KNOXVILLE, TN (December 12, 2023) FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Visit Knoxville celebrates the success of its inaugural film festival, FILM FEST KNOX, held November 9-12, 2023. The event was met with multiple accolades across major trade publications including Filmmaker MagazineThe Film Stage, and In Review Online. Additionally, winners from various categories at FILM FEST KNOX are announced.

In Review noted, “If it isn’t already clear from this writer’s survey of Film Fest Knox, the loaded program on offer feels far closer to what one might expect to find from a prestigious screening series, not the first iteration of a small Appalachian city’s local festival. If future years maintain this pace and quality, Film Fest Knox stands to become one of the Southeast’s premiere cinephile destinations and celebrations.”

In December 2022, Visit Knoxville announced its partnership with The Public Cinema to host a new film festival, following the dissolution of the Knoxville Film Festival. FILM FEST KNOX was created, and soon included a partnership with Regal to host the inaugural event at the downtown Regal Riviera. One of the goals of FILM FEST KNOX was and will continue to be is to create a recruiting opportunity for the Visit Knoxville Film Office to continue promoting Knoxville as an independent film hub. The event allowed networking connections with producers and directors who make regional films with budgets under $3 million, so they could consider Knoxville for future filming projects. This festival also offered the opportunity for festival goers to experience eclectic and powerful programming, carefully curated by Darren Hughes of The Public Cinema and Artistic Director for FILM FEST KNOX. Darren and his colleague Paul Harrill, both FILM FEST KNOX Co-Founders alongside Kim Bumpas and Curt Willis, were integral to the success of this event

“We are overwhelmed with the response to FILM FEST KNOX,” said Curt Willis, Director of the Visit Knoxville Film Office. “This first-year event has set a high bar, and we anticipate it growing into the premier film festival of the Southeast.”

Awards were given in the following categories: the American Regional Film Competition, the Made in Tennessee Competition, and the Elev8or Pitch competition. FILM FEST KNOX awarded a total of $18,000 in cash prizes to the talented winners.

The American Regional Film Competition is a showcase of the diversity of personal and ambitious filmmaking happening outside of the traditional industry capitals of Los Angeles and New York City. This category featured the following six feature films: Evening Song (for three voices)Kick MeLousy CarterMountainsPeak Season, and Somewhere Quiet. The Best Film winner will receive an Oscar-qualifying theatrical run, courtesy of Regal.

The Made in Tennessee competition included three feature films and eight shorts. This category included the following feature films: A Hard ProblemCountry BrawlersOne More Week; and the following shorts: After, Life.Baseball with DadBlack & WhiteCart ReturnDistant PeopleFishMK Ultra Violence, and Sword, Skill & Sorcery.

The Elev8or Pitch competition included nineteen film submissions. The top eight teams had their films screened followed by their one-minute pitch in front of a live audience and panel of judges. This category included the following films: Along CameCatacombsField CallNeon ShadowsRock-A-ByeSecret CitySolidarity, and Tenebris. The top three winners will participate in a development lab with Paul Harrill and other industry professionals.

AMERICAN REGIONAL FILM COMPETITION The jury of the American Regional Film Competition included Jasper Basch, Head of Distribution for Variance Films; Beatrice Loayza, contributing film critic at the New York Times; and Kelly Williams, creative producer and co-founder of Ten Acre Films.

First Place – Peak Season (Dir. Steven Kanter and Henry Loevner) Best Director – An Evening Song (for three voices) (Dir. Graham Swon) Jury Prize – Mountains (Dir. Monica Sorelle)

On behalf of the jury, Kelly Williams wrote, “As a regionally based producer, I truly appreciate FILM FEST KNOX’s focus on regional cinema. By putting a focus on films made regionally, it celebrates the diverse voices that can often be overlooked at other festivals.” Peak Season, the winner of the American Regional Film Competition, falls in that category.

“We’re so grateful to FILM FEST KNOX and Visit Knoxville for honoring our film Peak Season with this award!” said Henry Loevner, Co-Director of Peak Season. An Oscar-qualifying theatrical run at Regal is truly a game changer for a small film like ours. We were humbled to screen alongside some extraordinary movies in the American Regional Film Competition. In its inaugural year, FILM FEST KNOX has already put itself on the map as a world-class festival and a must-visit destination for independent filmmakers. We can’t wait to return to Knoxville with another film very soon.”

MADE IN TENNESSEE COMPETITION The jury of the Made in Tennessee category, which included Jack Neely, Executive Director of the Knoxville History Project; Varadila Nurdin, a specialist in documentary project development and film financing forum management; and Robin Wilhoit, Anchor at WBIR.

Best Film – A Hard Problem (Dir. hazart) Jury Prize – Country Brawlers (Dir. Curren Sheldon)

On behalf of the jury, Jack Neely wrote, “We also agreed, again unanimously, that A Hard Problem deserves the top award. It was well written, well cast, well directed, well shot, well edited, a feature film worthy of national or international distribution. On one level it anticipates and explores the current anxiety of Artificial Intelligence, but it goes further to transcend the sci-fi genre to raise provocative questions about the meaning of identity and mortality here and now. Although its protagonist appears to be an especially sophisticated sort of robot, its – or his – dilemma is altogether human, and the film itself is a meditation on the meaning of individuality, love, and perception, with the underlying awareness that everything that makes us who we are will someday end.”

A Hard Problem winning in the movie’s hometown was a great feather for our cap as we go into wide release. Knoxville is a special place, with an incredible film community, and a downtown designed for a world class film festival, said hazart, Writer/Director of A Hard Problem. “If they keep this up, it will be a destination not only to screen your movie but discover where to shoot your next film. We also can’t emphasize how big of a deal top prize – a 10 city 2 week run in Regal cinemas – is to indie filmmakers, maybe the biggest prize we’ve heard of out of any film festival.”

THE ELEV8OR PITCH COMPETITION The jury of the Elev8or Pitch competition included Paul Harrill, Co-Chair of the University of Tennessee Cinema Studies program and one of FILM FEST KNOX’s Co-Founders; Kristin Shrader, independent awards consultant for Netflix and other studios; and Keith Thomas, Head of Development for Marcus Entertainment.

First Place – Catacombs (Dir. Chad Cunningham) Second Place – Solidarity (Dir. Asya Mounger) Third Place – Tenebris (Dir. Kelly Burke)

On behalf of the jury, Kristin Shrader wrote, “It was a treat and an honor to serve as a judge for the Elev8or Pitch competition at the inaugural FILM FEST KNOX this weekend. The films were excellent and exceeded any expectations I had of the amazing film community in town. The programmed features were crazy good!”

“I’m so encouraged for the future of our filmmaking community thanks to FILM FEST KNOX,” said Chad Cunningham, Director of Catacombs. “The festival as a whole was phenomenal in its first year, but the introduction of the Elev8or Pitch competition is truly a game changer presenting valuable opportunities to filmmakers like myself who want to make feature films. The guidance and investment of seasoned industry leaders will be extremely beneficial to me as I move through the development lab. Home grown East Tennessee films and filmmakers will grow from this program and that is very exciting.”

“The first FILM FEST KNOX could not have gone better,” said Kim Bumpas, President of Visit Knoxville. “Our partnership with Regal allowed the perfect host location and an incredible award in the Oscar-qualifying run, and our partnership with The Public Cinema offered amazing curated programming to be showcased in our destination. We were blown away by the community support of this home-grown effort. We are so proud of this first-year festival and can’t wait for next November.”

2024 FILM FEST KNOX is confirmed for November, with specific dates yet to be announced. Follow and Facebook and Instagram for future announcements.

Media: Please access B-roll and images available for use here.

ABOUT REGAL Regal, a subsidiary of the Cineworld Group, operates one of the largest and most geographically diverse theatre circuits in the United States, consisting of 5,818 screens in 429 theatres in 41 states along with the District of Columbia and Guam as of July 31, 2023. We believe that the size, reach and quality of the company’s theatre circuit provides its patrons with a convenient and enjoyable moviegoing experience. We are committed to being “The Best Place to Watch a Movie!” Additional information is available on Regal’s website:

ABOUT THE PUBLIC CINEMA The Public Cinema was created to share vital works of contemporary international and American cinema—works that might otherwise be unseen or overlooked by Knoxville audiences. Most of the films screened are discoveries from the festival circuit; many are Tennessee or regional premieres. Whatever is screened, the only agenda is to create a space for cinema as an art form and to promote discussion among discerning moviegoers. For more information visit

ABOUT THE VISIT KNOXVILLE FILM OFFICE The Visit Knoxville Film Office serves to strengthen Knoxville’s economy through the promotion of the city as a premiere filming location. By attracting motion media companies to Knoxville through the marketing of its locations, accommodations, services, crew, and talent, the Film Office fosters the creation of jobs in the area, stimulates business opportunities, and generates exposure. Knoxville has three times been named one of MovieMaker Magazine’s Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker. For more information visit and follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Kristen Combs Director of Communications Visit Knoxville 865.342.9127 o 865.306.4341 c