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Programmer Profile: Joanne Feinberg, Ashland Independent FIlm Festival

picMy name: Joanne Feinberg

My current festival: Ashland Independent Film Festival, Ashland, OR

My title: Director of Programming

Other fests I've worked for: My first programming related job was Assistant to the Programmer at the Bleecker Street Cinema, an "art house" theater in NYC, when I was a student at NYU in Cinema Studies and Film Prod. It was an amazing education in film history. I'm going to date myself here, but this was when you could still see "classic" and "foreign" films on the big screen any night of the week in NY. After that, I worked as a freelance film and video editor for many years, and served on several juries and selection committees in the Bay Area.

Movies that best represent my personal tastes: Check out the AIFF festival programs for the past 5 years for a good representation! My tastes are really diverse, and there are just so many films that I love, for different reasons. Just off the top of my head - some that took my breath away the first time I saw them: Badlands (Terrence Malick), The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein), His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks), Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard), Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee), Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden). The film I think I have seen the most times ever, because I have kids, is Iron Giant - it's wonderful and I’d see it again, anytime!

When I'm not watching movies I like to: I just ran my first marathon a few weeks ago. And I have 3 children. So running on the trails in Ashland, and running trying to keep up with my kids!

A movie I recently programmed that I consider to be a great personal discovery: Ashland does not put an emphasis on premieres. But we do love to program great films that have not been seen widely yet to help build an audience for the film, as that is a large part of what festivals are ultimately about. We love screening short films, and this is a genre where there is lots of opportunity to discover emerging filmmakers. And there is nothing more satisfying then hearing what a great experience they had with our festival, to develop on-going friendships with filmmakers, and then to screen their next short or feature length film.

When filmmakers ask me "What's different about your film festival?" I say: Ashland is not a film market type of festival. But we do, and I quote, "treat filmmakers like rock stars." It's a great festival to see some films you haven't had a chance to yet, visit with other filmmakers, go to our panels, special events, and parties, and to enjoy your own screenings. We have incredibly engaged and intelligent audiences who pack the theaters for every show, and will come up and talk to you (maybe even give you a hug!) on the street, in the coffee shops and restaurants. In the words of animator Bill Plympton, "Ashland is an amazing, freakin’ town! The audiences here are so excited about film. I go to lots of festivals, and this is very unique."

Our festival audience has come to expect: Excellent programming, interaction with filmmakers, and a great community event that takes over downtown Ashland for 5 days in April.

We program the following categories of films: We program all genres and all lengths. We also have a "Locals Only" program (S. Oregon productions), and a local Student Film competition "The Launch."

A recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I approve: Recently, I have seen a surge of filmmakers who are taking new and creative approaches to storytelling in both docs and narratives that is very exciting. Filmmakers are taking chances with the medium and the results are refreshing, especially when my days are filled with screening submissions. Definitely approve!

If I could impart one thing to filmmakers about submitting to my festival, it would be: We take our submission and screening process very seriously, and it is very respectful and thorough! All films are viewed by at least two experienced screeners, many films are seen by 4-6 people, and films programmed in the festival are often seen by as many as 7-8 programmers/screeners. Having to say "no" to so many quality films is really difficult for us. If your film is selected, we hope you will attend. If not, please consider us again.

The submissions period for our next festival is (please indicate start and end date): Submissions for our 9th Annual Festival, April 8-12, 2010 opened in August and will run through December 2009. Our late deadline is Dec. 4, 2009 and Withoutabox extended deadline is Dec. 11.

Filmmakers can contact me here: There is lots of information on our website at and you can sign up for our mailing list at

Last words: I love my work! And I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to see so many great films from so many talented filmmakers. To have Albert Maysles (AIFF Lifetime Achievement Award honoree) tell me "I have received many honors, and none of them have touched me as deeply and soulfully... I want to come back," well, it doesn’t really get much better than that!

Why didn't I get into Sundance? Revisited.

