Cannes-Do Spirit

The story of Harry DeLeyer and his champion jumper Snowman is told in the documentary Harry & Snowman. Photo courtesy of Docutainment Films.

The story of Harry DeLeyer and his champion jumper Snowman is told in the documentary Harry & Snowman. Photo courtesy of Docutainment Films.

Cannes is coming to Tryon. No, not the sun-drenched beaches of the French Riviera. Nor the cinematic palaces where the 12-day Cannes Film Festival shows hundreds of films. Instead, the scenic foothills town is presenting the Tryon International Film Festival, for two days in October. Thirty-seven films will be offered for competition, all of them indie productions, meaning made without the money — or control — of big studios.

The population of Tryon doesn’t even touch 2,000. Nevertheless, star power lingers here. Soul icon Nina Simone was born Eunice Waymon in Tryon. Actor Patti D’Arbanville (former Warhol muse, ex of Cat Stevens and Don Johnson, well-known for her roles in New York Undercover, My So-Called Life, The Sopranos, etc.) has a home here. Last month, Tryon hosted its first independent TEDx event, featuring a diverse roster of residents, including a widely renowned Celtic musician and a celebrated brain scientist. And the recently built, $100 million Tryon International Equestrian Center hosts jumping competitions for the world’s premier horses in this category, among others.

“It’s a small town, but a magical town,” says Kirk Gollwitzer, director of media for the festival.

Last year, Gollwitzer and two film-loving colleagues (Lavin Cuddihee, festival director, and Beau Menetre, director of operations) formed the Polk County Film Initiative (PCFI), whose mission is to attract more film production to North Carolina. The film festival is its major project to date. “We want it to put Tryon on the film-production map,” says Gollwitzer.

Producing a film festival is an enormous task. In addition to a corps of dedicated volunteers, PCFI had significant help from two sources. Many of the movies were found through the services of FilmFreeway, an innovative platform that gathers films from around the world and makes them accessible to festival producers. The Tryon Fine Arts Center contributed its expertise in ticketing — a logistical challenge that’s often overwhelming to first-time event planners.

“We’re doing whatever we can to help the festival,” says Marianne Carruth, executive director of the Fine Arts Center. “We’re excited to bring other cultures to Tryon.”
Films will be shown there and at two distinctive local venues: Tryon Theatre (showing movies since the 1930s) and the Tryon Depot Room, once a real train depot. “What other town of this size has three screening venues?” Gollwitzer enthuses.

Friday night is a gala red-carpet reception and a screening seemingly custom-made for a horse town like Tryon. Harry & Snowman is the true “nag to riches” story of Dutch-born Harry DeLeyer, who rescued a horse headed for slaughter, named him Snowman, and turned him into a champion jumper

Get Better, shown Saturday night, is a dramatic feature shot largely in Tryon and showcasing several local actors. It’s based on a blog kept by a young woman whose father dies of a chronic disease. Filmmakers Emily and Chris White will be attending. (Also that night: the awards ceremony and a discussion with the judges.)

The Amazing Nina Simone is an hour-long documentary about Tryon’s most famous daughter: the singer, pianist, composer, Civil Rights activist, and soul icon was born here in 1933. (She died in 2003 in France.) Writer/director Jeff Lieberman, from New York, will be in attendance.

The 37 competing films are divided into four genres: feature film, documentary, short, and student film, ranging from a few minutes to over an hour. The seven foreign films represent Nepal, India, Australia, Germany, France, Canada, and the UK.

There will be no children’s films or any knockout comedies. Many of the narratives are deeply personal works of art, perhaps quirky — requiring audiences to step away from themselves and enter an unfamiliar view of life. There’s some sci-fi, some history, even a Western. Nature plays a central role in several films.

None are really controversial, but many are provocative. DAR HE: The Lynching of Emmett Hill, made by Raleigh filmmaker Rob Underhill, is about the 14-year-old boy whose lynching in Mississippi in 1955 was a spark of the Civil Rights movement in America. All the parts are played by the same actor, Mark Wiley, and his performances are so amazing audiences forget they’re seeing only one person. Based on real events, Riingata Nepali is set at the end of the Nepali civil war in 2001, where a father and son are at tragic odds with one another. (It’s rumored that the filmmaker, Nischal Poudyal, may visit the festival all the way from Kathmandu.)

Spiritual conundrums dominate a few films. In Dead Saturday, from Alabama, characters assume they are free from God’s all-watching eye during the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In a student film, Afterlight, a recently deceased man is forced to look back on his life — and it’s not a pretty picture.

Most of these filmmakers, as is true in the movie world in general, are men. However, a woman directed one of the student films, and five women directed short films. One of them, local Melanie Star Scot from Fairview, has two films in competition — Sangria Lift is about thrill-seeking teenagers who don’t realize the consequences of their actions, and

Quitter is an inspiring, sometimes humorous look at our addictive society.

“Here, in Tryon,” says Gollwitzer, “because we have such a vital arts community, everyone wants to make the festival successful. Our poster is in all the store windows; there are flags on the light poles. Truly exciting. Who wouldn’t want to come to a film festival here?”

Tryon International Film Festival

When: Friday, October 9 and Saturday, October 10. Gala reception and screening on Friday night at the Tryon Fine Arts Center. (Harry & Snowman executive producer Karin Offield will be in attendance.)
Venues: Tryon Fine Arts Center (34 Melrose Ave.), Tryon Theatre (45 S. Trade St.), Tryon Depot Room (22 Depot St.).
Admission: One-day pass: $20. Two-day pass: $35. Friday-night gala: $25.
Tickets: All tickets are sold by TFAC. Call 828-859-8322 or purchase online at

Festival Schedule: will be announced in early October. Online info at Polk County Film Initiative:


Marcianne Miller is a member of SEFCA (Southeast Film Critics Assn) and NCFCA (North Carolina Film Critics Assn.) E-mail her at

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