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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.

Programmer Profile: Tom Hall of the Sarasota Film Festival & Newport International FF

Tom HallMy name: Tom Hall

My current festivals: The Sarasota Film Festival, The Newport International Film Festival

My title: Artistic Director (both)

Other places I've worked: IFC, The Hamptons International Film Festival (Industry Relations/ Guest Services), The Nantucket Film Festival

Movies that best represent my personal tastes: Au hasard Balthazar by Robert Bresson, My Sex Life (...or how I got into an argument) by Arnaud Desplechin, Climates by Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

When I'm not watching movies I like to: Play with my son, spend time with my wife, support Liverpool FC, write

A movie I recently programmed that I consider to be a great personal discovery: Tony Manero -- We were one of the first regional festivals to show the film, and it was the first time I felt a deep connection to a certain perspective regarding the Pinochet regime. That said, I don't feel like films are discovered any more; films are made and a certain group of people see them, and we all make our best efforts to help them find an audience during the same, ever-collapsing window. A great movie is more like a collective call to arms than a personal discovery any more; I can't take credit for anything other than giving it a chance to be seen!

When filmmakers ask me "What's different about your film festival?" I say: We are a festival built on curating great films for our audience of film lovers and the film industry and while we are not a market, we are committed to building serious, long-term relationships among filmmakers, the industry and our community. Several great projects have had their genesis in Sarasota (Alex Karpovsky's Woodpecker, Mary Bronstein and Amy Seimeiz's Round Town Girls, etc), which I think shows that we are committed to both quality international cinema AND supporting emerging American independent works. We don't love a specific "type" of movie, and our 10-day event gives us a very broad palate to program all kinds of different films. So, while lots of market festivals specialize in a certain kind of film, we offer a very diverse line-up and host over 100 filmmakers and industry guests, which fosters a great sense of community and creative possibility.

Our festival audience has come to expect: Great films and the opportunity to interact with the artists responsible for making them.

We program the following categories of films (narrative features, doc features, doc/narrative shorts, animated, etc): All of the aforementioned categories from all over the world, plus retrospective screenings, long-form conversations with actors and directors and a few works in progress now and again.

A recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I approve/disapprove: Short films with long running times can be problematic for us as it is hard to make time for them, but mostly we're open to seeing whatever filmmakers are interested in sharing. Obviously it may go without saying at this point, but your packaging/personal letter, etc make no difference to us at all, so if you're looking to save money/time, just make a professional looking label on your DVD and don't worry about the rest of it. The movie will tell us all we need to know.

If I could impart one thing to filmmakers about submitting to my festival, it would be: We watch everything, we care about your movie but our festival is very competitive in terms of acceptance. We're looking for great films. The other thing I would say is that your film is your property and you are responsible for your own festival strategy; don't let festivals and programmers push you around by playing the "premieres" game -- we don't play by those rules. If your movie is great, we want to show it regardless of where it played first. Make a plan and stick to it, control your film's festival run with the same passion you brought to making it.

The submissions period for our next festival is: We're open now, early deadline is Jan 9, 2010 Regular deadline is Jan 15, 2010, and late deadline is Jan 30, 2010.

Filmmakers can contact me here: (for Sarasota FF business), (for Newport International FF business)

Anything else? There is no magic or formula to film festivals. It's a set of decisions made by everyday people. Don't be intimidated by "the process" -- it's arbitrary and flawed. Try to enjoy it for what it is.

Programmer Profile: Lisa Vandever of CineKink

picMy name: Lisa Vandever

My festival: CineKink - “The kinky film festival.”

My title: Co-Founder/Director

Other fests I've worked for: Before co-founding CineKink in 2003, I organized and programmed the New York S/M Film Festival (2000-02). I was also—prior to an educational/frustrating stint in indie film development—the director of programming for a small-market public television station. (Whether my current focus on sexuality is a reaction to or a continuation of that experience is open for debate.)

Movies that best represent my personal tastes: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Secretary, The Auteur, Score, The Last Seduction, Say Anything

When I'm not watching movies I like to: Eat, drink and relax with friends.

A movie I recently programmed that I consider to be a great personal discovery: While I hate to single films out from all of the wonderful others, one recent film that could be deemed a signature style for us is a short that played our 2009 festival and took home one of our jury prizes, Kink, Inc. About a financially struggling couple who stumbles into the “home domination business,” the film manages to incorporate both comedy and conflict without denigrating the type of sexuality depicted—or its practitioners. It’s smutty, funny and kind of sweet—a combination that is definitely one of my weaknesses (see also The Auteur, listed above, another CineKink 2009 offering.)

When filmmakers ask me "What's different about your film festival?" I say: Obviously, the thing that sets us apart is our singular focus on films that celebrate and explore sexuality. We bring together a community of open-minded folks – at our annual festival and through our tour – who are eager for smart and engaging discussions and depictions of sex. And we also work on promoting these types of films, throughout the year, to audiences who aren’t able to attend our screenings.

CineKinkOur festival audience has come to expect: Nothing wrong with a little titillation – or a lot – the CineKink audience has also become used to works that take an intelligent approach to sexuality, to depictions that move beyond the clichés, to portrayals that don’t denigrate or preach. They also join us for the sense of community you can get from experiencing a film in the company of like-minded others. And, of course, for some really killer parties!

We program the following categories of films (narrative features, doc features, doc/narrative shorts, animated, etc): We program all lengths and genres with, again, the caveat that our focus is on sex and sexuality. We look for works that cut across orientations and like to mix in both explicit and non-explicit materials.

A recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I approve/disapprove: I’m very pleased that our pool of sex-positive and kink-friendly possibilities seems to expand every year and, though we’re not all that possessive about premiere status, I like that we’re having more and more directors create works specifically for a hopeful CineKink appearance. (On the trending disapproval side, we’ve had a jump in filmmakers submitting works—and even requesting waivers from us—who are clearly unfamiliar with the fact that we’re focused on sex. Please do your research!)

The submissions period for our next festival is: We opened submissions in August and are currently in the midst of our call for entries. Our next postmark deadline is November 20; our final deadline is December 2, 2010.

If you want to be kept up to date on the festival, you can sign up for our mailing list at:

Filmmakers can contact me here: You can email me via lisa at cinekink dot com (though watch for a spam verification reply). I’m also semi-responsive on Twitter: @CineKink

If I could impart one thing to filmmakers about submitting to my festival, it would be: If your film is selected, do consider joining us for the CineKink festivities! One of my favorite things is bringing a film’s creator together with our audiences – it’s a very heady experience for a filmmaker to show his or her work to people who clearly “get it” and I love to be around for that!

This is the first installment of the Programmer Profile series. If you're a festival staffer with a hand in programming and you'd like to be profiled, please email chris at filmfestivalsecrets dot com.

Premiere status etiquette

Terry Borton, Magic Lantern ShowmanThe subject of your film's world premiere can be a tricky one, particularly if it's a feature. Don't be too coy about your plans with the festivals to which you submit, however – the festival directors have a better grasp on premiere politics than you do. They also know all too well their own festival's relative prestige status when it comes to the decisions filmmakers make. But how should you properly use your film's premiere status as an incentive for festivals to program it? As one filmmaker recently asked me:

I don't want to be disingenuous in my application by promising the world premiere to everyone, but not having had it yet, see it as a sweetener for the cover letter. Should I hustle it until I have it?

You definitely want to use your premiere status to your own advantage, but be honest about it and clearly communicate all changes to that status. You might be tempted to refrain from notifying the other festivals, but that will only create an awkwardness if and when that other festival calls to notify you of your acceptance.

The following sentences added to your submission's cover letter will cover most situations:

As of this writing, the world premiere of "Example Movie" is still available. We have submissions out to several festivals and will keep you apprised of any premiere status changes.

When you decide to have your world premiere at a particular festival, simply send an email to the other festivals still considering you with the subject line "premiere status update for EXAMPLE MOVIE" and let them know about your film's upcoming screening(s).

Stop waiting on Sundance

DVD Submission

There are plenty of filmmakers who rush to finish their film for Sundance, fill out the paperwork, send off the DVD, and then... stop. There's nothing wrong with waiting anxiously to hear from what is arguably the world's most famous film festival, but if you're not submitting to other festivals while you wait you could miss out on the entire Spring season. Break out your list of target festivals (see chapter one of Film Festival Secrets for more on this) and get cracking. Here's a handy (but by no means complete) list of festivals with upcoming deadlines. Check each festival's web site for their late deadlines, submission rules, etc.

Edit: I should point out that I picked these festivals for their relative prominence and for the fact that their deadlines come before the Sundance notification date (around Thanksgiving). If you're a festival director and would like to post your own upcoming deadline in the comments, please feel free.

  • Slamdance - October 30
  • Dallas International - October 30
  • Phoenix - October 30
  • Cleveland - November 30
  • Gen Art - October 31
  • South By Southwest - November 5
  • Florida Film Festival - November 20

Upcoming appearances at Austin Film Festival

picThe Austin Film Festival begins this Thursday, and as it is the festival where I got my start "on the inside" of fests, it holds a special place in my heart. I'll be checking out the films, schmoozing at the parties, and of course rattling on about festivals, marketing, and film distribution at a few panels during the accompanying Screenwriters' (and filmmakers!) Conference. Here's where you can find me, and when: 

Thursday, October 22nd at 2:45 p.m. - It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

Saturday, October 24th at 3:45 p.m. - Independent Productions: Marketing & PR 

Sunday, October 25th at 2:30 p.m. - Independent Productions: Marketing & PR (moderating)

Check out the Austin Film Festival schedule for full info on the films and panels to see. You can also pick up a print copy of Film Festival Secrets at the merch table near registration.

The CineVegas "hiatus" and what it means

cinevegasA couple of weeks ago, while we here in Austin were enjoying the film frenzy that is Fantastic Fest, the word came over the intertubes that CineVegas, Las Vegas' well-respected and much-gabbed-about summer film festival, will put its annual event on hold for 2010.

“Given the current economic climate and the pressures it has created, we made the difficult decision to put CineVegas on hiatus for the coming year. CineVegas has become such a well respected film festival, and rather than allow the economy to affect its level of quality we have opted to put the event on hold,” said Robin Greenspun, Festival President.

While none of the CineVegas reps in attendance at Fantastic Fest seemed particularly eager to go on the record about the festival's woes, there was plenty of tongue-clucking, head-shaking, and speculation to go around. CV is a top-notch event with a great venue (a cineplex inside the Palms Casino), a sexy hometown, some of the best staff in the business, and a celebrity backer (Dennis Hopper). The festival's contraction to five days in 2009 (down from ten days in previous years) even seemed like an improvement and a smart move in a down economy. How could this vibrant and apparently healthy festival hit the skids so quickly?

