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Burt Reynolds is guest of honor as Macon Film Festival celebrates 10 years

Long before Georgia became the home of a billion-dollar film industry, Hollywood legend Burt Reynolds was making some of his most successful films here.

“Every film I did that was kind of successful was done in Georgia,” said Reynolds, who was born in Waycross. “I don’t know how many films I did there, but an awful lot. Florida was a little P.O.’d about it, but I didn’t care.”

Though Reynolds lives in Florida, he said he has many friends and fond memories of the Peach State. That’s one of the reasons why Reynolds will be the guest of honor for the 10th annual Macon Film Festival, which starts Thursday.

A decade ago, the festival was just getting off the ground and could never have landed a star of Reynolds’ magnitude. But that didn’t stop the organizers from paying tribute to one of Georgia’s biggest stars by selecting “Deliverance” -- filmed in the state -- as the festival’s first special screening, festival president Julie Wilkerson said.

“(Reynolds) was our first choice to get for our 10th anniversary,” she said. “‘Deliverance’ was the first special screening we did because it’s a great Georgia-based film. Ten years later, the film industry has grown and become a big economic booster. For our 10th year, we wanted to honor the Georgia film industry and pay homage. ... It was the perfect storm because he was filming in Georgia before it was the thing to do, and he has ties to Macon. We’re real excited that he wanted to come.”

Reynolds will present “Deliverance” on Friday night at the Douglass Theatre as well as “Sharkey’s Machine” on July 19 to close out the festival.

He said he chose both films for specific reasons: He considers the former to be his best movie, while he directed the latter and shot it in Atlanta.

“They asked me (to be a guest) and I was thrilled because I have some friends in Macon,” Reynolds said. “And I’m also thrilled that Macon has got a film festival. It’s terrific.”

The festival will take place at the Douglass, the Cox Capitol Theatre and the 567 Center for Renewal. In previous years, special screenings during the festival took place at the Capitol, but Wilkerson said they will be shown at the Douglass because it will be one of the community’s first opportunities to enjoy the new projection system that was recently installed.

Though nothing has been finalized, Reynolds said he’d like to conduct one of the filmmaking workshops the festival usually offers.

“I’d be happy to; if they ask me, I will,” he said. “That’s what I do. Every Friday night I have a class and I love teaching, so I probably will.”

Wilkerson said the festival always offers its special guests the opportunity to conduct a workshop if they choose.

A LONG CAREER

Reynolds, 79, hasn’t slowed down much in recent years. He recently wrapped up shooting a movie with Rob Lowe called “Pocket Listing,” and his second autobiography, “But Enough About Me,” is due to hit bookshelves Nov. 19.

Reynolds also will be honored in September with the Richard Farnsworth Diamond Award, a lifetime achievement award presented by the Association of Motion Picture Stuntmen. It’s the first time an actor has ever won the award.

Reynolds began his acting career in the 1950s after his college football career at Florida State University ended prematurely because of an injury.

After getting his start on stage, he moved on to television roles, mainly in Westerns, and played Quint Asper for three seasons on the classic show “Gunsmoke.”

In the mid-1960s, Reynolds started to get movie roles, with “Deliverance” becoming a critical and commercial success in 1972. Soon after, movies such as “White Lightning,” “The Longest Yard” and “Gator” helped boost the image of Reynolds as an action hero, leading to arguably his most famous role of the Bo “Bandit” Darvill in the “Smokey and the Bandit” movies, which also starred Sally Field and the late Jackie Gleason.

“You know, ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ was just a hell of a lot of fun,” Reynolds recalled. “Gleason never said a word that was in the script. I loved it and had a good time. We all had a good time. You know, you can have a good time and it doesn’t always come across on the screen, but this one, it did. We all had a great time, and Sally Field and I were falling in like. It was terrific.”

Reynolds continued to find success on both the big and small screens. He won a Golden Globe and Emmy awards for Best Actor for his work on the early 1990s CBS sitcom “Evening Shade,” and he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award in 1997 for the movie “Boogie Nights,” for which he also won a Golden Globe.

While Reynolds has had a long and successful career as an actor, he’s also turned down some notable roles, including James Bond, Han Solo and “Die Hard’s” John McClane.

He said he has few regrets about his choices, though.

“I probably should’ve done most of them,” he said. “You’ve got to move on. They turned out well. The guys who did them, they did a good job. You can’t regret things that you’ve turned down, because for whatever reason, it’s usually a stupid reason. Whatever the reason, you’ve got to move on.”

Reynolds still has other movie projects he is working on, but said he didn’t want to jinx them by discussing them.

“I’ve got projects I can do and will happen, but I hate to talk about them because sure enough, you do and then they don’t get made. But there’s a couple of pictures I’d like to do. I’d like to do something that I’m really proud of before I hang it up.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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