From Dayton/For Dayton is the theme for this year’s FilmDayton Festival, but you could just as easily think of it as FilmDayton’s family reunion because the focus of this event is the film community, the film family born and raised in the region. The group’s mission is to “cultivate, support and connect our film community to opportunities in the film industry” with an eye towards drawing more film project to the area, all the while building and sustaining work for our filmmakers.

First-year Executive Director Eva Buttacavoli brings a combination of eager camaraderie and support married with the steely planning of a consigliore whose eyes are always on the larger prize and it seems that this might be just what this newbie family needs in order to move forward. With FilmDayton and its festival entering their third year, Buttacavoli is well aware of the stakes.

“This organization was built around celebrating the filmmakers and that first festival was developed to show off, ‘Look there are films being made in Dayton, there are things that are connected to Dayton,’ ” she says. “Year two was, ‘There’s enough happening here to sustain another festival and continue some of the stories.’ We’ve strategized and nailed down some things that I really feel strongly about in my history as a person promoting the arts in general, that I think fit Dayton right now. I think its kind of a perfect storm for us.

“The Wright State program continues to generate notoriety and produce great students,” she continues. “In the past year I’ve been able to contact all these past students living in L.A., Chicago and Louisiana who are working and I get to hear stories firsthand about what they learned, why they left Dayton and why they’re excited to come back because they’re bringing a lot back this year to the festival.”

FilmDayton, through its monthly Film Connections meetings, offers a forum for discussion of current projects in various stages of completion.

This past fall, one of the sessions showcased the work of students participating in the FilmDayton Film Club at Centerville High School and other programs supporting high school and first-year university students. And as part of the festival’s continued commitment to student filmmaking, Friday night will feature two screenings of Big Lens, a program of the best senior films from Wright State University students.

Some of these filmmakers, like Joe Wade, who along with Karri O’Reilly and Adam White started their film Immeasurable over a decade ago, have left the region and drifted away from filmmaking. During an email exchange, Wade explains, “I live and work in the Hollywood area. This is my first festival. Karri has attended many. Eighteen years ago, I started working for Technicolor and my filmmaking aspirations were put on hold. Then I got married, had a couple of kids and continued to work for Technicolor. I’ve wanted to finish the film for the past 18 years but there was always a good reason or excuse not to. For years, my peers have been encouraging me to finish it and for some reason this was the year. It might be because I’m going to turn 40 this year; it might be because everyone involved in the film ganged up on me wanting to remake it; regardless of what finally motivated me to finish it, it’s done and it’s great so I’m glad I did.”

John Sylva, who wrote, produced and directed I Remember, is another excited Big Lenser, a more recent graduate who is also looking forward to the first-time festival experience thanks to Big Lens and FilmDayton. Although he has lived in New York for the past year, Sylva relishes the Dayton connection.

“My entire cast/crew hails from Dayton, and I couldn’t be happier with what they brought to the set every day,” Sylva says. “Each and every person involved with I Remember was my rock.”

Cincinnati-native Andrew Spohn will mark the first festival screening of his film Starting Somewhere and take part in the post-screening Q&A. The celebration will be less of a homecoming and more of a next step out into the larger filmmaking community. Besides his short, Spohn served as a co-producer on Park, the Big Lens short from Elizabeth Cambron and last summer he was the production coordinator for the Cincinnati feature Redlegs, directed by Brandon Harris. He has also produced, directed and edited a music video for Cincinnati Rock band The Harlequins, which is available online.

Spohn plans “to move to L.A., unless there’s a strong draw for my career in other cities. However, Cincinnati is always my home, so wherever I live and work, and whatever I end up doing there, Cincinnati will be a major influence.”

But, extending beyond this small sample of the “From Dayton” portion of the theme, what the festival brings “For Dayton” is a schedule that includes films like Marwencol (produced and directed by Jeff Malmberg), which won the 2010 Jury Award at South by Southwest and the Truer Than Fiction Award at the 2011 Independent Spirit Awards and events like the Ira Glass Master Class (already sold out) and ScreenCon, 91.3 WYSO Public Radio’s presentation with Glass. Both of these Sunday events highlight efforts to attract not only films major festivals but also key figures in contemporary film and narrative culture.

In the end, every filmmaker with a film screening here will be available to talk about all aspects of the process, which means that audiences will get to know what its like to study and make films and leave the area for more access and then find ways to return, to bring some of that economic magic back to the region to support the next filmmaker in the line to guarantee that next year’s reunion will have even more members from the FilmDayton diaspora. (tt stern-enzi)