Film Fests Archive for March, 2011

On Regional Film Fests as Agents of Change

I wrote a little while back about the Sarasota Film Festival and their kick-ass education and outreach program, which I’m looking forward to seeing up close when I’m at that fest next month.

I’m also going back to Dallas IFF this year — I’ve been going to that fest every year since it started, and I’m continually impressed with how this fest has grown and shifted and survived in spite ending their co-branding with AFI and losing some sponsors and gaining others. Somehow, they always pull off a hell of a fest for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
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AOL/Moviefone Editor Asks TechCrunch to Tone Down the Snark?

So there was an interesting little editorial kerfuffle over at TechCrunch, which you might recall from our handy-dandy AOL timeline of acquisitions and cannings, was acquired by AOL back in September 2010 (actually, it was more late September).

The scuffling started when TechCrunch writer Alexia Tsotsis interviewed Jake Gyllenhaal and Duncan Jones about the film The Source Code at SXSW. She posted the video interview along with a piece she wrote up about called “Jake Gyllenhaal Movie ‘The Source Code’ Markets Itself To Techies.”

Now really, it was pretty clever of Alexia to take advantage of being at SXSW for the Interactive element, seeing a relevant movie tie-in with a film playing over at the Film side of the fest, and finding an angle for a cross-platform interview, right? Now, pop on over there and watch the video interviews with Jake Gyllenhaal and Duncan Jones (they’re short-ish), and while you’re there read over the accompanying text. I’ll wait right here and watch some more earthquake/exploding nuclear power plant coverage on CNN while you’re away …

… Okay, back? Now, maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t find anything in either the videos or the accompanying post that I would view as overly snarky or in any way detrimental to the film — at least insofar as it’s no more snarky than anything else Alexia writes for TechCrunch. Certainly, I don’t see anything that would have prompted the AOL Overlords Alexia’s connnection at Moviefone to email her this:

Hey Alexia,

Hope you’re having a good time at SxSW and that it’s not been too crazy busy for you!

First wanted to thank you for covering Source Code/attending the party, etc. But also wanted to raise a concern that Summit had about the piece that ran. They felt it was a little snarky and wondered if any of the snark can be toned down? I wasn’t able to view the video interviews but I think their issue is just with some of the text. Let me know if you’re able to take another look at it and make any edits. I know of course that TechCrunch has its own voice and editorial standards, so if you have good reasons not to change anything that’s fine, I just need to get back to Summit with some sort of information. Let me know.


Me again. Okay, I have a couple thoughts on this. First, back in October, when TechCrunch sold themselves to AOL, Michael Arrington reassured the site’s loyal user base that AOL (which would include Moviefone) would keep their grubby corporate paws off editorial. From Arrington’s post dated September 28, 2010:

So at that point we were basically sold. But AOL was very aggressive about one last important issue that really sealed the deal – editorial.

Tim told me that he doesn’t want whatever makes TechCrunch special to go away. He also said it was important that we feel free to criticize AOL when we think they deserve it. And the agreement we signed with AOL fully reflects this.

Okay, so. Moviefone sends Alexia a passive-aggressive note to tone down the snark (note that the tone of the note is carefully crafted to make it seem like “Hiya! Whoops, hey! No! We’re not dipping our toes in your editorial wading pool! Just touching base about this one teensy little thing …”

Now, in all fairness, since Alexia works in tech journalism and probably hasn’t dealt with movie business people a whole lot, I do have to say this: The movie industry is a different world than tech. And probably
it came down something like this:

Some higher up at the studio didn’t like something, bitched about it until it traveled down the food chain to someone who was told to look into it, who sent a note or made a phone call to their contact at Moviefone to say, hey, can you look into this? Maybe do me a solid and smooth it over? And that person sent Alexia an email, being careful because of the “hands-off” editorial policy to say, hey, if you have an editorial reason for being snarky, cool, just tell me that so I can pass that back up the food chain, and by the time it works its way back up to the source, hopefully everyone will have downed a bunch of beer at SXSW parties and forgotten all about it.”

That, realistically, is about how it works.

Now, honestly, I don’t find anything about either the video or the original post all that snarky. Maybe Summit isn’t grokking the techie angle, or whoever got in a tiff there to begin with just doesn’t know who this Alexia chick is and why a tech blog was approved for a video interview with their talent or something. Who the hell knows. Weirder things have happened around publicity for a film at a fest.

