Waco movie buffs accustomed to driving to Dallas, Austin, Houston or San Antonio for a serious cinema fix will get a film festival they can call their own next February when the Deep in the Heart Film Festival makes its debut at the Waco Hippodrome.
The two-day festival is the brainchild of Texas film and video producers Samuel Z.P. Thomas and Louis Hunter, who do the majority of their work in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Hunter lives in Waco, Thomas in Cedar Hill, and their experience in shopping their award-winning short film “Moving Day” on the festival circuit during the past three years made them think there is room in the state for another film festival.
With a three-hour drive separating Dallas and Austin, home of some of the state’s more notable film festivals, the midpoint of Waco seemed suitable for a new showcase for independent and short films, Thomas said.
“There are some great festivals in Texas. The USA Film Festival (in Dallas) and the WorldFest (in Houston) have been running for a long time, and the Dallas International Film Festival, South by Southwest and Austin Film Festival are some of the best known,” Hunter said.
The popularity and reputation of those festivals, however, also shrink their access to directors and producers, particularly new and less-connected ones.
“It’s hard to get into these festivals, and some of the independent films there are with major Hollywood connections,” Hunter said.
Their Deep in the Heart Film Festival, whose first call for short film entries went out July 1, will focus on independent and short films but not limited by origin or theme.
“We want filmmakers to bring (their) A game,” Hunter said, with Thomas adding, “something more than the navel gazing and smoking cigarettes you see at some festivals.”
Playing off the festival’s name, the call for entries asks for films that are “heartwarming . . . heartbreaking . . . and heart-stopping.”
The two have talked with faculty members from Baylor University’s film and digital media department as well as others in the city, including Creative Waco’s Fiona Bond, to shape their festival plans.
Depending on submissions, the festival will run two days with film genres and categories mixed to allow attendees to sample a variety of movies in a short period of time. Films would be screened from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. with panel discussions and networking events stirred into the schedule.
“We want to mix up the (film) blocks — comedy, drama, documentary, animated — so you’ll be able to see a lot for two hours,” Hunter said.
The two see the festival as an event that could bring attention to Waco as well as provide a focus for local film fans.
The Hippodrome hosts the Baylor film and digital media department’s annual Black Glasses Film Festival, a one-night affair that airs the best student work produced during the school year. The Waco Cultural Arts Festival also has an African-themed FilmFest as part of its offerings.
A Waco film society might spin off from the Deep in the Heart Film Festival to continue interest in cinema through the year, but Hunter and Thomas say that will be up to a Waco film community to create and maintain.
They also want to run the festival as a nonprofit organization rather than under their Dallas-based Ogopogo Film Co., again to strengthen the festival’s Waco identity.
“The festival is not going to succeed unless the community is part of it,” Thomas said.
The two men first met as film students at the University of North Texas. Thomas, from San Antonio, found filmmaking more rewarding than his first field of study, civil engineering, while Hunter, from Spring, shifted from theater to film.
They found a common passion for film and complementary skills in making it. Thomas focuses more on directing, editing and post-production, and Hunter focuses more on writing and producing.
They kept in touch after graduating in 1991 and occasionally collaborated on projects, particularly after Hunter moved to the Houston area after three years in New Orleans television. The pace of those collaborations accelerated into a joint business after 2009, when Hunter and his wife, Emily, moved their family to Waco when she joined the Baylor University business school faculty.
The two have worked on some Waco projects since then, such as a “Closer To You” marketing campaign for Providence Health Center. Under the umbrella of their Ogopogo Film Co., they’ve produced such short films as “Moving Day,” screened in 35 festivals and winner of 12 awards, and “The Usual Silence,” which has been accepted by six festivals to date and won a Gold Remi Award at the 2016 WorldFest Houston International Film Festival.