Sands Film Festival makes successful debut at Players by the Sea theater

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A man searches for love with an online Russian bride. A young woman faces the chance of avenging her father’s death. A St. Augustine priest is murdered, and a boy in love with a girl ruins his chance by punching her in the face. Films on these stories and more were shown at the first Sands Film Festival April 13-14 at Players by the Sea theater in Jacksonville Beach.

The festival was created by brothers Irhad and Alen Mutic, who said they have been cinephiles for as long as they can remember.  

“Kids skip school for many different reasons,” Alen Mutic said. “I skipped school because I wanted to watch movies.” 

Alen directed the festival while his brother, Irhad, handled the media and marketing.

Small, but mighty, the Sands Film Festival captured filmmakers’ attention online and many reached out. After over 300 submissions later, the Mutic brothers found their festival selections. Alen and Irhad chose over 30 films from around the world that they believe showed quality and potential. Some have even been Oscar-nominated and internationally awarded.  

The festival was a unique and successful experience for the Beaches community. Curious guests freely wandered in and out of the theater as they decided which film they wanted to experience next.

Free snacks and beverages were provided, along with pizza and thoughtful discussions during the hour breaks. Even a photo area was designated with an elaborate Sands Film Festival photo wall to add some red-carpet flare to the event and fun memories for the guests and filmmakers. 

“Our focus is to just bring that experience that’s either in like LA or New York City and really be another outlet for film,” Irhad explained. “I think a lot of people here are hungry for that,” he added, showing a little hunger in his own voice.   

Alen and Irhad don’t just watch films, they hunt for them — quality, independent films that people wouldn’t even imagine existed since they’re not in the public eye.  

“A lot of these films get overlooked,” Irhad said. “Like the really good movies that are out there, just because they don’t have a marketing budget to submit to festivals. If you don’t have a big budget, your creativity can kind of only take you so far, so we wanted to be that bridge. If your movie is good, our submission rates are really low. You’re not being charged for every single thing.”

The Mutic brothers pride themselves on being loyal to the phrase, “quality over quantity.” They spoke of options on how they could reach the Jacksonville community and intrigue them to attend Sands Film Festival without using films to attract the audience simply because of a local name or fad.

“The majority of film festivals select films from their own town,” Irhad explained. “I don’t think quality comes into play a lot. It’s usually just because they want to fill up a theater, so they select filmmakers from there because the majority are going to show up.

“Not only for screening, but also for awards,” Alen added, mentioning that the more that local movies are featured, the higher the chance a local movie will be voted the best because of the local audience. 

Coincidentally, “Where There is Darkness,” a featured film and documentary on the murder of St. Augustine priest, Father Renee Robert, won best feature film at the Sands Film Festival, not because of the local connection it made with the audience, but because of the content within the film itself. 

“I think that might be one of the best films we have,” Alen said. “It’s a story that needs to be told.”

After a successful debut, it’s crazy to think that the Sands Film Festival wasn’t even on the Mutic brothers’ agenda six months ago. 

“Four months ago, we were sitting in the backyard just thinking, ‘How can we channel this love for film and how can we bring it to the public eye?’” Alen said. 

As Irhad reminisces on the last few months of hard work and film critiquing, he thinks what he and his brother accomplished was “phenomenal,” especially considering the fact that their marketing budget was under $500.

“I think we’re really going to be that place (festival) in the Southeast area that people will want to be a part of,” Irhad said. “It’s not just about selecting films so people show up, it’s selecting great films so people show up, if you know what I mean. I think that was a good quote, so you may want to quote that one.” 

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