If Summit or Moviefone thought the original post was “too snarky,” I can imagine the blood pressure points that shot up over Alexia’s response, in which she says, in part, “Apparently, the post was not enough of a blowjob for Summit, and they let it be known to the AOL person at Moviefone who hooked us up with them in the first place.

As an aside, I love how some of the commenters are taking her to task for using the word “blowjob.” Sorry, but if the word “blowjob” as it applies to the ethical precipice on which the relationship among studios, publicists and press delicately balances is offensive to you, you’re either pretty thin-skinned or you haven’t been around this industry much. Blowjobs, back-scratches, reach-arounds and “solids” are the currency that oils the gear of this business, however much we all try to avoid crossing that boundary between PR and press.

The headline about AOL asking Alexia to “tone down the snark” is maybe bordering on hyperbole, but just barely. They did send the email, they did ask if she could tone it down. They didn’t count on her publishing it, but tough cookies. So it goes. Alexia might not get another invite to a movie party, at least not through her Moviefone contact, but whatever … it’s not every day that there’s a cross-over like that for her to find an angle on anyhow.

So what do you think? Is TechCrunch making a bigger deal of the perceived heavy-handedness of its overlords than is merited by the actual email? Or did Moviefone cross the line and deserve a smackdown for it?


… More coming very shortly on TechCrunch’s Paul Carr calling for Moviefone Editor-in-Chief Patricia Chui’s head on a freaking platter.

Dallas IFF Announces Stellar Lineup

SXSW may be rocking Austin right now, but the Dallas International Film Festival, which runs March 31-April 10, is just a few short weeks away, and the fest, under the leadership of Artistic Director James Faust and Senior Programmer Sarah Harris has just announced an impressive slate.

Last year was the first year that the fest took off under its own steam, after three years of partnering with AFI, and this year from the looks of it Faust, Harris, who set out with the goal of bringing films from a wide array of cultures to Dallas audiences, certainly seem to be aiming for that goal. I’ll be in Dallas myself a few days toward the end of the fest, so I’ll be keeping you apprised of all the cool happenings at this year’s fest. In the meantime, you can check out the press announcement with the full line-up right here.

Spotlight: Outreach and Education at the Sarasota Film Festival

I’ve been meaning to check out the Sarasota Film Festival for a long time now, and it looks like this year I’ll finally be heading to Florida (my first time ever to set foot in that state, believe it or not) to check it out and serve on a jury for the fest.

One of the things that intrigued me the most about SFF as a regional fest is that it has one of the most expansive and impressive Outreach and Education efforts I’ve seen at a fest of this size. Since I’m particularly interested right now in the role of regional fests in reaching young people and exposing them to a world of cinematic experiences broader than what they’d likely be exposed to in mainstream theaters, this seemed an important fest to take a closer look at.

Allison Koehler, SFF’s director of Outreach and Education, very kindly agreed to take some time out of a very busy schedule prepping for the fest to allow me to pester her with a few questions. I’ll be checking out some of the fest’s education programs myself while I’m there, too, so there will be more to come on this later. In the meantime, here’s our interview, conducted via email:

KV: What was the impetus for Sarasota to develop such a strong O&E program?

AK: Sarasota is widely known for being a community passionate about the arts. Between the Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Symphony Orchestra, Ringling Museum of Art and the College of Art and Design, the Historic Asolo Theatre, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and many, many other arts organizations and venues, Sarasota is truly a hub for intelligent, enthusiastic, and media-literate art supporters and consumers. The Sarasota Film Festival very naturally fills the role of offering the very best in film. As a non-profit organization, we have an obligation to our community to provide outreach and education opportunities that would otherwise not be available.

The school systems in Sarasota and in neighboring Manatee and Charlotte counties put a very strong emphasis on arts education. There are a great deal of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) programs and a high number of television and video production courses available at all grade levels. Again, very naturally, SFF is able to support the innovative education that is already happening here in Sarasota by providing additional opportunities for the area’s promising young media-makers.

We also do outreach in the community through extensive partnerships. Over the past few years, we’ve partnered in programming with the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, GCC UN Women, the Sarasota Opera, and Sarasota’s LGBTQ Fabulous Independent Film Festival by offering film sidebars, networking opportunities, workshops and panel discussions, and conversation series within our festival to strengthen the fabric of the area’s arts community and introduce visiting artists, industry, and press to each other and to our local constituency.

KV: You do O&E both in and out of classrooms. In what way do you coordinate with school districts to reach students in the classroom? Do you partner with other educational not-for-profits in outreach?

