Inspiration Academy Launches New Film Fest With Appearance by Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.

Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.

Forget Sundance. A new film festival organized by Inspiration Academy in Bradenton could become the first festival of note within Southwest Florida’s filmmaking community, Inspiration Film Fest. With a line-up of films from around the world and an appearance by Lawrence Gilliard, Jr., of The Walking Dead fame, the Jan. 17 event is grabbing attention from the outset.

“We wanted to hold a film festival to get the word out in the community about what we are doing,” said James Duke, festival organizer. Duke, founder of Updog Studios, helps run the professional support for Inspiration Academy, the film program at Bradenton Christian School. “We have a film academy for middle and high school, and it’s a very different thing for students to learn about film while they are still in high school.”

Duke himself has experience creating independent films and moved to Southwest Florida a year and a half ago to bring his skills to the academy.

The idea for a festival first came up around October. Since then, the academy received 103 submissions from filmmakers interested in being included in the program. Of those, 35 were chosen to make up the inaugural program for the Inspiration Film Fest.

The showcased works include some local projects by area filmmakers and students, but also include works from as far as Iran. While the festival is billed as a way to celebrate the “kingdom of god,” Duke said there was no requirement to have an overtly religious message in a film for it to be included. Organizers have hopes of growing the festival to a 3-day event, but started out with a single day, with Lakewood Ranch Cinemas showing films from 9am to 6pm.

The inclusion of Gilliard in the program comes through a personal friendship between Duke and the actor. Gilliard starred in the Duke-directed film TurnipseedGilliard will participate in a conversation after the screenings of all the films, so after 6pm, likely before an awards ceremony on the evening of Jan. 17.

Gilliard is best known for his work on the hit show The Walking Dead and before then as a central character on The Wire. Duke said the actor will offer insight and behind-the-scenes stories from working on both those shows.

Tickets for the event range from $12 for individual screenings up to a $150 inclusive package.

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