Park City postersThe Sundance Film Festival announces its slate today. I know a lot of filmmakers who submitted to the festival this year. For their sake and mine I don't really go into the nitty-gritty numbers of how few films – no matter how good – get into this most coveted of festivals. Now that most of them have heard a yes or now, however, it might actually help their spirits to know the truth. (Last year I wrote a kind of pep talk piece on this subject that you're welcome to read.)

Let's do some back-of-the-napkin calculations here. According to what a Sundance programmer told me last year when I was writing Film Festival Secrets (the book), about 8,000 titles were submitted to Sundance last year, and that number could have gone as high as nine or ten thousand this year. Let's use the conservative 9,000 for now. Checking out last year's program guide reveals that Sundance programs fewer than 200 films total, including shorts. So 200/9000 = .022. Fewer than two percent of the films submitted get into the Sundance Film Festival.

As John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival put it in a tweet earlier today: "3724 features submitted and we can only invite 113. So many tough choices. For me, a very good news-bad news day."

The numbers aren't really much better at any other large-to-medium festival, though – I estimate that acceptance rates hover between 3% and 8%. This isn't a criticism of these festivals, merely a statement of the way it is. There are more films being made and submitted than ever before, and the large, well-known festivals can't grow their programs fast enough to keep up. The selection process at a festival like Sundance isn't about finding great films – it's about figuring out which great films you want to show. As I told a client just the other day: "I think you made a film that's good enough for Sundance, but whether it's the kind of film that Sundance is in the mood for right now is the real question."

The good news is that there are now more small-to-medium sized festivals than ever before, and that the number of really great festival-worthy films hasn't kept up with that growth either. So while it may be a programmer's market at the top of the heap, there are plenty of festivals further down on the pyramid who are hungry for quality movies that haven't yet had their world or national premieres. Sure, it would be great to premiere at Sundance or AFI Fest or Berlin. The trick is to stay in the game long enough – and to keep making movies good enough – that you're in the right place when your right time comes along.

A year ago on Film Festival Secrets

Programmer Profile: Claudette Godfrey, South By Southwest

Claudette GodfreyMy name: Claudette Godfrey

My current festival: South by Southwest (SXSW)

My title: Film Festival Coordinator / Shorts Co-Programmer.

Other fests I've worked for: CineVegas

Movies that best represent my personal tastes: In no particular order - Top Gun, E.T., and Tommy Boy. Those films defined my childhood and I seriously list those three when anyone asks. I remember more than a few times in film school where other students would say something like Citizen Kane or Modern Times and I would pipe up with one of those classics.

More professionally I list films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Dear Zachary: A letter to a son about his father, A Town Called Panic and Año Uña. Typing that I realize that none of them are entirely conventional, so maybe that's the way I'd define my personal taste.

When I'm not watching movies I like to: Talk about movies. Eat Mexican food. Swim. Take photos. Go to shows. Dance. Hang out at bars with friends. Edit my project. Hug. Watch HBO/Showtime. Sleep.

A movie I recently programmed that I consider to be a great personal discovery: TRIMPIN: the sound of invention was a World Premiere for SXSW and one of the very first films we accepted last year. A trusted documentary screener and friend got it in his first round of watching really early in our 2009 season. He came in glowing about it so I watched it immediately. Just a month earlier I saw Trimpin's work for the first time while on a trip to Seattle with my mom. His IF VI WAS IX: Roots and Branches sculpture is installed in the Experience Music Project and I remember hanging out watching it "perform" for quite some time. I was mesmerized. When I watched the film and connected the dots I was instantly hooked. Trimpin himself is such an phenomenal inventor and musician that he easily becomes an interesting and absorbing character. Peter Esmonde's handling was superb, allowing you a unique window to this melodious joyful world of Trimpin's. I loved it and lobbied for it. It was an easy yes because it is such a beautifully well crafted film about a true innovator. It struck notes with every arm of our festival and that's what SXSW is all about.

Later, I introduced the film's screenings at the festival and was blown away by the audience reaction. There was this connection with the music and with Trimpin (who came with Esmonde to the festival) that was awe-inspiring. That's really what festivals are all about, connecting a truly great film to an audience. Sharing the experience. I actually have a Trimpin poster on the wall next to my desk to remind me of that.