While much of the conjecture revolved around the lavish parties and apparent "industry vacation" aspects of the fest, the stated and simplest reason for the hiatus is probably the truth: in a troubled economy, corporate sponsorship dollars dry up fast. It doesn't take a financial wizard to look at the festival's four largest sponsors (the Palms,, The District at Green Valley Ranch, and Greenspun Media Group) and notice that they're all in industries (tourism, retail shopping, and print media) that have been hit hard by the financial downturn. There are very few festivals that can run on ticket sales alone, and none of them are of CineVegas' size and stature. Greenspun and the festival's Artistic Director Trevor Groth (also head programmer at Sundance) made the difficult decision to try to weather the storm and hopefully come back with a bang rather than risk sinking the CineVegas ship entirely. It's a disappointing move (especially for those staffers who were laid off) but ultimately a smart one. Trying to put on the same level of show without the same level of backing would spell disaster.

Will CineVegas be back? I sure hope so. In the meantime, the writing is on the Palms Casino wall for every festival that relies primarily on corporate sponsorships to operate each year: it's time to implement (or further develop) your membership and individual giving programs. Diversifying your "portfolio" in this way not only provides a bit of a cushion in the lean times, but it also strengthens your ties to the community and can lead to more corporate sponsorships when times are good. There are a number of good resources out there about fundraising during a recession, but it boils down to tapping into your fan base and offering them something they can't get elsewhere: recognition, exposure to unusual movies and experiences, the satisfaction of making a difference to the independent film scene.

This isn't a cure-all; even the greatest individual giving program won't replace corporate sponsorships, but it's a heck of a hedge against those famine years. The Seattle International Film Festival has one of the most comprehensive and successful film fest membership programs I've ever seen – if you want an education on how to do a membership program right, invest the $55 in a basic membership and watch them go to work.

Be sure to tell me all about your successful new membership program at CineVegas 2011.

Getting an Education about Film Festivals

IDA's roundup of a pair of panels from FIND's Filmmaker Forum:

All agreed that the film festivals are going through a tough time right now. "Film festivals are losing money and they are closing," lamented Jones. "CineVegas is closing for a year. Jackson Hole [not the Wildlife Film Festival] has closed completely. Sponsors are pulling out, so festivals are dealing with budget cuts in other ways, such as taking fewer films. When the festival outlets dry up, we lose a critical distribution mechanism. I consider film festivals like art galleries--they are the only place where you can see particular films onscreen." 

Read FIND's Filmmaker Forum 2009: Getting an Education about Film Festivals.

Indie Memphis - come hear me gab on a coupla panels

I'm currently in Memphis, Tennessee for the Indie Memphis film festival. The festival staffers have kindly invited me to speak on two of their "Café Conversation" panels. Both talks take place outside the Malco Studio theater at the Festival Café tent. The events are free to the public so even if you weren't planning to attend the festival itself (and you should), you can stop by and soak up a little knowledge without spending a dime.

  • The Film Festival Circuit, Saturday October 10 at noon with Heidi van Lier

  • Distribute Me: A Conversation On Getting Your Film Out To The World, Sunday October 11 at noon with Steven Beckman.

  • OpenIndie Hopes to Bring Theaters within Filmmakers' Reach

    Eric Kohn's article in indieWIRE explores a new startup concept from Arin Crumley and Kieran Masterton. will allow filmmakers to input their e-mail lists and discover locations with high audience demand. The grassroots strategy allows movies to reach their intended audiences with a community-based approach. Because the site is open-sourced, anyone can enter a location into the site and figure out the level of interest for specific movies.

    Read DIY With a Little Help: OpenIndie Hopes to Bring Theaters within Filmmakers' Reach.

    The Kickstarter page for OpenIndie has an explanatory video and a donation button.

    Find out what festival screeners think

    A smart move from the Festivus Film Festival; this series of YouTube videos presents volunteer screeners talking about the films they pulled from the stacks and got through to programming. It's a great way highlight the films in your festival, present yourself as an organization that keeps its filmmakers' interests in mind, and draw attention to your event in the process. There's a bunch of these on the Festivus FF Youtube channel.

    How to "do" the Toronto Film Festival

    picI've been to Toronto before for Hot Docs, but this will be my first trip there for "Toronto" - the shorthand for the Toronto International Film Festival (I've never heard anyone outside the staff call it "TIFF.")

    Larry Richman, on the other hand, seems to have been a number of times, and offers this three-part guide of "tips for real people," ranging from line etiquette to specific advice about particular venues.

    Check it out. Part one, part two, and part three.

    Festival Tips from The Pigeon: Impossible Blog

    Pigeon ImpossibleFellow Austinite Lucas Martell has been hitting the fest circuit with his new short, Pigeon Impossible. (You may recall that I linked to an episode of Martell's podcast a while back.) Here's what he has to say about getting to know the festival staff.

    One big thing that I learned at Palm Springs: do your research. More specifically, know the names and titles of the key people working at the festival. There’s usually 3-7 people ranging from print traffickers, to the festival director, programmers, and media coordinators. If you don’t get something from the festival introducing these people beforehand, they’ll definitely be in the printed program. Be sure to glance over those names so that when you run into them at a party, you’re able to put a face to the name and say thank you for all their hard work.

    Read more on The Pigeon: Impossible Blog.

    SXSW Panel Picker - it's time to vote.


    Since 2007 the South by Southwest Film Festival (and its sister Music and Interactive events) have allowed attendees to suggest panel ideas and then vote on them using a web site called the PanelPicker. It's not the only method by which the SXSW team selects what panels to present, but it formalizes the process of gauging audience interest in particular topics. They've continued to use the PanelPicker since its inception, so I'm guessing it's a fairly useful tool for the programmers and it certainly makes the target audience feel included.

