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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.

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