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A film festival looks at 20
Andra Reeve-Rabb discusses the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, the industry, and its current challenges
Andra Reeve-Rabb

ONE OF Savannah’s most popular and long-running events celebrates 20 years with an edition that is overflowing with remarkable honorees and screenings.

It even sports a new name to begin its third decade, now going by the moniker SCAD Savannah Film Festival.

The Festival has always been put on by the Savannah College of Art and Design, of course, so the tweak isn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know.

One thing you might not have known is that as part of SCAD’s commitment to educating the next generation of the film industry, they offer what we’re told is the world’s only Minor in Casting.

Appropriately, to mark the 20th year of the Festival we spoke to SCAD’s Dean of the School of Entertainment Arts Andra Reeve-Rabb, who also directs the SCAD casting office. 

Reeve-Rabb came to SCAD after a long and fruitful career casting shows such as The Big Bang Theory and multiple shows in the CSI franchise.

We spoke to her about the Festival, its impact, and about the most recent controversial developments in the industry.

First off, how did you end up in Savannah?

I was Director of Casting for CBS for over a decade in New York City. I covered the quote-unquote “East Coast,” NYC-Chicago-London.

I got there right as CBS was transitioning from the world of Touched By An Angel, to CSI and Raymond, and the advent of much richer storytelling.

We moved here from Chicago. Long story short, we had family here and we used to come visit on a regular basis. We fell in love with Savannah.

I was fortunate enough to meet President Wallace, and she said, ‘Why don’t you take what you do out there and bring it here to SCAD?’ It was a game-changer. I feel so fortunate that my path ended up here.

It’s interesting that you have so much TV experience, given that the pendulum has swung so hard toward high-quality TV productions now.

People are interested in great stories. I love that magic of being in a movie theatre for two hours. But the move to television is about people wanting more of the long form narrative, and wanting to follow great characters for longer than two hours.

Someone like Aaron Sorkin, who is coming to the Festival, understands this. He has moved seamlessly from the big screen to TV and back again throughout his career. The lesson is you have to be facile. You have to be flexible to move between the two worlds.

The SCAD Savannah Film Festival comes near the end of the yearly festival circuit. There must be advantages and disadvantages to that.

I don’t see it as the end of the festival season. I see it as the launch into awards season. When you look back, our Festival has an incredible record of being able to feature films which have gone on to garner the biggest awards in the industry.

Last year we had Mahershala Ali in a private workshop with students. To then see him on stage three months later accepting an Oscar — that can’t be matched in terms of energy. That kind of access to these kinds of panel discussions and master classes is unique.

The stars are so generous with their time. They really try to fit in time with the students and give incredible moments. It’s a singular thing to this university.

Students are so prepared for them. They watch their body of work and have great questions. They are so engaged, and that actually inspires the actors.

When Sir Ian McKellen was here, he was a real force of nature. He was so inspiring. He had been at the Festival for a few days, and at one point he said, “I feel like a little Shakespeare!”

So within minutes we had called a group of top students to meet at the Mondanaro Theatre. Sir Ian hopped up on stage and said, “Does anyone have the book?” Meaning of course the complete works of William Shakespeare. Somebody had one, and he immediately grabbed students and began to work with them individually on soliloquies.

So much of the success of the Festival is because of that spontaneous environment. Attendees are used to the more high-pressure, see-and-be-seen festivals, and then they get here and can just have some fun.

When people come, they are on a sort of high of the tour they’ve done, but they come here to an environment they can really appreciate. Savannah is a welcoming hospitable town, with a real warmth and a grateful attitude. I feel it when you walk down the street, when I’m walking with actors and directors and producers.

The Festival is perceived by the industry now as an important stop on the awards circuit and film circuit because of the community here. Those audiences are packed every night. The audience here in Savannah is so savvy in terms of filmgoing. It really puts the spotlight on our particular town. And all this is happening with the boom in the Georgia film industry.

But our Festival is unique to Savannah. What we’re able to accomplish is to bring all eyes to this community and show off what we do at the university. But the whole city supports in that mission.

As someone so involved with casting for so long, the recent events surrounding Harvey Weinstein and others accused of sexual harassment and assault must be especially disturbing.

The fact that people even use the phrase “casting couch” in describing it just breaks my heart. This isn’t about casting at all. I’m vehement about getting that phrase out of the vernacular. These are separate issues and need to be treated as such.

This is about predators taking advantage of opportunities. This is about predators using the industry as a vehicle to woo young people starting out.

Casting is something I’ve been incredibly protective about all my career. That is almost a sacred process that should never be compromised.

People in the casting department are really the unsung heroes of the industry. That’s where you begin putting the pieces together to make really beautiful storytelling.

I’m in awe of all these women speaking out now. I’m really hoping this is the game-changer.