When filmmakers ask me "What's different about your film festival?" I say: We're unique because we're a part of this massive cross-platform multifaceted cultural event. We're Austin in March. It's the people, the city, the weather, the food, the venues, and the programming sensibility that make us really stand apart.

Our festival audience has come to expect: I think people come to SXSW for good films, good access, and a good time. We have been able to strike an amazing balance between those factors and Texas hospitality. The audience attends our screenings expecting to see variety, originality, innovation, and great storytelling. To discover new voices, and to see a little of that trademark weirdness. In short they come to SXSW for an experience. An awesome one.

We program the following categories of films: We program films from these categories both made in the United States and Internationally: Narrative Features, Documentary Features, Narrative Shorts, Documentary Shorts, Animated Shorts, Experimental Shorts, Music Videos, and Texas High School Shorts.

A recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I disapprove: Multiple replacement copies. Meaning, there are a lot of filmmakers who submit an unfinished rough cut in August and proceed to send me a new copy every month until our final deadline. If you submit early, submit a finished film. If you're still working on your film and there are 2 months left until our deadline do yourself a favor and hold off to submit the most complete and finished version you can. This is your film, and you shouldn't undercut it in an effort to save $20 on the submission fee. That said, if you have a new/better/different cut that changes the world you can send in a replacement, just don't make it a habit!

Oh, and if you're going to make a short film, make it short.

If I could impart one thing to filmmakers about submitting to my festival, it would be: Don't take it personally.

I think it's easy for filmmakers to become jaded when they don't get into the festivals they want to. It's easy to focus on the rejection letters and channel negative feelings into hating the establishment. Instead, do your research. Submit to festivals that have an audience for your film. Reexamine your edit. There are factors that you can control.

When a festival doesn't play your film it doesn't necessarily mean that your film is bad or that you're a bad filmmaker. Programming a film festival is like a giant puzzle and there's no way to fit in every good film. There are a lot of factors at work and we really accept a very small percentage of the films that submit. Hone your craft. Keep working.

The submissions period for our next festival is: Submissions are open now through December 3 for our late deadline and our last minute deadline is December 11.

Filmmakers can contact me here: claudette @ sxsw . com or film @ sxsw . com

Blog URL:

Twitter account: @claudasaur

Last words: We love you. No matter what you've made or how you've made it, we love you. We love that you're out there putting yourself on the line for what you're passionate about and believe in.

Programmer Profile: Anna Feder at Boston Underground FF

Anna FederMy name: Anna “insert clever nickname here” Feder

My current festival: Boston Underground Film Festival

My title: Festival Director/ programmer

Other fests I've worked for: Northampton Independent Film Festival, Newport International Film Festival, Global Voices UN Film Festival. I am also the program director in the Visual and Media Arts department at Emerson College and serve on the board of Women in Film and Video of New England.

Movies that best represent my personal tastes: Juliet of the Spirits, Sante Sangre, Donnie Darko, Oldboy, Thirst, What Have I Done to Deserve This?, Trust, Day of the Beast, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Opera, Secretary, Survive Style 5+, Wild at Heart, Hausu

When I'm not watching movies I like to: Sing karaoke, dance to new wave music, and travel to exotic destinations like Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, San Francisco, and Austin (to sit in darkened theaters and watch more movies). Also digging on schlock TV such as Weeds, Dexter, Big Love, True Blood, as well as Britcom The Mighty Boosh, IT Crowd, and The Mitchell and Webb Look.

A movie I recently programmed that I consider to be a great personal discovery: The Last American Freakshow was screened at BUFF 2009 where it had its American premiere. I have a special place in my heart for this doc about a real traveling freak show made by a British filmmaker who had a hard time finding a home for his film. Many festivals turned it down or suspiciously pulled out of planned screenings because they were uncomfortable with the unique way that disability is portrayed. Our audiences responded in a really thoughtful way and made Mr. Butchins feel like he’d finally found a home for his baby.

There are a host of filmmakers that we have built relationships with over the years, giving these folks an open invitation to submit: Steve Balderson, Bill Domonkos, Leah Meyerhoff, Patrick Smith, Ben Levin and Carey Burtt to name a few. We really cherish these relationships as they give our audience something to look forward to and the filmmakers a reliable outlet and audience for their work.