AK: We work closely with the Board of Education, school principals and other administrators, and more often than not, directly with individual educators who are looking to integrate film studies into their curriculum. We also partner with local community and not-for-profit organizations to collaborate on film and event programming, promotional support, and outreach opportunities to strengthen and unite our community as a whole.

The festival’s community partnerships have included: ALSO Gay Youth Services, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, First Step of Sarasota, Florida Film Commission, Florida Studio Theatre Improv Troupe, Florida West Coast Symphony, Film School of Florida State University, FSU/Asolo Acting Conservatory, Girls Inc., John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Manatee Community College, Manatee County Arts Council, Museum of Asian Art, Ringling School of Art and Design, Rowlett Magnet School for the Performing Arts, Sarasota County Arts Council, School Board of Sarasota County, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, United Nations Development Fund for Women, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, YMCA Community Coalition for Children, Young Professionals Group of the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce among others.
Kim Voynar: Has your fest developed an actual written curriculum in some format, a template that you follow year to year? Or do you develop a new curriculum each year depending on the interests of the students?

Allison Koehler: Our Outreach and Education Department designs curriculum based on the program offerings for the year. We have a general outline for each program and then tailor the curriculum specific to the year’s focus.

For example, our Reel Life Studio program at its most basic is a hands-on filmmaking program for high school students. Each year, we place special emphasis on a niche area of filmmaking in an attempt to introduce areas that students may not have exposure to in their school media arts classrooms. In 2009 we focused on documentary filmmaking. Last year we chose Dogme 95 and this year we’re taking a closer look at the audio/visual relationship by having students create a short film around a piece of instrumental music. The structure of the program remains the same. Generally, the program starts a little over a month before the festival and we meet as a large group two or three times where we outline the program and its guidelines, teach the history and theory behind the program’s focus, and hold workshops that include screenings, writing and pitching sessions, and review.

Other programs like our Junior Jury and Classroom Critic programs also keep the same basic structure and curriculum but have changing content relevant to the year. Both programs focus on film review and our goal is to expand the curriculum in each program each year as our department continues to grow.

Traditionally, the Junior Jury is responsible for screening all of the youthFEST short films programmed for the year’s festival and charged with determining the winner of the official Best Family Short Film Award presented each year at our Filmmaker Tribute. Over the years, we’ve developed and continued to modify screening review forms specific to the program and add elements that further increases student participation. For example, this year, the Junior Jury members are also responsible for writing written reviews, conducting interviews with filmmakers, screening and reviewing feature films, assisting in curating the youthFEST short film programs, and blogging about the process.

Classroom Critic was developed as a supplement to Junior Jury so we could reach more students. For this program, we design a film review curriculum and distribute it to participating middle school educators who incorporate our materials into their existing teaching format. This began with a simple guide to film review and now has the original guide plus additions like a screening review form, film analysis question prompts, film review suggestions and tips, and a glossary of film terms.

KV: You also do a lot of O&E that seems to be year-round — the young filmmakers and screenwriting programs, for instance. Are these programs entirely run by Sarasota staff? Volunteers? How do you manage such a large O&E program?

AK: The majority of our educational programming runs from December through the end of the festival month (April). Our goal has always been to expand into full-time, year-round operation, but with the way the economic climate has been over the past few years, as I’m sure is the case for many arts organizations, our dream has not been able to be fully realized yet. However, things are looking up! This year we were able to bring back our popular Moonlight Movies series which provides the tri-county area with evenings of free family-friendly film programming. We had a fall/winter line-up at the end of last year, a full spring schedule, and are working on finalizing the summer series now.

Many of our programs and much of our curriculum has been integrated into area classrooms which, of course, operate outside of the festival timeline. Phoenix Academy, for example, has created a screenwriting mentor group within their school to continue supporting the student writers who have participated in our programs and those who have a general interest in the subject. Booker Middle School educators are using parts of our curriculum throughout the year as a way to merge film and media studies with the english, literature, and language arts curricula they already have in place.

Our programs are created, designed, managed, and taught entirely by our Outreach and Education Department staff which currently includes two full-time staff members– myself as Director of Outreach and Education and our Production Manager George Denison– with support from part-time Program Coordinators Lacey Sigmon and Datev Gallagher, and Production Assistant Mohamed Younes who work for either intern credit or stipends. Volunteers are also essential to the successful operation of our department as they provide valuable support with distributing curriculum, organizing outreach efforts, event staffing, and more. How do we manage such a large list of programs? We put in a lot of hours!

KV: Your fest offers a really broad scope of educational programming at no cost to students. Is your program entirely funded by AMPAS grants? Do you have a staff person(s) dedicated to researching and writing grants to fund your O&E program?

