It’s a new beginning for ReadingFilmFEST, Executive Director Cammie Harris told an audience inside the Boscov Theatre at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts last Tuesday.
After challenges caused by a yearlong pandemic, the filmmakers’ film festival was able to sustain and thrive, thanks to its sponsors, local businesses, community organizations and a slew of volunteers.
Harris noted, “The ReadingFilmFEST remains committed to lifting the voices of the underrepresented through content and services that are meaningful and reflective of our diverse community.”
The newly established nonprofit organization is focused on sustainability and looking forward to showcasing talented filmmakers—local, regional, national and international—this fall.
To keep the festival moving forward, state Sen. Judy Schwank announced the ReadingFilmFEST would receive a $35,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
“It is vitally important to support the arts when considering community and economic development, which is why I advocated for ReadingFilmFEST in this grant process,” Sen. Judy Schwank said. “In just a few years, this festival has established a tremendous reputation for quality events that support artists and has brought positive attention into our city and county.”
The money will support ReadingFilmFEST’s development initiatives, including production, marketing and promotion, and year-round administrative expenses.
“The grants that Sen. Schwank’s office procured for us through the Department of Community and Economic Development have made it possible for ReadingFilmFEST to not only survive the pandemic but thrive and to get us to this next place where we can have a journey toward sustainability,” Board President and Creative Director of ReadingFilmFEST Tracy Schott said.
In its seventh year, the independent film festival supports emerging filmmakers, enhances local art culture, and encourages spending in the local community through the following opportunities: FiveMinuteFilmFEST, women and minority screenplay competition, independent premiere film releases, summer Mini-FilmFEST, LunaFEST, and other events.
Also critical to the film festival’s existence is community support, including sponsorships and partnerships with local businesses and organizations and presenting partners like the GoggleWorks and Reading Movies 11 and IMAX theater.
In addition to the state grant, the ReadingFilmFEST was awarded funding from the Berks County Community Foundation to help with strategic planning and $5,000 from Visions Federal Credit Union.
“Visions is proud to sponsor the ReadingFilmFEST and very happy to support bringing the arts to Berks and beyond,” Visions’ Director of Impact and Engagement Lizette Epps said, who is also the diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the festival.
In a new endeavor, Alvernia University has committed to partnering with ReadingFilmFEST to provide its college students with learning opportunities and expand the arts programming within the city and greater Berks County community.
The university’s students, faculty and staff will provide business-consulting services through the O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship’s student-powered business incubator.
Dr. Rodney Ridley, vice president, dean of the college of STEAM, and chief operating officer O’Pake Institute for Economic Development, has also offered to guide the new film festival board of directors through a strategic planning process, which will help the ReadingFilmFEST to grow a film community in Berks County.
“Arts are the backbone of life-long learning, critical to the future of the university, and will help lead to the enhanced economic development of the region,” Dr. Ridley said. “We look forward to helping to create an arts-enhanced look that represents the culture of Reading, and I’m excited for my new role as a member of the advisory council.”
Another first for this year’s ReadingFilmFEST is a partnership with Cesar Gonzales. The owner of The Gables at Stirling Guest Hotel and The Gables Foundation is generously supporting a short film screenplay contest for women and minority filmmakers will offer a cash prize, a first for the ReadingFilmFEST.
“We’re working hard to include other voices; we want to engage our entire community. Reading and Berks County has a story to tell, and our people, culture and surroundings have a lot to offer film production and the film industry,” Harris said.
ReadingFilmFEST runs September 30-October 3, 2021, and features a mixture of indoor, outdoor and online screenings for filmmakers and audiences to enjoy safely.