When filmmakers ask me "What's different about your film festival?" I say: We are committed to discovering films that aren’t likely to find traditional distribution for a variety of reasons. Often this is the case due to subject or the experimental nature of the form or just a lack of “marketability” on a large scale. Underground does not mean poor quality. These are well-made, competent films albeit not always polished and glossy. These are films that won’t be coming to a theater near you and BUFF is likely the only time they’ll be shown on a big screen in the Northeast. We also try to create events around the festival with live music and other performance (belly dance, burlesque, wrestling women, singing transvestite nuns). We really prioritize the festivity at our festival.

Our festival audience has come to expect: An array of films from all genres that push the boundaries in form and/or content that they wouldn’t be able to see otherwise, at least not on the big screen with a large raucous but intelligent audience. Also, tons of parties with approachable filmmakers, mind-blowing entertainment and free booze!

We program the following categories of films: We show everything but generic romantic comedy and family friendly fare. We favor hybrids such as dark comedy, experimental narrative, experimental doc, and musical kung-fu horror. We love ‘em all! We like films that make us laugh, make us cry, make us think, dazzle us with visuals and often make us cringe!

A recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I approve: I love that filmmakers are starting to put all their materials on line. I try to discourage filmmakers from sending me these expensive wasteful glossy paper press kits when my needs are digital files of stills and trailers. We don’t want the filmmaker to bankrupt him or herself submitting to our festival. Submit early, keep the packaging simple (we care about your film – not the well designed art on the cover!), and let your work speak for itself (no lengthy introduction letter needed)!

If I could impart one thing to filmmakers about submitting to my festival, it would be: We want to discover your film! The BUFF staff watches every film submitted in an attempt to create a stellar program for our faithful audience, that’s our end of the contract. Your end as a filmmaker is to give your film every opportunity to succeed by respecting our policies and our need to charge submission fees as well as familiarizing yourself with the types of films we show. Also, be sure your DVD plays, is well marked with all the appropriate info and is well packaged to travel the US postal system.

The submissions period for our next festival is: Submissions are currently open and end November 27th for the late deadline and December 18th for the Withoutabox extended deadline. The Last Chance deadline is December 31st.

Filmmakers can contact me here: anna @ bostonunderground . org

Last words: Film fanatics run this fest on a whole lot of love and a fair bit of elbow grease. We do it for our audience and their squeals of delight and gasps of horror. We do it for the films that might otherwise be lost in obscurity. We do it for the filmmakers that need a supportive environment in which to connect to other filmmakers and their audience. And yes, we do it for ourselves (free Maker’s Mark and dinner with Frank Hennenlotter, hell yes)! We hope you check us out as filmmaker, audience member, or volunteer.

Programmer Profile: Sarah Harris at Dallas IFF

Sarah HarrisMy name: Sarah Harris

My current festival: DALLAS International Film Festival (DALLAS Film Society)

My title: Senior Programmer

Other fests I've worked for: I program year-round events for the DALLAS Film Society (which puts on the DALLAS festival . . . what was formerly called the AFI DALLAS festival). Before that, the Deep Ellum Film Festival.

Movies that best represent my personal tastes: It changes, so a few for today: Raising Arizona, Fargo, Ghostbusters, The Graduate, Clueless (don’t judge!), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Shining, Kill Bill v1, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Riding Giants, It Might Get Loud.

When I'm not watching movies I like to: Hmm...when is that? Go to other film festivals, watch LSU football, read books (yay books!), drink with friends and family, and sit by the lake/ocean/large body of water that is not in North Texas. :)

I watch other movies I don’t have to “think” about (ie. Transformers) and shows I’m behind on (Mad Men, The Wire, 30 Rock, the Daily Show). Watching movies is kind of like breathing.