AK: To my knowledge, we have received an AMPAS grant every other year since the department was created. We also receive funding from the Famiglio Family Foundation, Amicus Foundation, Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, Publix Charities, and the Woman’s Exchange, and part of our department’s budget is paid for by the Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax Revenues. Additionally, a portion of our funding comes from corporate and individual donors. Our festival staff works closely to research and write grants to fund the O&E Department.

KV: And finally, looking at regional fests generally, what do you see as the role of O&E in building and growing a solid regional film fest?

AK: Generally, hmm. I think the role of any Outreach and Education Department, generally, is being the roots– the foundation of the building and growing of a regional film festival into a solid one. Two of our overarching goals in the department are to promote and proliferate community involvement in the arts and, through our programs, cultivate media-literate individuals. As our lives and the lives of young people are surrounded by, saturated in, and oftentimes overwhelmed with media, being able to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, and compute becomes increasingly more essential. Being a media consumer is unavoidable. Media literacy makes the situation an empowering one for individuals of all ages. By offering all of our educational opportunities for free– keeping them accessible for all– and focusing outreach on integration, we’ve really done a nice job in Sarasota of building and growing a solid festival and supportive community.

The Outreach and Education Department is also important in building a strong film festival because it establishes relationships with talented filmmakers very early on and continues to be a role in their success far beyond the time young people spend within one program or another. We’ve had so many students come through our programs and then, years later, submit fantastic work to the festival. They are making films and coming back. Our festival is not only part of the foundation from which they came, but we’re also a big part of their future as successful filmmakers.

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Spotlight: Ann Arbor Film Festival

Much of the indie film world is gearing up for South by Southwest, which runs in Austin (the film part, anyhow) March 11-19. And they have a swell slate, and Austin’s a fun town, and SXSW is always a great party sandwiched around some interesting films, but you already know that. Love SXSW, love the folks who run it, but you already know about that fest, right? Probably you already have your digs set, your plane ticket purchased, your film-and-party slate lined up.

What you may be less aware of is the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which runs March 22-27 in lovely Ann Arbor, Michigan. When I went there a couple years ago, it was C-O-L-D! And it snowed during the fest. In March! But I didn’t care, because the films that Ann Arbor programs are so engaging, and their primary venue, the Michigan Theater, is just a lovely place to celebrate film.
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How (Not) to Fest

My good friend and documentaries whiz Basil Tsiokos, — whose blog What (Not) to Doc should be one of your bookmarked regular reads if you’re a filmmaker of any stripe or aspire to be one, or even if you’re just a big fan of watching films — has written an excellent three-parter for IFP offering his expert advice for all you indie filmmakers on making the most of your film festival experience. Whatever type of filmmaker you are, you should stop whatever you are doing and go read all three parts of this right now. Seriously. Go make yourself a cuppa tea, take a break, and read it.
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Quote Unquotesee all »

“Film festivals, for those who don’t know, are not exactly the glitzy red carpet affairs you see on TV. Those do happen, but they’re a tiny part of the festival. The main part of any film festival are the thousands of people with festival passes hanging on lanyards beneath their anoraks, carrying brochures for movies you have never and will never hear of, desperately scrabbling to sell whatever movie it is to buyers from all over the world. Every hotel bar, every cafe, every restaurant is filled to the brim with these people, talking loudly about non-existent deals. The Brits are the worst because most of the British film industry, with a few honourable exceptions, are scam artists and chancers who move around from company to company failing to get anything good made and trying to cast Danny Dyer in anything that moves. I’m seeing guys here who I first met twenty years ago and who are still wearing the same clothes, doing the same job (albeit for a different company) and spinning the same line of bullshit about how THIS movie has Al Pacino or Meryl Streep or George Clooney attached and, whilst that last one didn’t work out, THIS ONE is going to be HUGE. As the day goes on, they start drinking and it all gets ugly and, well, that’s why I’m the guy walking through the Tiergarten with a camera taking pictures of frozen lakes and pretending this isn’t happening.

“Berlin is cool, though and I’ve been lucky to be doing meetings with some people who want to actually get things done. We’ll see what comes of it.”
~ Julian Simpson 

“The difference between poetry and prose, and why if you’re not acculturated to poetry, you might resist it: that page is frightening. Why is it not filled? The two categories of people who don’t feel that way are children and prisoners. So many prison poets; they see that gap and experience it differently. I’m for the gap!”
~ Poet Eileen Myles