I'm in Savannah, Georgia to spend a week as a guest blogger for the Savannah Film Festival, an eight-day fest hosted in the historic Southern town by the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). [Read my entries in the "Voices from the Fest" section on the festival website.] As the town prepares to kick off the 12th annual festivities with the Iraq film, or rather post-Iraq film, The Messenger, I'm wondering how SFF's growing success might reflect or even influence the rise of film festivals that similarly fall somewhere in between the biggies (Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, Venice) and the little guys.

For starters, a brief look at SFF's line-up and star-studded guest list. The festival begins today, October 31, with The Messenger, a Sundance entry that has Oscar possibilities but more likely will make a run at the Indie Spirit Awards. Stars Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster will be in attendance. (I will be attempting to run into them at the local Starbucks or wherever it is that Hollywood actors hang out when they visit other cities.) Another Oscar hopeful, the Emily Blunt-starring period biopic The Young Victoria, is screening the following day.

And then there are the almost certain Oscar pictures: George Clooney in The Men Who Stare At Goats; Lone Scherfig's An Education; Michael Haneke's Cannes winner The White Ribbon; Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, with star Jeremy Renner in attendance; and Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, which will bring both director Lee Daniels and his star Gabourey Sidibe to town.

Read on for more about this year's Savannah Film Festival.
Savannah will play host to a number of special guests being honored, including Patricia Clarkson presenting Woody Allen's Whatever Works, Emmy Rossum, who will screen her indie film Dare, and Hugh Dancy, who will screen his recent film, Adam. Word has it Dancy's wife Claire Danes will also be in town along with the likes of Alan Cumming and André Leon Talley, who have connections to the college. Returning to the festival, award-winning director James Ivory will screen The City of Your Final Destination, the first Merchant-Ivory film following the passing of Ismail Merchant.

Balanced alongside these high profile awards season contenders is a healthy offering of independent film. The documentary 45365, filmed by SCAD alumni, has won multiple awards on the festival circuit. The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Evans from a lost Tennessee Williams screenplay, will screen after debuting at the Toronto Film Festival. Scott Caan is expected to appear to screen his latest indie film, Mercy, which he wrote and stars in. I'm looking forward to seeing Dear Lemon Lima, which I missed earlier this year at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

And to top it off, works from SCAD's own film and animation students will be shown throughout the week. To me, that's an important element that sets SFF apart. The school itself is an art college, so the festival not only merges a film-loving community with Hollywood films and film makers; it makes a concerted effort to unite the two with its population of burgeoning young artists. Oscar films screen alongside student films and independents, and the Savannah community seems enthusiastic for them all. While tickets aren't free -- leave that to AFI Fest, which is taking place at exactly the same time in L.A. -- is this the ideal future face of the regional film festival?