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Who Cares About Film Festivals?! Me, and You Should Too.

January 26, 2011

I read this article Yesterday, “Who Cares About Film Festivals?” and it bothered me to say the least.  It was written by Graeme McMillan.   Go read it, then come back here. You can find it here:

And here is my reply to that article——–>

Film festivals represent a glimmer of hope for those who want to make it into the film world and don’t have the money, resources, or connections to do so.  In many cases these people need to rely on pure talent.  To suggest that they are unimportant is to say that all of these filmmakers have wasted their time, energy, and in some cases their lives.

Films like Breathless,  Reservoir Dogs, Crumb, Clerks, Little Miss Sunshine, Hustle and Flow, Winnebago Man, Garden State, Do the Right Thing, Napoleon Dynamite, Bottle Rocket, El Mariachi, all got their first screenings at festivals.  In many cases these films were without distribution and would make those deals at, and thanks to, the festival.  Festival screenings gave filmmakers like  Jean Luc Goddard, Spike Lee, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Jared and Jerusha Hess, Wes Anderson, and many many others, outlets for their early work, which would lead to mainstream work.  Well, except for Goddard who is as far from mainstream as a person can get.

This story below of Wes Anderson comes from the Bottle Rocket IMDB page:

Wes Anderson and the brothers Wilson made a 13 minute B/W short film called Bottle Rocket (1994) which was first shown at the USA Film Festival in Dallas. It met with a sufficiently enthusiastic response that they took it to Sundance where it came to the attention of screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson who directed it to towards Polly Platt and James L. Brooks. It was with their intervention that the team were able to get financial backing from Columbia to expand their short into a feature film.

Graeme says:

Maybe my problem is that film festivals are so exclusive; Sundance, at least, does its bit to change this, streaming content online for anyone to see. It’s an obvious solution, but the way to make film festivals actually matter to people is to let people take part in them.

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of festivals in the world on every continent in every country and in every state, principality, and/ or region.  I bet there is someone planning a film festival within fifty miles of where you are sitting right now.  They are not exclusive, as Graeme McMillan would have you think.  I suppose that he is referring to “Exclusive” fests like the big ones, i.e. Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, Cannes, Tribeca…  But wait.  These are exclusive?  Is the Tribeca Film Festival exclusive?

Here is a picture of my wife Apryl and I on the red carpet at Tribeca in 2010


... and we're on the unhindered side of the velvet ropes.

There are pictures of us from 2009, 2008, 2007, and so on, but I think you get the point.  I’ve attended every year since the festival’s founding.  These festivals are far from exclusive.  In fact they are very inclusive to whoever wants to take part.  They boost the local economy while they are providing jobs, tourism, and most of all, people.  People that are ready, willing, and able to go to restaurants, bars, stores, and want to spend money.  In order to go to the fest I didn’t need to bribe, cajole, argue, or steal.  All I had to do was buy tickets.  They’re available online.  I didn’t even buy them right away.  I bought them weeks after they went on sale.  Guess what?  They even take credit cards.  There is quite literally nothing exclusive about a film festival.  In fact they are very friendly places, where people love to meet new people and talk about the films that they’ve seen, made, and enjoyed.

I also attended the The New Hampshire Film Festival a few years ago.  This festival ran for five or so days in various venues throughout Portsmouth, and was one of the friendliest festival experiences I’ve ever had.  It seemed like the entire city came out to watch,  enjoy and support independent film!

A picture I took of a very inclusive Steven Soderbergh at an after screening Q & A

FACT: Without the festival screening and P’alme D’or win of Sex Lies and Videotape in 1989, we might not have gotten the very mainstream Ocean’s Eleven, and a whole slew of other Steven Soderbergh / Clooney collaborations.

FACT: Without Clerks being discovered at a festival, Kevin Smith would be working at a convenience store in Jersey.

FACT:  Nobody would find the line “Gimme some of your tots.” hysterical if Jared and Jerusha Hess weren’t discovered at Slamdance with their short film Peluca, which was a prototype for Napoleon Dynamite.

FACT: Winnebago Man, a recent fantastic documentary found distribution after festival screenings.

Without festivals, there is no mainstream.  Festivals are the petri dish for what becomes mainstream.  It is from these meetings of creative minds that good entertainment emerges.

There are thousands of filmmakers who don’t have the time or money to jump right into a feature film.  They barely have the means to put together a really solid short.  There are next to no theaters left that do shorts programs.  These filmmakers have one possible outlet for their hard work.  Festivals.

Graeme goes on:

I nonetheless think that audiences would be ready to engage in more challenging fare if it were more available to them. Maybe someone should come up with a virtual film festival, where we can all attend from the comfort of our living rooms, and see what happens to people’s perceptions of film festivals then.

Ugh.  Research!  Do your research!   This is the problem with armchair journalism today.  No research.

The film Festival Channel on most cable systems brings dozens of on demand film festival films to the comfort of your home.  The Tribeca Film Festival streams Q & A’s live from screenings and makes their films available on Demand and on their website.  The New York TV Festival streams live as well, and for free.  Nearly all U.S, festivals that are International have some sort of alternative way to view them either on cable or the Internet. Both IFC and the Sundance channels constantly show festival films, as well as up to the minute coverage of their associated festivals.

Every year Sundance does an on the road screening series of its films at BAM.

The IFP is in cities all over the country trying to assist independent films from conception and through to distribution, and they assist new, young, and aspiring filmmakers get their films into festivals, so the world has a chance of seeing these important films.

The site, assists you in figuring out what festivals are right for you and your film, and it will blow your mind to see just how many festivals are seeking submissions right now!

Maybe if Graeme McMillan attempted to attend a film festival before he had written this, he would have a different opinion.  I’m just sayin…

I leave you with my three favorite Film Festivals that I’ve attended, of which there are many more.  These places offer fun inclusive atmospheres that make you want to go see some good films!

The Tribeca Film Fest

The New Hampshire Film Festival

The Edinburgh International Film Festival,

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