    The PanelPicker for 2010 is currently open for audience voting, and for the first time I've submitted a panel idea: Short Film Secrets. I get a lot of questions from the creators of short films asking how the concepts in Film Festival Secrets apply to short films in particular. There are also a ton of questions out there about the distribution potential for short films, how they can be used to give your career a boost, and which festivals are best for short filmmakers. So that's the panel I think SXSW should host, and I hope you like it well enough to vote for it.

    Some other notable panel ideas include:

  • Crawford filmmaker David Modigliani's "Adventures in Distribution: Innovative Filmmakers' Risks and Rewards"
  • Cinekink festival director Lisa Vandever's "The Porn Police are STILL at the door"
  • Atlanta Film Festival director Gabe Wardell's "Premiere status: saving it for 'marriage?'"
  • Toronto Film Fest's Jane Schoettle suggests "Festival Strategies for Independent Film"

    Voting ends in about a week on September 4th, so get in there to vote early and often!

  • Twitter, File Sharing and Pink Slime

    Brian Chirls on Jake Abraham's Tweet This.

    What this is really about is taking advantage of Twitter and other communication tools to play a major part in the global conversation about your work. (If there isn’t one, you need to start it.) Piracy on Canal St. happened before the Internet, and illegal downloading happened before Twitter. As Abraham acknowledged, you can’t stop it. Beyond pointers to free downloads, people are going to be saying lots of things about your film that you don’t like, including bad reviews, off-brand descriptions of your work and possibly even lies or personal attacks. The power of the Internet is that you can be in on it. You can know it’s happening, you can respond to it and you can preempt it.

    Read Twitter, File Sharing and Pink Slime.

    Paper DVD labels: still evil (and three alternatives)

    If you've read the book you know about my campaign against paper DVD labels. They are a cheap and easy way to make your burned DVD-Rs look vaguely professional, but they can severely alter video playback to the point of making a screener unwatchable. Google it up if you don't believe me. The most compelling evidence comes from the Memorex Reference Guide for Optical Media:

    Paper labels are not recommended for DVD discs. The expansion and contraction of moisture in the paper and the accumulation of heat in a DVD drive can alter the flatness of a disc enough that it falls out of the tilt specification and may not be able to be read.

    This advice still hasn't quite made it into the conventional wisdom – I still see plenty of paper labels on screeners – but when prompted, festival directors tell me that most of their bad screener copies are adorned with paper labels. There are, however, some alternatives that will get the job done and preserve the integrity of video playback. They are:


  • Hand labeling with a Sharpie marker. Low-tech and the least professional-looking option, perhaps, but reliable and very inexpensive. So long as you write legibly, don't worry about a hand-labled disc hurting your chances of acceptance; the quality of your film will determine that, not the surface of the DVD on which it arrives.


  • The LightScribe labeling system can create good looking "printed" disc surfaces without ink or a printer. You'll need a LightScribe-enabled DVD burner and DVD discs with LightScribe coating. Here's how it works:

    The laser inside a CD/DVD disc drive with LightScribe technology focuses light energy onto a thin dye coating on the label side of the disc. Only LightScribe media has this special coating. The light from the laser causes a chemical change in the dye coating that shows up on the disc. With laser precision, the drive renders the text and images that you created for the label.

    Although the cost of LightScribe discs has come down quite a bit in recent years, they are still somewhat more expensive than regular DVD-Rs, even the ones with white printable surfaces (see below). Perhaps the biggest drawback to Lightscribe is the amount of time it takes to burn an image on the coated surface; I've seen estimates of a few minutes for a simple text label to up to half an hour for a complex image.


  • Printed DVDs, though more time-consuming and expensive than hand-labeled DVDs, can't be beat for looks. Buying discs with a white printable surface isn't much more expensive than the plain silver-surfaced media and the printers and ink are widely available. The big drawback here is expense; inkjet cartridges are pricey and notoriously fussy. If you've got a good label design and the funds to spend, however, this is definitely the best way to get great looking DVDs.

    A cheaper alternative is a thermal transfer printer like the ones made by Casio; they won't get you four-color printing but they will print on plain silver discs which are inexpensive and get you good-looking results.

  • Yet another DIY film distribution article - NY Times

    In anticipation of the upcoming Toronto Film Festival, the New York Times regurgitates what every filmmaker with an undistributed picture already knows:

    The glory days of independent film, when hot young directors like Steven Soderbergh and Mr. Tarantino had studio executives tangled in fierce bidding wars at Sundance and other celebrity-studded festivals, are now barely a speck in the rearview mirror. And something new, something much odder, has taken their place.

    Here is how it used to work: aspiring filmmakers playing the cool auteur in hopes of attracting the eye of a Hollywood power broker.

    Here is the new way: filmmakers doing it themselves — paying for their own distribution, marketing films through social networking sites and Twitter blasts, putting their work up free on the Web to build a reputation, cozying up to concierges at luxury hotels in film festival cities to get them to whisper into the right ears.

    Nothing new here but it's always nice when the major news outlets turn their attention to independent film and the problems we're facing now.

    Film Independent's Spirit Awards submissions opens Monday, August 10

    Spirit Awards

    From the Film Independent Press release:

    LOS ANGELES (August 6, 2009) - Film Independent, the non-profit arts organization that produces the Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival, announced today that the 2010 Spirit Awards will be held on Friday, March 5, 2010, and will air live and uncut at 8:00 p.m. PST/11:00 p.m. EST on IFC (Independent Film Channel). The nominations press conference will take place on Tuesday, December 1.

