Thursday, August 31, 2006

Behind the scenes of film festivals

It is a wrap. Your new film is in the can and is ready for the world to see. Now it is time to hit the film festival circuit where cinematic dreams can come gloriously true or turn into dreary nightmares.

Hundreds of festivals are available to filmmakers to submit films to that span all genres: comedy, drama, horror, short, animation, documentary and so on. Every year more are popping up.
“There are more festivals in the world because there is more product,” says Nancy Schafer Managing Director of the Tribeca Film Festival. “More product has been created primarily because technology has changed and it is easier for more people to make movies.”

For a filmmaker the idea is to get their film seen by as many people as possible. For the un-established, film festivals are often the only routes.

“Theatrical distribution has changed and there is less room for smaller films in today’s marketplace. Many festivals can capitalise on that by showing their audiences different kinds of programming during their festivals,” says Schafer.

Michael Dana, an independent filmmaker who has gone through the film festival process believes there are two ways of getting a film seen through festivals.

“There are people that hit every film festival that’s out there, sort of blanket market their film,” says Dana. “You’ll look at their web site or their printed materials of everything they get into and the list is just humongous.”

While this may get a film wide exposure, Dana believes the broad marketing method offers filmmakers less of an opportunity to learn because their film is playing in markets it may not belong in.

Dana suggests that there is a more effective method of getting more focused attention. “You can do research to which film festivals you think will allow your film to shine the way you conceived it.”

By doing this it allows your film to be seen by like minded filmmakers and audiences. Other filmmakers who work in the same genre may see things in a film that the director missed. “It is like playing tennis with someone who is a little better than you,” says Dana.

Another important aspect that festival provide is the opportunity it to mingling with other filmmakers.

“It’s a nice chance to meet some other people who have done something and sort of talk back and forth to them,” says cinematographer and editor Jeff Clegg. “Most likely you never would’ve seen each other’s films if you all hadn’t been at this festival.”

Hopefully, if a film is good enough it will start picking up festival awards leading to bigger, better festivals. But the film festival circuit is hardly all sparkle and shine. It is a long road to the big fests and to possible distribution deals.

While the filmmaker certainly have their own headaches to deal with when it comes to festival, the organisers of these festivals have their own long mirgrane inducing procedures they need to go through.

In the case of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, John Cooper, the festival’s head of programming, Geoffrey Gilmore, the festival’s director, and three other programmers, handled the daunting selection process. They had to narrow down over 3,000 feature length films and over 4,000 shorts to a final list of 120 films.

No matter the size of the festival whether it be the Toronto International Film Festival or a small regional festival like the New Hampshire Film Expo the process behind the festivals are the same.

Filmmakers submit their films, which then go through an extensive review by a committee or team of programmers before they even reaching the festivals.
For Toronto it takes a team of 16 programmers either travel to festivals around the world or view submissions in Toronto, while The Tribeca Film Festival has three programmers and two associate programmers.

For some critics though these big festivals are nothing more than flash and have lost focus on showing films that truly indie and attempting to discover fresh talent.

In a Variety magazine article, Derek Elley looked at what he called the big five film festivals: Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto and Sundance. These are the festivals notorious for finding and breaking fresh filmmakers. As Elley sees it the so-called big five do not quite live up to their hype.

“Look to Cannes for legitimisation rather than discovery, Sundance for occasional patches of perspicacity, Berlin for dogged persistence and Toronto as a North American showcase rather than a pioneer. And Venice? Well, the Lagoon looks great at sunset.”

Cannes and Sundance and the rest may get the glory, but according to Elley “a lot of the donkey work is done by smaller fests before the big boys jump in and leapfrog over each other.”
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone magazine’s film critic is similarly disillisioned, specifically with Sundance.

“Once upon a time the Sundance Film Festival, tucked away in snowy Park City, Utah was all about movies – raw, low budget movies with no star egos and studio suits to screw with the independent spirit of untried young filmmakers. That is over,” wrote Travers.

Sundance has become a festival where Hollywood star and even faux celebrities like Paris Hilton flock. For film purists it is the smaller festivals that attain the raw, low budget films that critics like Travers yearn for.

Nicole Gregg the festival producer of New Hampshire Film Expo strives to create that sort of atmosphere at her festival. “We have just really created a very unpretentious and nurturing environment and people are just excited about celebrating filmmakers and independent films.”

For Gregg sometimes the festivals in smaller cities have their own energy.

“I’ve gone to film festivals in New York and two, three people have shown up for it. The size of the city doesn’t necessarily to determine the success,” says Gregg.

Still it is at the bigger festivals the distribution companies make their acquisitions, but even there, according to Dana, it is extremely rare that a film would be sold at film festival. Still, Dana stresses that there is nothing better have a film shown on a big screen to an appreciative audience.

“Now if you get a buyer in that room, that’s a thousands times more effective way to have them relate to your film than if you sent them a DVD that they see in their office with a stack of other DVDs,” says Dana.

So, filmmakers will keep hitting the film festival circuit waiting for the big break that gets them in like Flynn.

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