Confessions of a Film Festival Virgin




I feel like I have a film festival hangover. I’m sure some of you are all too familiar with the sensation. That adrenaline fall out that occurs when you return home from a jam-packed weekend and/or week of downing cheap wine (soda and coffee in my case), meeting long lost Twitter friends in person, and watching great (and not so great) indie films ’til your eyes bleed. It’s all part of the experience.

Upon my return from my first real film fest, The Seattle True Independent Film Festival (STIFF) held this past June, I’ve needed a few weeks to process all that went down the three days I was able to be there. First and foremost I was present for my debut short THE SAVING‘s west coast premiere and I was able to attend because of the amazing indie film community I’m a part of. I crowdfunded the money to make the 2400 mile journey to Seattle possible. That in itself captures one of the main facets that sets indie filmmakers apart from much of the industry. Anyone who’s run a crowdfunding campaign knows it ain’t no joke and you’ve got to pour your whole being into making it a success, but I feel like the festival wouldn’t have been such a great experience without going through that whole process. I was able to connect with many different types of filmmakers within the Seattle area who supported the campaign even before setting foot on the west coast. A tweet-up was organized, a gathering of half a dozen of my Twitter peeps who were also attending the festival got to just hang out, get schooled in the importance of a clean chain of title and realize the finer points of a film pitch while chowing down on slices of New York style pizza. Without the festival I never would have met these people in person or had a perfect excuse to visit an amazing and creatively diverse city like Seattle.

Each film community has its own feel, but in the end, isn’t that what we are, a community; here to support each other, promote worthwhile films and make sure they get out there and are seen by the appropriate audiences. I feel that is also what film festivals have been established for. Ultimately is the film festival not for the filmmakers? Offering a place to showcase and promote their work? Where people can gather and empower one another to keep at their goals and continue to create better films? Call me an idealist, but this is the mentality I went to Seattle with, and it’s only been heightened after my return.

I’m not going to pretend I have any grand realizations that must be bestowed upon the whole movie making world, but when it comes down to it, film festivals would cease to exist without films. It’s safe to say it doesn’t work the other way around. I’m taking one angle out of the countless ways to approach the whole film fests scenario, so in no way do I think my opinion is God. While I have several bits of constructive criticisms for STIFF itself, I’ll save that for another medium, but I will say this, they did one thing amazingly right and as a filmmaker I highly appreciated it: They connected on an individual level with almost daily communication about the student block screening which I was programmed to be a part of, including information on venues, logistics, etc. STIFF came alongside me and promoted my film and the rest of the block as a partnership between film festival and filmmaker. That’s a huge deal as far as I’m concerned and from what I’ve heard its super uncommon… but why should it be? At this level in the film industry everything must become more collaborative. We can’t afford to be anything but. We need each other. I want to see good film festivals succeed and I can only hope good film festivals want to do everything in their power to help great films connect to their audiences.

While it would be rather foolish to get all wishy-washy inside and take the stance that indie film is purely about art and ignore the business side of making movies, there is a balance between providing quality content for our identified audience and bringing in the funds. As true as I feel this is for independent film, I feel it’s true for independent film festivals. Your filmmakers are your strongest entity, getting back to that whole “you wouldn’t be possible without us” thing. Work with the filmmakers, but not for us because we do have a responsibility to properly promote our films. Share the weight and together we can make sure films that deserve to be recognized get that attention. What exactly does this type of collaboration look like? There are many facets, but this would be my wish list.

First and foremost, put a human face to your fest, there is nothing worse than an impersonal “system” or mass email for rejections or acceptance letters. There’s enough of that in Hollywood. Last time I checked we’re supposed to be different.

If at all possible, make an effort to have screeners who actually have something to do with the film industry, having worked in it themselves. Especially in the case of festivals that offer feedback to the filmmakers on the films that were submitted.

Know why you’re a film festival in the first place. I get the feeling so many fests come into being because they think it’s the hip thing to do and don’t actually know what’s goes into creating a successful, helpful, and profitable business.

Have a clearly defined and wide-reaching professional image. I’m all for edgy and experimental, but if you’re not clearly defined as a Cinekink-esque, then don’t be.

I don’t believe any of the bullet points mentioned here are out of reach, but they’ll require lots of time, effort, energy and money. You know, sorta like what goes into making a film.

So there you have it. Confessions of a Film Festival virgin.

And with all that said, I’m rather excited to attend my next one.

About Mahogany J. Slide

Mahogany J. Slide, a 18 year old independent producer and screenwriter and native of Greenville SC who just recently embarked on her filmmaking career. Inspired by a lifelong fascination with art, writing, and self expression she took the plunge into the world of indie film, both feet forward. She’s a self proclaimed nerd, lover of classic and modern science fiction, full time Samurai and has a passion for quality filmmaking well beyond her years. Her latest projects include several short film screenplays and a feature length sci-fi period thriller entitled JERSEY NOISE.

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