    This year's celebration marks the 25th Anniversary of the Spirit Awards, which honors films made by filmmakers, who embody independence and who dare to challenge the status quo. To celebrate the milestone, Film Independent and IFC will be broadcasting the ceremony live in a special primetime event rather than the organization's signature Saturday event in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica.

    "The influence of independent filmmakers on the language of cinema and popular culture during the last 25 years has been phenomenal, and we have been proud to provide a platform for these talented artists at the Spirit Awards," said Film Independent Executive Director Dawn Hudson. "In planning this yearís significant anniversary, we decided to venture away from our beloved day at the beach to a Friday evening where we hope an even broader audience discovers us as we kick-off the awards weekend."
    Also announced, Film Independent will be accepting submissions beginning on Monday, August 10, with the early deadline of Monday, September 14 and the final deadline of Tuesday, October 6. Submission guidelines, applications, and more information can be found at

    Build your mailing list the old-fashioned way

    Sign Up

    One way to take advantage of the enthusiasm of an audience present at a screening is to gather their email addresses right on the spot. Bring a clipboard (or several) loaded with signup sheets that you print beforehand. Gather whatever information you think is relevant, but an email address is probably the contact info that audience members will be most likely to hand over. At screenings of The Yes Men Fix the World at South by Southwest, the filmmakers did just that and left the festival with dozens if not hundreds of points of contact to poll later about their political activities, later screenings, and eventual DVD release.

    Of course not every film inspires the same level of "give me more" interest as that of a pair of humorous activists with an axe to grind. In every well-attended screening, however, there will be a group of folks who want to know when the film comes out on DVD or how to recommend the film to a friend. Capitalize on that immediate interest by letting those people take action in the moment.

    Be careful about adding such addresses to your mailing list service in bulk. Your provider may ask you to use the "invite" feature instead of simply adding the addresses to ensure that the recipients really do want the mail you intend to send. Stay within the bounds of their service guidelines, however, and the clipboard-to-email method is a great way of adding new members to your list.

    SXSW 2009 wrap-up - better late than never.

    For those of us who live in Austin, Texas, few phrases strike such simultaneous dread and delight in our hearts as the three little words "South by Southwest." For the better part of the month of March, this celebration of music, film, and technology turns Austin upside-down. Thousands of people flood into the city to snarl traffic, invade Austin's bars and restaurants, and generally make merry with their fellow hipsters. For a few days, it's great to see everyone. Then it's great to see you all go home again.

    If you're not in the film or music industry or living on the bleeding edge of internet technology, you may not even have heard of South By Southwest (hereafter printed as "SXSW" and known colloquially as "South-By"). But for those who work in one of the industries served by this three-headed monster of an event, SXSW looms increasingly large on the professional travel calendar.


    What is SXSW?

    Simply put, SXSW is a combination trade conference and festival with three overlapping areas of interest: music, film, and interactive technology. While it's possible to purchase admission into the events for just one area of interest, many attendees take advantage of the fact that they can indulge multiple passions in one convenient trip. For years, SXSW has been the place to see emerging musical acts and legends side-by-side regardless of genre. The interactive conference (the fastest growing segment of the event) has become the de facto annual reunion of people who only know one another through their internet occupations. Finally the nine-day film festival (which was added in 1994 along with the interactive conference) plays over 100 films – both features and shorts, including docs and narratives – and hosts a series of film conference panels, workshops, and mentoring sessions as well.

    What makes SXSW different from other film festivals?

    • The music and interactive conferences that play alongside the film fest make SXSW an event unlike most other film festivals. Festival attendees are thrown into a throng of people who may or may not have any interest in the film festival aspect of the proceedings. Personally I find this makes things more interesting – people from many different backgrounds end up at the same party, so the person next to you at the bar could be a fellow filmmaker or the founder of your favorite internet startup. You won't know which until you start a conversation.

    • SXSW is a for-profit entity. Unlike many (probably most) festivals which establish themselves as non-profit tax-exempt entities, SXSW runs itself as a for-profit company. The event still relies on hundreds (thousands?) of volunteers to make things happen, but the company's need to make money to survive often affects their decision-making process.


    • Location, location, location. It's rare that a conversation about SXSW won't include some mention of the fact that Austin is a very cool town. It's difficult to envision an event like SXSW taking place in a city that didn't have the critical mass of technology workers, the vibrant boot-strap filmmaking scene, or a reputation as the live music capital of the world. Not to mention a world-class party district downtown, tons of awesome restaurants, and extremely pleasant weather in March, when most of the rest of the country is still suffering the woes of winter. Even if the idea of Texas doesn't appeal to you much, Austin is a great escape early in the year.

    Why is it important?

    South by Southwest is seen by many in the industry as the first important post-Sundance festival of the year. Sundance kicks off the festival year in January with the movies that they regard as the best in independent film but there's a lot of great stuff that gets left on the metaphorical cutting room floor once Sundance has made its picks. Those films tend to be less polished, edgier films from younger filmmakers, but there are a number of movies that don't fit that description which premiere at SXSW too. Whether SXSW's programming style emerged from picking among Sundance's leavings or whether they would program that way regardless is a matter for some debate. The simple fact remains, however, that a looser, freer atmosphere pervades SXSW than at Sundance. This may have something to do with Utah's trademark single-digit weather and the accompanying wardrobe requirements, but at SXSW there are fewer publicists, fewer industry parasites looking for a break, and generally less stress. If Sundance is the Superbowl, SXSW is the Ultimate Frisbee Championships. Bad analogy? How about this: if Sundance is Carnegie Hall, SXSW is Woodstock.


