The Producers

Director Tom Anton of the Asheville Cinema Society.

Director Tom Anton of the Asheville Cinema Society.

Film directors have a reputation for being…difficult.

Disney created magic inside animation sweatshops. Kubrick famously berated his actors on claims of laziness. And if you talk to his wife, Asheville-based Director Tom Anton “is a perfectionist,” albeit a lovable one.

As a director who cut his teeth on multimillion dollar feature films, the vibrant 57-year old is not someone content to sit on his laurels. And neither is Sandi, his wife/producing partner/artistic collaborator of 12 years. In 2010, Tom and Sandi founded the Asheville Cinema Society (ACS). This November, they unveil the much-anticipated Asheville Cinema Festival, a joint partnership with the support of the renowned Stony Brook Film Festival.

“We go into projects as a team,” says Tom, leaning heavy into a sofa in the couple’s picturesque mountain home. “We know what we want. We have the same vision and values — we’re on the same page. I trust Sandi’s opinion above all others.”

Tom and Sandi share a love story that’s mission impossible even by Hollywood standards. Teenage sweethearts separated one summer when Tom’s family moved to Louisiana, their letters were secretly intercepted by his mother, until fate reunited them decades later as adults. It was this experience that inspired the Anton’s first feature At Last, a film that garnered unprecedented audience support at film festivals and screenings across the country.

But it was a special invitation to screen at the San Diego Film Society that gave the Antons a vision of what a vibrant film-going community looks like. With two film productions to their credit, the duo turned their lens to revolutionizing the quality and availability of cinema in Western North Carolina.

“With the Asheville Cinema Society, we’ve created a forum that brings a variety of films to our area that wouldn’t be here if we didn’t exist,” says Sandi. The couple scours literally hundreds of films before choosing a title to screen. “Because we’re filmmakers ourselves, we’re aware what goes into these productions,” says Tom. “We’re that filter for our audience, searching for the gems that will enrich their movie-going experience.”

ACS offers rare foreign and independent screenings monthly at Regal Cinemas in Biltmore Park. It’s not uncommon for filmmakers and talent from around the world to Q&A with members and indulge in cocktails at chic local restaurants after the show. But it’s not all glitz and glam that inspires the Antons. “It’s about providing a story that’s worth watching,” says Sandi. “I would love to leave our audience a little better off. Give them something from the film that helps to educate our society.”

With the Asheville Cinema Festival, the Antons are demonstrating that a world-class film fest in Asheville benefits the entire community, both economically and culturally. By running November 3rd – 6th, the Festival plans to attract filmgoers during a traditionally slow month for tourism. “This will not just be a film festival,” says Tom. “It will be an experience that introduces this city to the world and says, ‘come see Asheville!'” With the support of the famed Stony Brook Film Festival, whose celebrity attendees over last years included Christopher Plummer, Tilda Swinton, Campbell Scott, Dana Delany, and Tim Blake Nelson, you can only guess at who may attend the Asheville Festival. “The track record of Stony Brook promises a great crowd,” says Tom, “and the possibility of well-known celebrities in attendance.”

Despite a show of epic confidence, both Tom and Sandi are realists and certainly no strangers to great challenge. Like many independent films, At Last and The Pardon (Anton’s second feature) have struggled to find theatrical distribution in this tight economy. “We’ve spent five years of our lives on this,” says Tom. “You gotta keep a sense of humor and not get down.”

Tom admits that fully attaining his dream for Asheville cinema is an uphill climb. But any worthy protagonist chooses to press on regardless the obstacles. “I believe people truly shine through their troubles,” says Sandi. Tom nods and gives his bride a look worthy of a closing monologue. “Look at us. We’ve been given a second chance at love. We appreciate that and don’t take our relationship for granted. We’re grateful.”

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