g The Film Panel Notetaker: Filmmaker Conference - The State of Film Festivals/ Christian Bruno’s “Strand”– September 17, 2007

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Filmmaker Conference - The State of Film Festivals/ Christian Bruno’s “Strand”– September 17, 2007

Filmmaker Conference - The State of Film Festivals/ Christian Bruno’s “Strand”– September 17, 2007

(SS) Sharon Swart, Variety

(MD) Matt Dentler, SXSW
(DK) David Kwok, Tribeca
(DW) David Wilson, True/False
(SD) Sarah Diamond, Slamdance
(DC) David Courier, Sundance

PANEL SUMMARY: This panel, which included three men named David, purported to be about the “state of film festivals” but really just reviewed the things most filmmakers already know about the festival circuit. One point made, however, was one that always bears repeating: be strategic about where you premiere your film.

(SS) Describe your festival and what you do there.

(DC) What can I say about Sundance? It’s a really good festival. (Laughter.) We’re about 27 years old and were founded by Robert Redford. In the past five years we have expanded to become a festival for world cinema, not just American independents. Our focus is filmmakers, not the “scene” that we have the reputation for. The scene exists because the filmmakers come to us. I oversee the documentary area, but all of the programmers choose the final program together.

(SD) I’m happy to be on a panel with David (Courier), because they always separate us! Slamdance is in its 14th year, and it takes place during Sundance in Park City. It was started by a group of Sundance rejects in order to take advantage of the press generated around Sundance. We get about 3500 submissions and only show 100 films. We focus on unknown filmmakers and emerging talent. Our programming team votes on films during one weekend, after we have all watched them.

(DW) True/False is the largest, oldest, and most important film festival in the country (Laughter). We are a documentary film festival that focuses on edgy films that push the envelope of the doc format. We bring all of the filmmakers in for the festival, and try to create an experience with parties, concerts, and a truly appreciative audience.

(DK) Tribeca is an international competitive festival, open to all types of films.

(MD) I am the SXSW Producer. SXSW started 23 years ago as a music festival, and now the film festival is in its 15th year. Our audiences are 50/50 industry people and film fans. We show about 200 films, half of them features and half shorts, of all types. This year, we premiered Knocked Up, but we generally try to keep a more indie sensibility.

(SS) How do you make sure you have a ratio of premieres and other work, and how does a filmmaker decide whether to premiere at your festival?

(DC) We consider ourselves a “discovery” festival. You don’t go to Cannes to get discovered. You go to Cannes to LAUNCH. We discover new talent. Our competition films are about discovery, and we demand a world premiere for U.S. films in competition. Other sections do not demand a world premiere.

(MD) Programmers have to mix it up. Sometimes it’s hard to find really great brand new films, so they can’t all be new, but our competition films have to be North American premieres. We have a great advantage, because every feature filmmaker in America makes their films to be ready for Sundance, and we come after them, so we have an embarrassment of riches for new films.

(DW) We’re in a unique position, because there is no such thing as a premiere at True/False. For us, it’s about films that we want and love, but we only program 30-35 features in our four days. We might work with another festival that will officially premiere a film, to do “secret screenings” where the audience comes to an unannounced film and gets a good surprise.

(DK) Tribeca has a separate competition for NY made films. A festival needs to choose a film that’s right for it, and you need to choose a festival that’s right for your film. Sometimes I like a film personally, but don’t think it’s right for our festival, so I will pass it on to a programmer at a more appropriate festival. You definitely need a festival strategy for your film—where is it going to premiere and where is it going to go after that?

(MD) Yes. Festival strategy is crucial. Short films are an exception, but for features, don’t blow your chance to premiere at a big festival by giving away your premiere to a smaller one. Nothing is worse than when I meet a filmmaker whose film sounds really interesting, but I can’t even review it for competition because they’ve already screened it in Podunkville.

[Notetaker’s Note: I left halfway through this panel to attend the work-in-progress screening of Christian Bruno’s documentary, Strand: A Natural History of Cinema.]

Work-in-Progress Screening
Strand: A Natural History of Cinema

San Francisco’s uber-cool filmmaking couple, Christian Bruno and Natalija Vekic (Lost & Found) , are teaming up to bring us this new documentary for filmmakers, film lovers, and anyone who has nostalgia about the glory days of cinema-going. Their 12-minute work-in-progress screened at the IFP, and it promises to be a winner, with everything except for the interviews shot on good old fashioned 16mm film.

Director Christian Bruno talked briefly about his plans for the film:

Our plan is to make a 90-minute film. We will start right after World War II, and then chronicle the history of cinemas and repertory theatres, moving up through the 60’s and 70’s, right until the 80’s with the rise of home video. The story of movie theatres is an important part of film history, and our movie tells an important story because much of how we feel about films today was shaped by the repertory film owners and programmers of the past.


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