    One might also speculate that fewer deals get made at SXSW as well, and you would be right. SXSW isn't a huge hub of acquisitions activity, but the industry does pay attention to the films that play there. These days, however, distributors are taking an approach that is much more wait-and-see regardless of festival context. Savvy distribution companies are looking for those filmmakers who can attract a critical mass of attention to their films without significant marketing help (i.e. advertising dollars) from a third party. SXSW is an ideal place to begin such a DIY marketing campaign – it's well-attended by the film press and is the center of the internet's attention for a week or more leading up to the event, as well as the days during and after the festival itself. Hanging around the press office and making friends with people who have popular blogs or thousands of followers on Twitter could be the start of your film's success story.

    From the perspective of an exhibiting filmmaker, what does SXSW do well?

    If you're lucky enough to have been selected to show your film at South By Southwest, you definitely need to show up. The festival provides some aid to visiting filmmakers: competition filmmakers receive a travel stipend and the festival negotiates special rates with local hotels to make the stay more affordable. Feature filmmakers receive three complimentary film badges and shorts receive two. You'll want to take advantage of those badges: not only do they get you into all of the film screenings (a moviegoer's paradise), but a badge also provides access to the Film Conference and nightly parties for which the festival is famous. Of course it's difficult to take advantage of those early morning conference panels when you've been out 'til the wee hours partying, but as in life, SXSW is all about priorities.

    Not sure where to get started? The festival provides some advance materials and a welcome lunch to help filmmakers get their bearings. "For the first time this year, we held a filmmaker-only welcome lunch on Friday afternoon, hosted by Troublemaker Studios," says Festival Producer Janet Pierson. "In addition to the lunch, this year and for the last several years we've hosted a filmmaker orientation on Saturday morning. Next year, I believe we'll move the orientation to the welcome lunch if we can. Additionally, in advance of SXSW, we provide a lot of printed materials offering guidance on how filmmakers can make the most of their experience, including publicity tips and advice, and industry lists."

    Once you've reached Austin, you definitely want to be present for some of the nighttime events, both to promote your film's screenings and to meet other filmmakers and industry types. The press is also easily accessible since there is a highly-identifiable press lounge in the convention center. If you're in the mood for some learnin', drop in on one of the many filmmaking panels on an array of different topics. Perhaps the best part of SXSW, however, is the way it recharges your creative batteries. With so many smart and talented people around doing so many cool things, it's difficult not to get swept up in the enthusiasm. That's what good conferences do: rekindle your passion for your art, and help you to improve that art in the process.

    Where does SXSW need help?

    Every event has its weaknesses and SXSW is no different. In the case of this mammoth event they might be problems that other festivals wish they could have, but here's my quick assessment of areas where SXSW could improve.

    • Too many venues, too many movies. In some ways SXSW is a victim of its own success and this is definitely one of those ways. While the downtown venues are reasonably accessible and it's no more than a fifteen-minute walk between any two of them, the "off-campus" venues can feel impossible to get to, especially when you factor in traffic and parking. I don't think I saw a single film at the Alamo South Lamar during this year's festival. Granted, the organization has taken steps to remedy this sort of thing recently; they no longer use the Dobie Theater as a venue, for one thing. Shuttle buses were apparently running between downtown and the South Lamar location as well, but for some reason I never felt well-informed enough to use them. (My own laziness is at fault here; kudos to SXSW for providing shuttles at all.)

      One might also argue that there are simply too many movies competing for attention; a reduction in the number of movies might make for a less hectic screening schedule. I don't see this changing any time soon, however, so the best bet is to keep close track of the buzz, see the indie pictures without distribution that you really want to see (don't waste time on studio "sneak previews" that will be out in a few months), and try to catch up with the others at other festivals or on DVD at a later date.

      (To digress for a moment: this year's new "priority seating" ticketing system seemed to work well enough when the theater volunteers actually knew about the procedures and followed them. Regardless, with a film badge I don't think I ever got shut out of a screening I wanted to see, provided I got there at least 30 minutes ahead of showtime. Ticketing is one of those things that festivals seem to forever be tinkering with, so I expect to see this system either evolve further or die entirely in the coming year.)


    • Panel programming is hit or miss. Programming a conference is an art; it requires a familiarity of what the audience wants, access to engaging and knowledgeable speakers, and strong moderators to keep the conversation flowing. As with so many events large and small, it is this third element where SXSW occasionally stumbles. A bad moderator can squash any promising discussion and all too often the moderators at SXSW did just that: they allowed panelists to pontificate at length and off-topic, they failed to intercept rambling audience questions, and at times they even hijacked the panels to further their own agendas. One moderator began the panel by reading aloud an entry from his blog – the audience was asleep before the discussion had a chance to begin. It is difficult to find people who are both good at moderating and willing to do so, but a good discussion leader is the single most deciding factor between a great panel and a bad one. SXSW should find the good ones and, if necessary, pay them to stick around.

      Beyond the moderator complaint, I did notice that some of the panels could wander deep into "inside baseball" territory. I realize that it's hard for industry vets to remember life as a film fest newbie, but some care should be taken to warn panelists against assuming that everyone in the room reads indieWIRE religiously and has a comprehensive knowledge of the mumblecore catalog. Other panelists seemed underprepared or simply inappropriate for the panel -- in one case the filmmakers' circumstances of achieving success were so impossible to reproduce that his comments were practically useless. "We got incredibly lucky" isn't much of an insight.

