Jessica Denton is not a Film Snob. She prefers the term Movie
“There is a difference,” says Denton, program development
coordinator for the visual arts department. She came to Emory about
a year ago.
Denton’s current part-time job (with full-time responsibilities)
as managing director of the upcoming 2004 Atlanta Film Festival,
to be held June 11–20,
screams Snob, but she will have none of it. Her favorite movie, one she calls “dorky,” is
When Harry Met Sally. It takes her a couple seconds, in fact, to come
up with her favorite independent films. She finally names Rushmore and Election;
the latter is on her list because she identifies too closely with the go-getting
(and more than a little infuriating) main character, played by Reese Witherspoon.
But the most important disqualification for Denton as a Snob is how she first
got the festival’s managing director job in 2003. As a graduate student
in film and video with more than a few credits working on crews for Atlanta-based
independent films (as well as production assistant work on high-profile events
like the "American Idol" tryouts in 2003), Denton was well qualified, and a professor
at Georgia State lined her up with an interview.
One of the skills needed of the managing director was knowledge of the database
program FileMaker Pro. Denton knows the program well. She organizes the more-than-300
movies in her collection with it.
“I went onto imdb.com [The Internet Movie Database] and got poster pictures
to illustrate each entry,” Denton says. “I rate them by Goobers because
it’s my favorite movie candy. I really have no use for it, but I like to
Organization is Denton’s primary responsibility with the fest, now in its
28th year. The position is part time, but it comes with full-time work. Denton
is essentially Festival Director Paul Marchant’s chief of staff. Among
the responsibilities, she handles the comings and goings of the movie prints,
supervises the volunteer coordinator, and is the venue manager for The Rialto,
the festival’s primary screen.
Serious work on the festival, one of the largest in the Southeast, starts in
January. The call for submissions ends in February. More than 1,000 films must
be must be winnowed down to the 150 that will be screened. Marchant takes care
of the feature-length pieces, but a committee is set up to help out with the
many shorts hoping to light up the darkness of a theater. Denton is part of that
“There are some horrible, horrible things out there,” she says. “Some
look like they were shot with no lights and home cameras.” In addition
to production values, the committee looks at acting as well.
“The story can be great, but the actors have to carry it,” Denton
continues. “And there are some terrible actors in some of these films.
They can be entertaining, but not intentionally. We always respect when people
put forth the effort, but sometimes, it doesn’t take long before we say, ‘Next.’
“But when a short really works,” she continues, “it’s
the greatest feeling to discover a fresh, well-made film. Then I get excited
encouraging people to see something new.”
Over the last few months, Denton has spent most evenings and weekends working
on the festival. When it begins, she’ll be there full time—using
her Emory vacation to pay for it.
Denton certainly loves her festival labors, but there was a time when she thought
they would go away. Following last year’s festival, Denton’s position,
which had been full time, was dissolved. Managing directors weren’t needed
in the off season. Brian Newman, executive director at the festival sponsor IMAGE
Film and Video Center (and former studio manager in visual arts) told her about
the open position at Emory.
Denton applied, was hired and has moved quickly to
take roots in the community. Not
only does she lend a hand to visual arts students
working on projects, but she has even joined the University Chorus.
“This is actually my first full time job, because in film you just don’t
have them,” Denton says. “It’s really scary to think about
leaving Emory. And if I can stay involved with the festival, I think just being
involved in the film industry in some way keeps me happy enough.”
When the 2004 festival rolled around, Denton asked if she could do it on
a part-time basis—evenings and weekends. “I begged and pleaded and
said I could do both,” Denton recalls. “That job was mine, and I
didn’t want anyone else to have it.”
Staying on with the festival is Denton’s latest step in an industry that
is notoriously difficult to traverse. However, she is taking a slightly different
course than other who are interested in film. Rather than direct, she prefers
working behind the scenes, and that attitude serves her well.
“I have no desire to be a director,” she says, eschewing the goal
of most film students, at least in her program at Georgia State. “I’m
just a movie freak. I’ll watch pretty much anything and everything. I know
how to make them, too, but I just don’t have the creative juices to do
it on my own. I’ve always been the organizational/managerial person, and
I just tried to find something where I could combine those things.”
The film classes Denton taught while a graduate student at Georgia State were
notable for their lack of pretension. She asked students to write down their
three favorite movies and three favorite television shows. “Don’t
lie to me and don’t try to impress me,” she recalls telling the class. “And
if your favorite movie is Porky’s, I don’t care, put it down. I would
still get kids who put Strike by Eisenstein. I know that’s not their favorite
Denton has been in the Georgia State film program since 1998. Her classwork has
been finished for a while, and once she finishes her practicum—a screenplay—Denton
will earn her master’s degree. Her goal is to wrap up this December. “When
you aren’t going to be a director, what are you going to do?” she
asks. “I had taken a screenwriting class, so I decided to write a screenplay.”
The gist of it tells the story of a young, independent Southern woman from a
large, extended family who is beginning to learn that her generation no longer
respects some of the family-based traditions that have been passed. Denton admits
that it is slightly autobiographical.
Denton grew up in Newnan, where she still lives. Most of her family is in Louisiana.
On her desk sits a Louisiana State University thermos, alma mater of most of
Denton’s family. She earned her undergraduate degree at Winthrop University
in South Carolina.
“When I go to reunions, I don’t know many of the cousins my age,” Denton
says. “I know everyone older than I am, though. All of my mom’s cousins
stay in touch, but my generation—not so much. That got me to thinking that
we are losing some traditions.”
Her practicum being a movie screenplay, Denton’s heroine also has some
romantic entanglements. “This girl likes to go to flea markets and yard
sales,” she says. “The other thing with her family is that they are
looking for her to get married, and as much as she likes to refurbish things,
she doesn’t want to have to work on a guy. She’s wanting to find
someone who doesn’t need to be fixed up and, of course, she’ll realize
that’s not possible.”
Denton doesn’t mention whether this part of the script is based on reality.
Like any film buff, Denton enjoys talking about her passion, and like she did
when she was a teacher, she brings a refreshing lack of arrogance. Her eyes light
up when talking about the joys of TiVo and Netflix, which allows her to rent
“I love it,” Denton says. “This way I can watch movies I’m
too embarrassed to tell people I haven’t seen or watch ones no one needs
to know about. I’m going though a documentary phase right now.”
She calls up her Netflix page on her computer and checks out her upcoming choices.
many people want to see Coyote Ugly and The Pianist?” she says, pointing
at two random listings. “I said I’d watch anything.”