In 2009, international award-winning actor, producer and business owner, John “JD” Demers was in the midst of producing a children’s TV show called History’s Heroes: TheRustyBucketKids.com. This family-friendly show was filmed in the historic district downtown at the Apex store for which the show is named, The Rusty Bucket Shop.
The production showcased local and national talent, used local production crews and locations in and around Apex, North Carolina, sometimes referred to as Peak City. In an effort to gain publicity for his new TV show, Demers thought that he would bring a piece of Hollywood to Apex, and thus was born the Peak City International Film Festival. The festival is an “International film, TV, music and new-media production competition specifically for producers of family-friendly content.”
“Originally, the festival was the backdrop for the three-time Emmy-nominated and multiple award-winning pilot episode for the TV show, History’s Heroes: TheRustyBucketKids.com (Lincoln, Journey to 16). As we were in the middle of pre-production planning, I thought we might as well make a real festival out of it,” Demers said. The idea wasn’t necessarily to make this an annual event, but after the success of the first festival, people started wondering when the next one would be held. “I had never really planned to do more than one, but once people showed interest I considered doing it again,” Demers said. Life events got in the way for a few years, but in 2016 the second Peak City International Film Festival relaunched and was aptly named Take 2. This November, Apex will once again be home to the Peak City International Film Festival: Take 3.
On November 17, 18 and 19, TV, Features, Shorts, Animation, Music Videos and their producers, directors, and talent, from around the world will gather in Apex to showcase their work. Throughout the week, the film festival will screen entries that have been submitted, in various venues in Apex, all leading up to the highlight of the event on the evening of Saturday, November 18. The awards gala will take place, once again, at the Halle Cultural Arts Center and promises to provoke feelings of old Hollywood with black ties and evening gowns. Terry Babb, with one of the local antique auto clubs, provides classic cars; and Chief John Letteney, head of the Apex Police Department, has motorcycles and patrol cars provide a blue light motorcade escort from the Cheerwine Mayor’s Reception to the Halle for the awards gala. During the gala, awards will be given for entertainment value, artistic merit, excellence of technique, and talent. Along with these awards, the film festival will honor this year’s recipient of the Charlie Gaddy Lifetime Achievement Award. Named for the esteemed, former WRAL-TV news anchor, the Gaddy award is given to a person who has contributed greatly to the entertainment field in a family-friendly way. In 2009, Charlie Gaddy, along with festival founder John Demers, presented the first award to Jerry Mathers. Mathers is best known for his role as Beaver Cleaver in the 1950s and 60s classic show “Leave it to Beaver.”
Last year at the Peak City International Film Festival: Take 2,
the recipient of the Gaddy was North Carolina’s own son, Ira David Wood, III. This most loved and extremely talented author, playwright, actor of films and stage, director, producer, husband, and dad has been entertaining all of us since the early 1970s. David, as he is known to many of his friends and fans, cannot be mentioned without pointing out his annual holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol.” Now in its 43rd year, this unique adaptation has toured around the world, yet every year you can catch this funny yet poignant production by Theatre in the Park and the show’s star, David Wood.
The Gaddy Lifetime achievement award will be presented to actor Johnny Whitaker. Johnny is an actor, who as a child, starred in the television show “Family Affair,” which ran from 1966-1971. Johnny also starred in the 1973 Oscar-nominated feature film version of “Tom Sawyer” along with Jodie Foster. “Tom Sawyer” will be shown during the festival as it celebrates its 45th Anniversary. Johnny is excited that “Tom Sawyer” will have the opportunity to captivate a new generation; “The story of Tom Sawyer is an American classic and I think it is wonderful to have the opportunity for a new generation to appreciate it,” he said in our phone interview.
Over the years, Johnny has had opportunities that many former child stars haven’t. “I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to do other things besides a television show. I’m proud to have worked with Disney and been able to have a film career as well as television.” Currently, he is working on a revamp of the television show “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.” Johnny starred in the original show, alongside Scott Kolden. This time around, he will be starring with David Arquette and will be playing the role of the “salty sea captain.” In addition to his acting career, Johnny is a strong recovery advocate and is the president and founder of Paso Por Paso, a California non-profit dedicated to helping Spanish-speaking addicts and alcoholics find treatment. Johnny is excited to visit Apex, the peak of good living, for the first time and is looking forward to promoting the North Carolina TV and feature film industry. “I think it is wonderful to inspire films and to bring it to the masses,” he said.
In addition to screenings of nominees, and the awards gala, there will also be the Cheerwine Mayor’s Welcome Reception held for this year’s Gaddy Recipient, Johnny Whitaker.
As the official family-friendly beverage,
Cheerwine has been a sponsor of the
Mayor’s reception since the first festival.
For the producers and filmmakers, there will be opportunities to learn about new investment strategies from Benji Taylor Jones with Ward & Smith Law Firm. She will have a workshop discussing the new NC legislation dealing with securities law and equity crowdfunding, known as the PACES Act, during her workshop presentation. There will be a round-
table with NC-based investors lead by respected startup
advisor and angel investor Mark Easley.
The Peak City International Film Festival is quickly becoming a town tradition, bringing the bright lights of Hollywood to Apex. In addition to allowing producers to showcase their unending talents, the festival is a way to expose those who may otherwise not have the opportunity to become familiar with certain genres of the arts. The residents of Apex are fortunate to have the opportunity to witness firsthand what others can only see on the big, or maybe your little, screen. A number of visual media professionals have loved using the Town of Apex as a backdrop for scenes in movies, TV shows, music videos or an artist drawing with a brush.
Mayor Lance Olive stated in his last proclamation about the film festival, “the Peak City International Film Festival will add to the arts and cultural life of the Town of Apex… and I urge all citizens to participate in this event.”