    • All of these things said, the panels can be incredibly informative – especially if you're willing to bail out on a session that turns out to be a dud and move on to something else already in progress. SXSW has considerable clout in the industry and it would be foolish not to take advantage of the access to the people they gather into these conference rooms each year. Some of my complaints above are within the festival's control and some are simply a part of running an educational event, but with some planning and the right attitude there's a lot to be learned by showing up.

    Who should attend?

    If you're not exhibiting a film in the festival, your attendance should be tempered by your budget and by the festival's relevance to your career. If you're looking for celebrity actors to populate your next feature you're probably better off heading to Park City or Los Angeles, but if you want to meet scrappy, inspiring filmmakers with whom to start shooting your new webisode series, Austin is the right place to be. Because of the concurrent music and technology events hotels fill up quickly and lodging can cost you a pretty penny (or at least require you to rent a car to commute into the city each day if you find an outlying budget hotel), so definitely weigh the pros and cons. It would suck to spend a few inspiring days in Austin only to find that you'd spent your production budget on SXSW.

    Who should apply?

    SXSW has an extremely wide purview, content-wise; lush, thoughtful dramas seem as welcome as guerilla-style documentaries, though there are definitely more of the latter that get programmed at the festival. If your film is about music in any way, SXSW is a great place to submit. They're always hungry for good music-related material, be it music videos, music documentaries, or narrative films centered on music. Films related to Texas and the West are also favored, though the fact that your film was made in the Lone Star State (or even in Austin itself) is no guarantee that it will be accepted. Beyond that, SXSW is undeniably a top tier festival and should be high on the target list of any indie filmmaker looking to make the festival rounds.

    (Full disclosure: I participated in the SXSW documentary film pre-screening process this past year and hope to continue to do so. They were also kind enough to host a book signing for Film Festival Secrets during the 2009 festival.)

    The World As We Know It Is Over? 10 Insights on the Movie Biz - indieWIRE

    indiewireI would say that only three of the ten "insights" are ideas that haven't been flogged to death in the indie film press over the last couple of years, but there are a couple of interesting quotes in there if you can wade through the redundant muck.

    Every town has a film festival, there are film festivals of every possible genre, every possible niche that you can think of. And so now we’re kind of entering this world where nontraditional distribution platforms are starting to emerge and film festivals are definitely coping with and struggling with that new world. There’s real fear, I think, of obliteration. People think that technology will obliterate anything that came before it and I don’t believe that at all. I do think that film fess have to recalibrate, reboot, what their role is and why they’re important beyond simply promoting a sponsor’s product or beyond being a good junket for a few celebrities prior to the theatrical release of a big film. - Christian Gaines, Withoutabox

    Read The World As We Know It Is Over? 10 Insights on the Movie Biz - indieWIRE.

    Staff departs Starz Denver en masse, says indieWIRE

    A dramatic mass exodus is underway at the Denver Film Society, organizer of the three decade old Denver International Film Festival. Longtime veterans of the organization, including Festival Director Britta Erickson and Artistic Director Brit Withey, as well as esteemed co-founder Ron Henderson, have resigned in Denver. And now they are being followed out the door by more then [sic] fifteen other people at the Film Society and the festival.

    Read Mile High Mutiny: Major Shakeup Hits Denver Fest.

    Festival Exercise: Define Your Film, Define Yourself

    Getting your film "out there" – whether that means out to the festival circuit or to a distributor or directly to your audience – is a sales job. A crucial part of any sales job is to figure out exactly what it is you're selling and thereby determining who might want to buy it. In this exercise you will define your film and yourself in a number of different ways. While this may seem obvious and redundant, forcing yourself to formally document these things about your film can be extremely helpful in later stages of your film's life.

    Defining your film

    •  Start with the basics: Is your film a narrative or a documentary? (It doesn't quite fit into either category? Maybe it's experimental.) Documentary filmmakers have a variety of doc-only options in the festival arena; it's kind of a consolation prize for the fact that theatrical distribution is a rarity for documentaries.

    •  Short or feature? A lot of people misuse the word "feature" when they really mean "narrative." The word feature refers to the film's length, generally over an hour. Anything else is a short. As in the documentary world, there are festivals that focus exclusively on shorts.

    • Is there something about the film's format that makes it stand out? There are festivals that focus heavily/exclusively on formats. Animated films, movies shot on celluloid, hi-def video – sometimes the medium is what matters.

    • Subject matter - this one's a biggie, and your film may qualify for any number of special-interest festivals based simply on what's in it. Go through your film carefully and really think about the people represented in it. What they do, what they like, where they go to shop and eat and have fun. All of these things affect the kinds of festivals and audiences that will be interested in your film. There are festivals for extreme sports, for individual ethnicities, and for films of particular genres. There's even a film festival for movies that feature bicycles. Find your niche and exploit it.

    • Location, location, location. Festivals love to play movies that feature hometown talent and settings. It's best if your film features recognizable landmarks around town, of course, but sometimes you can even get credit if someone in your cast or crew happens to be from a town with a festival. Exploit the "local filmmakers made good" factor by mentioning relevant facts in your submission cover letter.

