Last year, I attended the first-ever ActionFest in Asheville, NC.  It was one of those things that just sort of fell together perfectly.  A long-time friend of mine was the festival director and wanted to put together a jury he felt comfortable with, and when he called to invite me, it was about three weeks after my parents retired to Asheville after living most of my adult life in Tampa, FL.  Complete coincidence that it all worked out that way, but when someone asks if you want to go sit on a film jury with Chuck Norris and visit your parents at the same time, you say yes.

And while any festival in its first year is going to suffer from certain birth pangs, there was a lot to like about the event.  The films shown were good, and the people present were great, and overall, it was a heck of a good four days.  And Asheville is a beautiful city, especially in April as the spring kicks in.

So, yes, I'll be returning to Asheville in April this year for the second edition of ActionFest, and I'm excited.  It sounds to me like the plans are coming together well, and I'm pleased to be involved with several of the events over the course of the weekend.  I love the idea of a festival that celebrates action movies and the stuntmen and filmmakers who make that action happen onscreen.  It's unusual for stuntmen to ever get their chance to stand in the spotlight, and we're going to be celebrating them in a major way this year.

Don't take my word for it, though.  Instead, you should check out this press release that went out today, which outlines the first wave of announced titles, and then let me know how it sounds to you:

Asheville, NC – March 8, 2011 – ActionFest, the only international film festival devoted exclusively to action cinema and its unsung heroes, returns to the beautiful Carolina Cinema in Asheville this April 7 - 10 for its second year. Created by Bill Banowsky (Carolina Cinemas founder and Magnolia Pictures co-founder), famed action director/producer Aaron Norris (Missing in Action III, “Walker, Texas Ranger”), and Magnolia Pictures/Magnet Releasing SVP Tom Quinn, ActionFest will once again showcase the most exciting action films from around the globe, pay tribute to the stuntmen, fight choreographers and second-unit directors that make them possible, and give attendees an unparalleled Stunt Show Extravaganza.

ActionFest 2’s Opening Night film on Thursday, April 7 is the International Premiere of Jonathan English’s Ironclad, an epic, blood soaked account of a brutal castle siege starring Paul Giamatti (Sideways, Shoot’em Up), James Purefoy (“Rome,” Solomon Kane), Derek Jacobi (Gladiator), Brian Cox (The Bourne Identity), and Jason Flemyng (Clash of the Titans).

This year’s ActionFest Lifetime Achievement Award will go to legendary stuntman Buddy Joe Hooker, whose career spans six decades and countless classic films, including First Blood. Hooker will receive the award in person on Saturday, April 9, placing him in the rarified company of last year’s recipient, the great Chuck Norris.

“No one honors the men and women who put the action into action films, and it’s about time,” said ActionFest co-founder Aaron Norris. “For me, giving these unsung cinematic heroes the respect and recognition they deserve is the heart of what ActionFest is all about.”

ActionFest 2 will honor 2010’s Machete from director Robert Rodriguez as Action Film of the Year, singling out the talented Russell Towery (Pirates of the Caribbean, Zombieland, Jonah Hex, National Treasure) as Stunt Coordinator of the Year for his impressive work on the film.

Additionally, ActionFest 2 will pay tribute to the Fortieth anniversary of Stunts Unlimited, an elite organization comprised of Hollywood's A-list stunt performers (including original member Buddy Joe Hooker), which has become one of the most sought after group of action performers. Their work has been seen in a wide array of film and television including Die Hard, Fast & Furious, Mission Impossible 2, Point Break, Rocky, Spiderman, and the Terminator.

Undoubtedly one of the top highlights of ActionFest, the Stunt Show Extravaganza will return for ActionFest 2. This year’s show will take place at 2:00PM on Sunday, April 10 in the Caroline Cinema parking lot, and promises to be a thrilling spectacle not to be missed. The show has been made possible by motion picture stunt-business veteran John Cann (Machete, Tango and Cash, Predator 2), President and CEO of Action P.A.C. Stunts, L.L.C., who is creating the show and providing the equipment along with Randy Fife (Robocop, Arlington Road).

ActionFest 2 promises to be four days of adrenaline-fueled pleasure for film buffs, with an exciting combination of the best in contemporary action cinema (including several premieres) and classics of the genre. Confirmed new titles include:

Little Big Soldier — a new period action film written by and starring Jackie Chan

Hobo With A Shotgun — the hot Sundance selection starring Rutger Hauer

Super — vigilante madness starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon and Liv Tyler

Bangkok Knockout — Thai action from the stunt team and filmmakers of Ong Bak

Outrage — a gritty and violent new Yakuza thriller from the legendary Takeshi Kitano

Bunraku — a surreal fist-and-sword epic starring Josh Hartnett, Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson, Kevin McKid and Ron Perlman

Machete Maidens Unleashed — the titillating story of 1970s exploitation films from the Philippines

The full lineup will be announced on Monday, March 22, including a competition section juried by genre experts from around the country. VIP Badges good for admission to all ActionFest films are now on sale, for one week’s time at a reduced price of $60, down from $100.

Check out ActionFest.com for more information and be sure to visit the official ActionFest Blog (http://actionfestblog.com/) for details on the “30 Seconds of Action Film Challenge,” a competition where aspiring filmmakers compete to write, direct and produce the best thirty-second action movie.

If you're in the Asheville area or if you can get there, I hope to see you.  And there are plenty more titles still to come, and more guests to be announced.