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Owens moves from Indianapolis to Nashville fest (and why you should care)


The Nashville Film Festival has named Brian Owens as its Artistic Director. Owens joins the Festival as it gears up for its 40th anniversary on April 16-23, 2009. Owens was previously the artistic director of the Indianapolis International Film Festival, which he founded in 2003.

When someone moves from one festival to another (particularly a programmer), it gives the alumni of the former festival an opportunity at the new festival. This is why it's important to include a cover letter with your submission -- if your film played at Indianapolis (and maybe you met Brian while you were there), you could submit that film or your next film to Nashville with a personal letter to Brian. In the letter, mention that your previous pic played Indianapolis. Whether Brian remembers your film or not, it provides a connecting point. Owens might at least look up your previous film and take your current movie somewhat more seriously than he would a random submission. It might seem a slim opportunity, but it's better than starting from scratch.

When good disks go bad

Over the last couple of weeks I've had one of those weird occurrences of synchronicity -- the same question keeps popping up from filmmakers in different places on the web. (In the case of the Withoutabox message boards, it popped up twice in the same place within a few days.) The question concerns the DVDs (or more likely the burned DVD-Rs) that filmmakers send in as their submission screeners, and what happens when the festival can't play it. With varying levels of panic, the question goes something like this:

If you can't play my DVD, is my film disqualified? Will you notify me so I can send you a replacement? I've heard horror stories from other filmmakers about festivals that just throw the disks away and move on.

My first reaction was to downplay this reaction as ridiculous -- of course festivals (at least the vast majority of reputable festivals) don't just throw away bad disks without notifying the submitting filmmaker. A screw-the-filmmaker attitude like that would surely creep into other, more noticeable portions of the business and, filmmakers being a fairly tight bunch, word would get around. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that it would be a fairly easy rumor to believe. Submitting filmmakers don't get much communication from festivals until they get a yes or a no. Wouldn't it be easy for festival staffers to think of those filmmakers as a faceless mass of entrants -- and who cares if a film or two falls through the cracks?

The reality though, is that festival staffers are often filmmakers or former filmmakers themslves, and they care enough about the process to make the effort -- at least once.

I put the question as phrased above to Andrew Rodgers, Executive Director of the RiverRun International Film Festival:

Wow. Some festivals might do that. We don't. We will always email the filmmaker and suggest that they send in another disk. It will probably just be an email though, we won't spend a lot of time tracking down a filmmaker by phone, particularly if they are outside the U.S.

And to Bekah Macias, Festival Producer of the San Diego Film Festival, who said:

If we come across a DVD that will not play the screener will alert the Programmer immediately. I take it and email the filmmaker right away so they have a chance to send a new one. If I don't hear back from them by the time we begin making selections I throw it out. I usually do not make more than one attempt at contacting them. The closer it gets to the submission deadline the less likely they will waste their time trying to get a replacement.

If you can find a festival director who admits to a radically different policy, I'd like to know about it.

Film festivals with student film awards and categories

A recent email from a filmmaker asked what festivals out there specifically have awards and categories for student filmmakers. Seems there are students out there who are tired of seeing their early efforts compete against shorts with Hollywood stars and major budgets. Who can blame them?

I should caution student filmmakers looking for a break from festivals with student categories that there are film schools who supply their enrollees with high-end equipment and access to "real" actors, so you may find yourself competing with films of a higher production value regardless. But if you think you'll have a better time of it at festivals with student-specific awards and categories, here's a list that I came up with after a quick search on Withoutabox and the web. I didn't include links to the festival web sites, you'll have to do the hard work of Googling them yourself.

  • Action/Cut Short Film Competition
  • Angelus Student Film Festival
  • Ashland Independent FF
  • Austin Film Festival
  • Big Apple FF
  • Blue Plum Animation FF
  • Chicago International FF
  • Columbus Intl Film & Video Fest
  • Dam Short FF
  • Daytona Beach FF
  • deadCENTER FF
  • Delta Moon Student FF
  • Feel Good FF
  • Firstglance FF
  • Florence Intl FF
  • Independents' FF
  • Intl FF Egypt
  • Intl FF South Africa
  • Jackson Hole FF
  • Kansas City FF
  • Mexico FF
  • New Hampshire FF
  • NYC Short FF
  • Nextframe: UFVA's Touring Festival of Intl Student Film
  • Palm Springs Intl Shortfest
  • Red Rock FF of Zion Canyon
  • Redemptive FF
  • Rincon IFF
  • RiverRun International Film Festival
  • Sacramento Film & Music Fest
  • San Fernando Vally IFF
  • San Francisco Frozen Film Fest
  • Santa Cruz FF
  • Seattle Intl FF
  • Skidmore Intl Student FF
  • Student Films Across America (see also Door County Student FF)
  • Swansea Bay FF
  • Take-2 Student IFF
  • End of the Pier IFF
  • European IFF
  • Women's IFF South Florida
  • Zion IFF and Movie Camp
  • Toronto Film Festival
  • Santa Clarita
  • Santa Barbara
  • Paso Robles Digital Film Fest

Update: SxSW has a Texas High School Filmmaker contest. Thanks to Jarod Neece for the update.

(If you're a festival director and you'd like your film included on this list, please email me with a link to your web site so I can confirm that you have a student award or category.)

New festival: Metafest

indieWire News:

Metacafe and Microcinema International, a leading international rights manager, exhibitor and specialty markets distributor of the "moving image arts," are teaming to create and curate MetaFest 2008. MetaFest will be a juried online and offline film festival presenting international creative and contemporary short-form video entertainment. The call for entries begins today, and invites short video, film and digital media submissions of 10 minutes or less that are "narrative, humorous, artistic, dramatic, animated, documentary, mockumentary, music, experimental, alternative or avant-garde in any genre, format or style."

Metafest's call for entries is only open through September 10th, and as with any online festival (this one has online and offline components) I'd be sure to check the terms to make sure you're not giving up any rights with which you'd be sorry to part.

Read indieWIRE's buzz for more.

The Economics of Independent Film and Video Distribution in the Digital Age

picPeter B. Kaufman and Jen Mohan at Intelligent Television put together this report for the Tribeca Institute and there's a lot to be learned, though mostly it's anecdotal evidence of the wildly varying attitudes held by different distributors and other industry types.

Some interesting tidbits:

One distributor told us that in his experience with public media’s P.O.V. and ITVS and cable stations Sundance and IFC there has been “remarkably little connection” between a film’s broadcast premiere and sales in other markets. . . . There may also be an aversion to buying a documentary to see it again—as opposed to a more heart- warming feature film.

I've definitely experienced that last part -- a documentary that was spellbinding, but that I never wanted to see again. There's something to be said for word of mouth in that case, but when making a film like that you have to keep your eye on the fact that your sales market may be outreach and support groups, not individual consumers.

In fact, the nature of film as a communal (and one-time) experience may be one of the great handicaps of the indie film business, since there is no "per-user" model to reinforce compensation as a reflection of actual demand.

“We have some DVDs that have been seen by 10,000 students at a university,” [one] distributor said, and as a consequence there is “great inequity in not having a user-based model” and a close “correlation between price and use.”

Most interesting, however, is the conclusion -- or lack thereof:

The advent of digital technologies and the skyrocketing demand for online video are going to change the nature of independent film and video production, distribution, and funding forever. . . .

That said, the game is still in its early innings yet, and even the most experienced stakeholders are ill-prepared to predict how the future will unfold.

In other words: "No one really knows anything yet."

Read the full report (it's available from Tribca Film Institute as a PDF).

Film festivals with no submissions fees - a list.

The universal bane of indie filmmakers everywhere: the ubiquitous festival entry fee. Every so often I see a plaintive request from a filmmaker for suggestions of festivals to submit to that won't cost them an arm and a leg and I think, "Someone oughtta be keeping a list of those."

It turns out I'm that someone.

Please let me know of additional fests that are missing from this list (a bunch of European ones, I know). I'll be expanding the list over the next few weeks until it's more or less complete.

You can read the list of no-fee film festivals here.

Anatomy of a Festival Badge: Ann Arbor 2008

Part of an ongoing series of articles that examines the particulars of that ubiquitious festival accessory, the all-important badge.

picAs befits a festival that constantly defies expectations but never forgets its small-town roots, the Ann Arbor Film Festival badge is simple and understated but functional.

#1 - Plastic badge keeper, open at the top. Perfect for stashing some extra business cards. The badge itself is about the size of a credit card.

#2 - Badge holder's name and affiliation in nice big type. Perfect for scoping out the name of the person you were introduced to last night after a few beers. Nice use of the clock hand theme to divide the two lines of text.

#3 - Color coding identifies the badge level/type. Staff wore yellow, I think red was for all-access? Paper types were unusual enough to discourage counterfeiting, but Ann Arbor is so intimate a festival that it's difficult to believe that the staff didn't know pretty much all of the badge holders on sight. I'm guessing they've got more important things on their collective mind than the occasional photocopied badge.

#4 - The clock motif (ticking off the years until their 50th anniversary event) was present on the festival's signage, program guides, posters, and of course the badge. It's always nice to see badge design extend to more than just the festival logo plastered on an otherwise generic ID badge. (See the Newport Beach FF badge for another example of good branding.)

The AAFF badge was about what I expected from the organization; not too fancy but stylish, professional, and functional. I'm a fan of big, easy-to-read badges but this modestly sized ID card did the job without getting in the way. I didn't take a picture of the reverse side of the badge so I don't think there was any information there. My only suggestion for improvement is that they might have included venue addresses or other handy information (like the location of the Fleetwood Diner, the only eating establishment open after the bars close) on the back.