    • Cast and crew. It's something of a truism that recognizable faces will help your film get into festivals – fests need sure-bet movies with household names to pack a few showings. (If your film isn't one of those, try not to be resentful of the movies that do have stars. Without those tent-pole flicks to guarantee ticket sales, the festivals wouldn't have the ability to program films like yours.)

      Look beyond the faces in your picture to the crew around you – do any of them have alum status at film festivals? Those connections can help your film too. Don't be shy about it.

    Define yourself

    Define YourselfYou're not just selling your movie. You're selling yourself, too, and there are things about you that can help spur an audience's interest in your film regardless of what appears on screen. Take a minute to think about the things that define you and how that will affect the list of festivals to which you will apply.

    • Demographics: Gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality. All of these things have festivals of their own. There are over a dozen festivals now that focus exclusively on the work of women filmmakers. There are few major metro areas left without a gay/lesbian/transgender film festival of their own. African-American festivals abound, sometimes under the code-word "urban." It may seem superficial at first but these are all audiences that hunger to see themselves (and the work of their fellows) on screen.

    • Your alum status. Festivals love to nurture the careers of filmmakers they "discovered," so be sure to stay in touch with all of the programmers who discovered you. When your film is complete, shoot each on an email and offer to send over a screener. Get that dialogue going and you will likely find yourself with a waived submission fee at the very least.

    • Your location. It may not help get your film into these festivals, but it's always a smart idea to submit to the festivals within easy driving distance. If you can't make a play for being a local filmmaker, at least you'll be able to attend the festival if you get in.

    • Places where your friends and family live. Anywhere it will be easier/cheaper for you to stay is a good candidate for festival submissions.

    • Where would you like to go? Submitting to festivals in towns you've always wanted to visit can increase your incentive to attend those festivals once you get in. Even if the festival experience itself proves lackluster, you will at least have the fun of sightseeing in your chosen destination.

    • Government assistance programs for which you qualify. Some national and local governments have filmmaking grants that can help you travel to or apply for particular festivals. Get in touch with your local film commission and see which grants are available to you, and what festivals they support.

    Armed with this information you should be able to start your festival strategy. There's lots more to be done (you have to actually find those festivals), but this is a good first step.

    Photo credits: Christian Razukas and sleepy sparrow.

    Pigeon Impossible Podcast #12 - Pimpin' It

    Lucas Martell's podcast is a companion to the launch of his short animated film, Pigeon Impossible. Each episode is entertaining in its own way (check out episode 2, "Writing is Rewriting") and most of them focus on the animation process, but episode 12 speaks directly to the festival circuit. In particular listen to Martell's advice about output formats and why the extra expense of converting your short to 35mm film might give you a leg up on the competition. Now that's what I call a film festival secret.

    Web Series: 4 Things to Ask Yourself Before Starting

    Felicia DayFrom the blog of Felicia Day. Apart from being adorable and talented, Felicia is pretty smart. She's been around the block a few times with the whole "original web series" thing which, at the end of the day, is the same as independent filmmaking. All four of these questions apply just as much to your indie doc feature as they do to her web series about online role-playing gamers.

    The internet isn’t TV: It’s 20 million channels rather than 200. If you can’t sit down and easily identify what kind of person will like your show and name 5 places that person might go to on the internet, you will have a hard time getting the word out, no matter how good it is.

    Read Web Series: 4 Things to Ask Yourself Before Starting on Felicia Day's blog.

    Toronto After Dark film fest submissions deadline approaches

    TADFrom Toronto After Dark's press release.

    A quick announcement for any horror, sci-fi, action, animation or cult filmmakers out there. This is the final week to submit your short or feature film to the 2009 Toronto After Dark Film Festival. If you're looking to gain added exposure for your genre film it could be well worth your while taking the few minutes to enter.

    Toronto After Dark has already established itself as one of North America's leading genre cinema showcases. Over 8,500 fans came out for last year's record-breaking Toronto event and all the films programmed including LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, REPO THE GENETIC OPERA, TOKYO GORE POLICE and I SELL THE DEAD scored extensive media coverage. This year's Toronto After Dark brings its cinematic mayhem for the first time to Summer and runs Aug 14-21, 2009.

    To be considered, your film entry details must be completed online by end of day, this Friday May 15. Full details, including a fast and easy to complete online submission form, are available at the official festival website here:

    Frank advice from Heidi van Lier

    Lately I've had the privilege of sitting on a couple of panels with Heidi van Lier, filmmaker and author of The Indie Film Rule Book. Heidi's advice is no-nonsense, funny, and wastes no time. If you're not reading her blog at the Film Independent web site, you should be. There she dispenses similar wisdom; I've linked to a few recent samples below.

    Samsung backs photography doc on the festival circuit

    SamsungIn a smart move for the filmmakers and possibly for Samsung as well, Variety reports that documentary film Rock Prophecies has received funding from the electronics firm in return for some exposure to the audiences who show up. The film features rock photographer Robert M. Knight and presumably the audience who shows up to such a film will be highly interested in Samsung's new handset, which sports an 8-megapixel built in digital camera.

    In your search for festival play and distribution, you should always ask yourself who your audience is and how to reach them. Then ask: who else wants to reach those people? Strategic partnerships begin when you identify those people & companies whose goals align with yours.

    Distribution: What's the right way for my film?


    I'm headed to Little Rock on Thursday and will be sitting in on a panel at the Little Rock Film Festival on Saturday.

    Saturday, May 16th at 6:00 p.m.
    Little Rock Chamber of Commerce
    One Chamber Plaza, Little Rock, AR 72201
    see more details

    Also on the panel: