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Nearly 1,000 filmmakers from 74 countries will head to Houston for the WorldFest International Independent Film Festival April 21–30. Founded in 1968 as the International Film Society—the third film festival to launch in North America—the lauded organization will celebrate its 50th anniversary with awards and screenings at AMC Studio 30 this and next week.

Chairman and founding director Hunter Todd, whose love for film goes back to making rocket movies in his youth, shares that WorldFest does not take lightly its classification as an "international film festival." To earn the status, a festival must feature international films, have a jury, award prizes, invite the filmmakers and screen their works. While this doesn't seem like a tall order, when applying the rules to the nearly 3,000 “film festivals” around the country, the list shrinks to about 100 that actually fit the bill, including WorldFest. Essentially, the majority of “film festivals” are simply film screenings, with some festivals even charging a finalist fee and award fee to winners. Even worse, Todd shares, some festivals are strictly online, just so they can collect entry fees.

Todd says WorldFest has been influential in discovering great talents and serves as a filter for creative agencies and producers in Hollywood. For example, during the pre-internet era, the director of the Creative Arts Agency, the world's leading agency, would send Todd his FedEx number every year asking for a copy of WorldFest's Remi Award winners.

“A few years ago, a young man from Houston named John Lee Hancock won an award for his script. The next year, he came back with a short that he made from the script. A year later, he came back again with a feature film,” says Todd. “He came into my office one day with three gold medals and said, ‘Well Hunter, it’s all your fault—I’m going to Hollywood.’”

Hancock, who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning film The Blind Side, is amongst the festival's impressive alumni, which includeSteven Spielberg, Randal Kleiser, Ang Lee and David Winning.

Randal Kleiser, the director of the iconic 1978 musical Grease, attended WorldFest and won a Remi Award for his short film submission PEEGE, which was released in 1973 and put on the National Film Registry in 2007.

“My short was picked up and became very successful. Every year, the government chooses 25 movies to represent American culture to archive in the Library of Congress. They chose PEEGE,” says Kleiser. “After I showed the short film to the people at Universal Studios and asked them to distribute it, they said they don’t distribute shorts, but they liked the movie so much that they hired me to start directing television shows.”

With China producing more films than the United States, WorldFest started the WorldFest Panorama China installment, which has become the largest focus on Chinese cinema in the world and screens more Chinese films than Shanghai International Film Festival. Over 200 Chinese films will be shown, and nearly 30 Chinese filmmakers will make an appearance at the festival.

The majority of film festivals have two categories: shorts and feature films. WorldFest has a whopping 10 categories, which also includes music videos and student films, creating an amazing amount of synergy that catapults new creatives into successful careers. See their films here in Houston before the rest of the world knows their names.

WorldFest International Independent Film Festival, April 21–30. From $7.50–750. AMC Studio 30, 2949 Dunvale Rd. worldfest.org

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