Edmond Coisson wrote his first screenplay at 17, but his life took many different paths while he lived in Europe -- he was a waiter, welder, carpenter, plasterer, factory worker, barber and bartender.
It was only after moving to Illinois in 1983 that he rediscovered his passion for film, acting and writing.
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If you goWhat: Naperville Independent Film Festival
When: Sept. 15-22
Where: Classic Cinemas Ogden 6, Hollywood Palms Cinema, Hollywood Boulevard Cinema and North Central College's Smith Hall
Cost: $10 opening night, $5 the following nights and $22 closing night
He and his wife, Glessna, began making short stories, documentaries and feature films with their own production company, Our Path Productions.
"We just really became enthralled in this," Glessna said.
After entering their work in countless film festivals, Glessna jokingly suggested that she and her husband should start their own.
"We laughed, and that was pretty funny," Glessna said.
But it turned out to be more than a joke a couple weeks later when Glessna ran into Naperville Mayor George Pradel, told him about the idea, and he responded with enthusiasm, telling her to contact his son, Gary Pradel, who had been wanting to start a film festival for 20 years.
After 18 months of planning, the three held the first Naperville Independent Film Festival in 2008.
Now in its fifth year, the festival returns Sept. 15-22 with films being shown at Classic Cinemas Ogden 6, Hollywood Palms Cinema, Hollywood Boulevard Cinema and North Central College's Smith Hall, as well as celebrity appearances from actress Stefanie Powers, actor Alex Hyde White and actor Michael Madsen.
Each night of film programming begins at 7 p.m., and an awards ceremony will end the festival Saturday, Sept. 22. Tickets are $10 for opening night, $5 the following nights and $22 for closing night, and are available at naperfilmfest.org and on-site at the venues.
More than 100 films by filmmakers from 18 states and 16 countries will be shown, and 50 films and screenplays also have been nominated for awards in best actor, actress, director, feature film, student-produced film, short, documentary, screenplay, music video and animation.
"We took the time to create something that would be long-lasting and create a strong foundation," Edmond said of the festival. "It has been difficult for us to get across the importance of supporting the film festival, uplifting it. It's not only about seeing a movie. The film festival is about culture."
Between 2,500 and 3,500 people come to the screenings each year. Edmond said he has seen an interest in documentaries increase over the years.
"There are two different kinds of people: people who go to the movies to escape for an hour or two and then there are the people that go for the learning curve," he said. "Most of those people are people that love documentary."
Films are entered through Without A Box, an online platform that allows filmmakers and screenwriters to discover film festivals and submit entries. From there, the films to be shown and nominated for awards are selected.
"It's basically finding the perfect movie with the perfect lighting, sound, great angles and great actors who make you forget they are characters," Edmond said. "There has to be a positive flow of energy coming from the screen to you."
But the overall purpose of the film festival, Edmond said, is to provide valuable exposure for unknown filmmakers, which sometimes leads to distribution deals. In the festival's past three years, roughly 20 films have been picked up for distribution.
"The purpose of this is that, in the end, we are able to help young filmmakers and all filmmakers to expose their films," Edmond said. "Ninety-nine percent of films we show, you wouldn't see them anywhere else."
Filmmakers also see in the festival a chance to meet with others who share their craft.
"I go to a lot of festivals every year, not only to get feedback for the work, but also to network with other filmmakers," John Wesley Norton said. "I've made some lasting friendships with filmmakers that are turning into collaborations."
Norton's film "Spades" will premiere the opening night of the festival, and he describes it as a "Tarantino-like crime thriller."
"'Spades' is my sixth feature, and I think the reason they picked it for the festival is because it was filmed in Naperville," Norton said. "The main thing I try to do is write for an audience, not just for myself. I guess when you do that, you appeal to a broader slice of the population."
Two years ago, Norton won best screenplay at the festival, something he describes as having been a surprise -- for him, the nomination was enough.
"To win at Naperville, it really means something," he said. "Some festivals are really small and it's hard to gauge how many entries there are and who you're up against, but Naperville gets a lot of entries, so they pick the cream of the crop."
And the festival has big changes in store for the future to give the cream of the crop even more exposure.
In March, organizers will apply for a contract with the Academy Awards, under which films that win awards in the 2013 Naperville festival will be entered into a pool of entries from more than 60 film festivals to be considered for Academy Award nominations.
"That's going to be a huge incentive for our filmmakers," Glessna said.
But the ultimate goal of the film festival, Edmond said, is to open a low-cost, local school in the near future to teach young aspiring filmmakers about acting, producing, camera work, editing and directing and help them see where they fit in within the film industry.
"There are so many people out there that want to be in the industry," Edmond said. "I think that would be beneficial for the community because so many students don't have the opportunity or their parents can't afford it."
For Glessna, one memory stands as a testament to what the film festival means to filmmakers: at an after-party one year, an award winner held his statue, 16 inches tall and 4 pounds heavy, in one hand and his wallet in another. When a waitress came around with drinks, he looked down at his hands tentatively.
And he put down the wallet rather than let go of the statue.
"It's a huge accomplishment for the film director or screenplay writer when they hold it in their hands," Edmond said.