Tryon International Film Festival announces 2022 Judges

Published 9:47 am Thursday, April 14, 2022

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Tryon International Film Festival (TRIFF) announces the judges for the eighth annual celebration of the cinema arts in the picturesque foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Friday-Sunday, Oct. 7, 8, and 9, 2022.


“I am happy to say we’ve added three new judges, in addition to the judges who have supported this festival for many years,” Festival Co-Founder Beau Menetre said. “We are honored to have such esteemed judges, working professionals in the film industry. On behalf of the Festival and the Tryon community, I extend my most sincere appreciation for their time and talents.”

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The new judges will be actress Francesca Calo, actress and producer Kristi Ray, and filmmaker Erika Arlee. The returning judges will be actress Patti D’Arbanville; screenwriter and director Steven Esteb; founder of Innocence In Danger Homayra Sellier; film and video professional Gregg Jamback; producer Jamie Huss; screenwriter Kevin Bernhardt; producer and director Frank Calo; and director, producer, writer, and actor Johnathan Brownlee.


This year, the Festival has added two new categories to its list of acceptable films: Best Full-Length Animation and Best Short Animation. The established categories are Best Full-Length Feature, Best Full-Length Documentary, Best Short Documentary, Best Short Dramatic, Best Student Film, Sabian Award for Best Human Rights and Human Dignity, Best Overall Film, and Audience Choice.


  • Francesca Calo is a bicoastal actor, MoCap performer, and voice actress who spent her childhood on film and television sets with her parents. She began acting at the age of seven and has since enthusiastically followed her passion. She studied and performed with theaters such as the Moscow Art Theatre Company and New York Stage and Film, as well as with acclaimed international director Adolf Shapiro. In the voice over realm, she has worked on a myriad of animated series, anime, films, and video games.


  • Kristi Ray is an award-winning actress and producer. Classically trained in New York City, she received a full scholarship to The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute where she deeply honed her skills as a method actor. With multiple wins for Best Actress in a feature, as well as Outstanding Performer of the Year for her efforts in independent cinema, her work has been programmed and distributed on the international level. As co-founder of the female-led production company Honey Head Films, her passion for team building creates a unique capacity to recognize the strengths and goals of fellow collaborators. 


  • Erika Arlee is a multifaceted and self-taught filmmaker with a passion for character-driven stories. From the writing room to the editing suite, she is a visionary with a love for Southern narratives and exploring underrepresented communities on screen. A co-founder of Honey Head Films, Arlee continues to break boundaries in independent cinema as a writer, director, and cinematographer. Her debut feature film as writer and director is currently slated for production in eastern North Carolina this summer. 


  • Patti D’Arbanville acted in her first film in 1960 at age eight: a New York University student film about a girl and her cat, entitled Tuesday and Blue Silk. Pop artist Andy Warhol discovered Patti during a gig as a club disc jockey when she was 13, and three years later cast her in his film Flesh (1968). After Flesh, she performed in Warhol’s L’Amour (1973), and as the title character in the David Hamilton film Bilitis (1977). After her unabashedly risqué performances in her youth, Patti worked steadily in film and television in the United States and France. In 1987, she won a Drama-Logue Award as Best Actress for her stage performance in Italian American Reconciliation (1987). Among her many credits are roles in Third Watch, My So-Called Life, Rescue Me, and The Sopranos. She was well known for her main role as Lt. Virginia Cooper on the FOX series New York Undercover. She is a resident of Tryon.


  • Homayra Sellier is the founder of Innocence In Danger (IID), is an international child protection organization, operating in nine countries (France, United Kingdom, Colombia, Germany, Switzerland, United States of America, Austria, Iran, and Morocco). Because Sellier is multilingual — fluent in Spanish, French, English, and Farsi — she selects all films submitted to TRIFF’s Human Rights and Dignity category. She has devoted her life to human rights issues. Throughout the years, Sellier’s organization has utilized television documentaries, billboard campaigns, and other media platforms to help raise awareness on human abuse. A number of the French, Swiss, and German films and visual works that she and her offices have been involved with have been nominated for the Prix Olivier Debouzy, one of France’s most prestigious awards, and short films/spots at Cannes Film Festival. Sellier was the primary inspiration for Illegitimate Advantage, a 2016 novel written by Kirk Gollwitzer, the cofounder of TRIFF. They are now actively working together to adapt the novel into a major motion picture.


  • Gregg Jamback and Jamie Huss of Swiftwater Media (SWM) work as a team when judging films. Their independent feature length documentary, In Pursuit of Justice (now streaming on Amazon Prime Video), added the 2019 Tryon International Film Festival “Audience Choice Award” to its list of 13 awards . They fell in love with Tryon’s festival vibe and have participated ever since. Gregg — owner of Swiftwater Media — has had a film/video career spanning nearly 40 years. His work has been seen on broadcast outlets such as NatGeo, Animal Planet, ESPN, public television, Disney, and others. Additionally, with more than 30 years experience owning a health-related solo practice, Jamie has honed interview skills used when dealing with confidential, traumatic, or emotional subjects — important when dealing with sensitive topics this couple loves to tackle. Gregg and Jamie worked as producing partners on three other independent productions: Discover Yourself with the Enneagram (2001), The Real Cost of Coal (2010), and an award-winning doc short Greg Taylor – “Ghost” (2014). Additionally, Gregg produced The Little America’s Cup Challenge and Peelers, Busters, & Soft Shell Crabs (broadcast on UNC-TV). 


