatic feature film. After the two hit it off, it was only a matter of time before my father and I came in to work on Welling Films' daringly beautiful productions. I owe a great deal to Shawn Welling, to WorldFest, and to Hunter Todd, in this regard and others.


Sitting down with Shawn Welling, I spoke with him about the upcoming festival.


Miriam: So, you attend WorldFest every year. What are you most excited for this year? And what keeps you excited for each consecutive festival?


Shawn: What changes is what you've worked on that year. You have new projects and they get to be seen, shared, watched on a fantastic cinematic screen, if and only if they're deemed to be worthy by the jury. The process is exciting.


M: I understand not a lot of festival juries screen films on cinema-sized screens. Do you think that makes a difference in today's 4K-sized indie film world?


S: Absolutely it does. Whether it's 4K, 2K, 1K, or back when the standard was 640 x 480, there's something about showing on the big screen. It's inspiring to be in the same theater as a larger than life, Spielberg-type movie.


M: What's your favorite memory of WorldFest?


S: The private dinners. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a private dinner with Hunter Todd, myself, and Lee Majors, which started a continuing working partnership.


M: What are you most looking forward to from WorldFest this year?


S: I have so much fun with everything leading up to the festival, you know? People are so friendly, excited to meet you, and they want to know about your projects! There's a tremendous energy.


M: Thank you so much!


The best thing festivals give filmmakers is these opportunities to network. While I have met brilliant filmmakers, as stated before, at other film festivals, nowhere are the opportunities more intimate or professionally exciting as at WorldFest. 


That can-do, can-make-this-film spirit is fostered carefully by Hunter Todd and by Artistic Director Kathleen Haney.


As I wrote in my post on "The Blimp Trap," the connection between Welling Films and rising star Isabella Blake Thomas started with an encounter at WorldFest. Welling Films' close working relationship with television icon Lee Majors began through Hunter Todd, as well. 

If you've been to a WorldFest event, the chances are likely that you've heard Hunter Todd rattle off the impressive list of names, filmmakers whose careers started with a premiere or an award (or both) at WorldFest.

"Spielberg, Lucas, Ang Lee, the Coen Brothers, Ridley Scott, John Lee Hancock, Randal Kleiser, Oliver Stone, David Lynch and literally hundreds more!"




While the Welling Films team has received awards and/or screened at many wonderful festivals, like the Gulf Coast Film and Video Festival, the Lagniappe Film Festival, the East End Film Festival in England, Charleston International Film Festival in South Carolina, OzCon International in California, and the World of Dance Awards in California, there's something special about WorldFest.


It's astounding what a dedicated team can do for a festival. Some festivals give you an award and call it a day. WorldFest gave me a career.

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