A movie I recently programmed that I consider to be a great personal discovery:
More Than a Game. We didn’t program this film for the festival, but when it was having its promotional tour we hosted a screening of it here in Dallas. It had been the 5th film I had seen one day at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival and I fell in love with it. Once it was picked up, the scheduled release date didn’t allow us to bring it in for the festival, but I wouldn’t let Michael [Cain, festival director] or James [Faust, programming director] forget about it. It was great to finally host the screening with the director, Kristopher Belman, and go out for drinks with him almost a year after originally seeing the doc.

I also love when you find that a great short film in a stack. You never know what the next dvd you put in will bring and when it’s really good it makes up for the last 20 that weren’t.

When filmmakers ask me "What's different about your film festival?" I say:
The Texas hospitality is true. (The cowboy boots are definitely optional.) People in Dallas LOVE movies – love seeing them, talking about them.... It sounds a little bizarre, but people go to the movies here all the time and it's something they take seriously. The passion can be very refreshing.

Our festival audience has come to expect: Quality, in every sense of the word. A chance to discover something totally different and then be able to catch that film that may have gotten buzz somewhere else on the circuit. Maybe hang out with the filmmaker in the theater lobby or lounge. The Dallas audience loves the experience films and the festival.

We program the following categories of films: Narrative Features, Documentary Features, Short films, Student Short films, Animated Short films, Environmental Documentary Features, Texas based Features and Music Documentaries...

A recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I disapprove: During 2008-2009 I was seeing a lot of shorts where people were getting hit by cars. It was disturbing at first and then just got really old.

Also (and my programming friends know how I feel about this one): the Los Angeles downtown skyline. At night, at dawn, for the opening shot, or to close out the film.... I’m in Texas and can tell by your other locations that you’re in L.A. Got it. Next.

If I could impart one thing to filmmakers about submitting to my festival, it would be: When it comes to making decisions based on all the reviews we’ve collected James, our Director, and I put our eyes on EVERYTHING. We give up our weekends (and any social life that’s left) for 2 months to sit in a room, watch your films and discuss them. We do care about films and filmmakers, so when it comes to tough choices please don’t take it personally and send hate mail. (Though that is a guarantee that I’ll remember you and your film.)

And we try to treat filmmakers like they are rock stars. Because they are.

The submissions period for our next festival is: For the 2010 Festival, submissions opened in August and will run through December 2009. Regular deadline: Nov. 20. Late Deadline: Dec. 11

Filmmakers can contact me here: or

Last words: Do your research on festivals, pay attention to the details, plan your budget accordingly and don’t give up. The film festival world is a crazy one, but worth every moment of the madness.

New "no fee" festivals (Nov 17, 2009)

One of the more popular pages on the Film Festival Secrets web site is the list of fests that require no entry fee for some or all of the submissions they accept. As festivals fitting this description come to my attention I'll be posting them to that page and highlighting them here on the blog.

Boys & Girls Club Aspiring Filmmakers Festival - The BGCAFF was created to showcase films by young filmmakers (21 and under) from across the country. The festival is designed to promote the making of films by youth, especially youth who traditionally do not have the resources to explore filmmaking.

The Archaeology Channel International Film & Video Festival - To exhibit for our audience the wonderful diversity of human cultures past and present in the exploration of our place in history and in our world. To promote the genre and the makers of film and video productions about archaeology and indigenous peoples.

Bicycle Film Festival - The Bicycle Film Festival celebrates the bicycle in all forms and styles. If you can name it - Tall Bike Jousting, Track Bikes, BMX, Alleycats, Critical Mass, Bike Polo, Road Cycling, Mountain Biking Recumbents - we've probably either ridden or screened it. What better way to celebrate these lifestyles than through art, film, music and performance?

Filmed by Bike - Every year the festival features a fresh selection of exciting, creative films that are eight minutes or under. Sure, we like those movies of messengers riding like daredevils in-and-out of NYC traffic, smacking taxi butts and skidding in style, but Filmed by Bike is about so much more than that. An advanced and mature society is one that recognizes, nurtures, revels in and celebrates it's creative class, it's art and culture. Here in Portland, our bike culture is beyond the basics and we are wholely embracing our place in society as more than just bikers. We revel in bringing together movies from around the world for festival that celebrates bike culture.