  • Kevin Bernhardt has had more than 30 very different screenplays resulting in produced films. They range from commercial action to critically and spiritually acclaimed. In the past five years, as a writer he has had four films shot with budgets up to $30 million with casts including Michael Caine, Orlando Bloom, Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer, and Ben Foster. In addition to those, Bernhardt’s work has resulted in films with Academy Award winners and nominees, including Donald Sutherland, John Lithgow, Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, and Dennis Hopper. Other prestigious notables include Kevin Bacon, Matthew Goode, Patrick Swayze, Chris Rock, Roy Scheider, Lesley Ann Warren, Charlie Sheen, Dolph Lundgren, Peter Weller, Jennifer Beals, Tom Berenger, and Wesley Snipes. While building a career as a writer Bernhardt supported himself as an actor, with multi year contract/lead roles on General Hospital and Dynasty, followed by numerous leads in films such as Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. Most recently, he has a supporting role opposite Michael Caine and Ben Foster in Medieval, which will be released theatrically in the U.S. in September 2022. But screenwriting remains his passion. He is presently co-writing a screenplay with Academy Award winner John Cleese.


  • Frank Calo is an independent producer and director whose film The Believer, starring Ryan Gosling and Billy Zane, won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. That film won at many festivals that year, including The Berlin Film Festival. It was shown nationwide and had a great box office run. His film Here & There with Cyndi Lauper and David Thornton won the Best New York Narrative In World Competition 2009 at Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival in NYC and had its official New York premier played to audiences domestically and overseas. Calo has worked with Robert De Niro (Godsend), Demi Moore, Mike Myers, Shelly Winters, Marlon Brando, and many more. His film The Cookout, distributed by Lionsgate, with Queen Latifah also had a great box office run. He also worked for two years with The Motion Picture Bond Company under Robert Bordiga, as a producer working on films throughout the tri-state area. He was one of the few and only directors who studied privately under Mr. Elia Kazan.


  • Steven Esteb is a versatile filmmaker who has worked as an actor and a Hollywood screenwriter, and director of commercials, music videos, documentaries, and features. His film Hate Crime won both Best Feature and Human Right & Dignity categories in the 2016 Tryon International Film Festival. Other films include Dirty Politics, a dark comedy starring Judd Nelson, Beau Bridges, and Howard Hesseman; and Baller Blockin, a rap film for Universal starring Lil Wayne that hit #1 on the Billboard charts in DVD and video sales eventually going quadruple platinum. Esteb has been represented by top agencies like ICM and Paradigm as a screenwriter and has worked as a script doctor, coach, and screenwriting teacher. He is currently teaching film and screenwriting at Loyola University in New Orleans. He lived and worked at an AIDS hospice for two years while making the feature length documentary Living With… A Film About Love and AIDS. It premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival and traveled the world, contributing to the opening of new AIDS hospices, his proudest accomplishment. Esteb studied film production in the graduate program at Boston University and has a degree in political science. He now lives in rural Louisiana, his adopted home, with his wife and two children.


  • Johnathan Brownlee is an award-winning Canadian-American director, producer, writer, and actor with a diverse and international body of work spanning more than 20 years. His feature films, documentaries, scripted and unscripted broadcast television, and digital content have been viewed in theaters and on television in more than 100 countries in 14 languages and appeared on every major network and many specialty channels in the United States and Canada. He has produced in 20-plus countries and worked with Academy Award-, Golden Globe-, and Emmy Award-winning talent, including Helen Hunt, Angelina Jolie, Jerry Seinfeld, Luciano Pavarotti, Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Rashida Jones, Dan Aykroyd, Richard Gere, Aaron Paul, and William H. Macy. He has produced, written or co-written, and directed award-winning films, including The Standoff at Sparrow Creek, Decoding Annie Parker with Helen Hunt, and Three Days in August with Barry Bostwick, Meg Foster, and Mariette Hartley. Brownlee has several feature-length films in development or production, including The Eyes of Jefferson, The Only Jewels I Need, and The Devil’s Country. He owns and operates two production companies: Torfoot Films and Ubiquimedia. He currently serves as CEO and President of Dallas Film, which produces the internationally recognized Dallas International Film Festival and the new North Texas Film Festival. He recently created the Veterans Institute for Film & Media (VIFM), a training program for military veterans.


“This being the eighth Festival, we’re calling it ‘Super 8!’” Co-Founder Kirk Gollwitzer said, “because we know it will be our super eighth year! With COVID ending, we plan to move much more of our activities down to the streets of Tryon where we will embrace the town with plenty of outside activities, music, and fun. Quality-Not-Quantity is another theme this year, with a higher degree of film scrutiny and a lower number of selections. Likely, only around 45 total films will be programmed.”


Last year’s Tryon International Film Festival brought more than 50 films to the guests, both in-person and online. Filmmakers and guests enjoyed three days of social events, screenings, and workshops in Tryon, which is branded as “The Friendliest Town In The South.” After the in-person Festival, the films were available for viewing online. Having a film festival that is both in-person in Tryon and online is now the standard for TRIFF. 


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Submitted by Steve Wong