Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How to start a festival in 12 easy steps.

This is where the impersonal, cinema blog takes a one-eighty and the personal pronoun gets polished and prominently displayed.

I made a film festival.

Not completely sure how this happened, but it started with a meeting over coffee concerning 19 short film submissions to the Seattle Erotic Art Festival 2013 and culminated in 4 festival screenings at the historic Grand Illusion Cinema, with the words "Erotic Film Festival Aug 2-4" on the marque. The last four months are a blur, but with the help of friends, both old and new, the small number of submissions led to numerous sleepless nights, enthusiastic and oft' unrealistic pipe dreams, until four programs materialized. Not everything went as planned, but in the end, it all came together and there were no casualties.

The first task was the easiest. Watch the submissions. There was only 120 min of video, so that was simple, but this did culminate in the first festival related panic. There is an unrelenting critic that lives in my head, although it might not seem that way from the content of All things perfect and poisonous as I very rarely write about the films that don't impress me. I take little pleasure in sharing the negative responses to cinema and much prefer to champion the cinema that I love. From those initial submission, there wasn't much that I had any desire to champion. I only loved one of the films and only another 3 stood out as interesting, but flawed. Basically, they nagged at me because if I had made them, different choices would have been made. This voice shouldn't irritate me as much as it does, because really what it seems to say is that the films are pretty good, just not the movie I would have made. I should just call this the David Lynch conundrum as Lynch always seems to make movies I want to immediately love, but instead at first I am overwhelmed with frustration, anger, and disappointment and the love and respect comes later. This basically described my initial feelings about these short films.

So the next step was to assemble a jury, to help decide which films stay. This was the first big hurdle as putting together a jury requires asking people for help. First, I don't like reaching out to others for assistance. And second, I never trust people to actually help. But doing the best to ignore the pessimistic voices, I borrowed the cinema in the hours before the first show of the day and hoped that a minimum of 4 potential jurors would show. And to my surprise they did, so I had a jury of 5 and we watched the films together and the conversation that followed resulted in the selection of the three films around which the festival was built.

Then the real work began. The Seattle Erotic Arts Festival has 20 minutes of film that the jury agreed upon, but what to do with only 20 minutes of narrative short films. The obvious answer was to find an erotic average length feature and the shorts would proceed. So I started calling and emailing everyone I could think of to learn as much as possible about how festivals find films.And after a few weeks of sending emails and leaving countless messages inquiring about features that had played Sundance, CineKink, TIFF and never heard back. But I do happen to know a film collector and historian in the Portland area, so I asked for help.

To my relief, Dennis Nyback was happy to help and had more suggestions than I could squeeze into a weekend. So we talked about the proposed festival dates and I relaxed a little, but kept attempting to contact anyone representing a film that sounded even vaguely erotic. I figured I would ask Dennis for a weekend of vintage film programs and probably show the majority of the submissions, despite not loving them.

About the time I was convinced that the first year that the Seattle Erotic Art Festival would show film in an actual cinema, but with a very uneven group of short films, I was contacted by another festival. Germany's Fetsch Film Festival Kiel. They offered 5 films, the best of the festival from 2012 and in exchange, I needed to credit them with a banner on the films. And thus, I suddenly had enough good short films to create a full program and could pick over and use just the very best to create a coherent short film program.

But I still liked the idea of showing a feature. There was one short film that piqued my curiosity. I remember the jury discussion where we agreed one short didn't seem complete, but instead an episode. However, curiosity got the better of me and before I knew it, I was writing the filmmaker to ask for details about the project. Especially, since I'd noticed that the filmmaker had a failed submission with a different title, one that sounded familiar after spending my days searching the web for erotic film projects.

Bingo. The filmmaker explained that the short was an excerpt from her feature and agreed to let me view it. It was too long to attempt to show it with any shorts and wasn't perfect, but it was quite good. Actually, the film, Remedy, was just about to return to the cutting board for a final edit and I would get it when it was done.

So that is how it happened. I was immeasurably lucky and found half of the shorts from submissions, another came from a filmmaker that I had attempted to contact early on in the search, that gave me the thumbs up to include it in the final weeks before the festival, and finally one stunning short film was 'discovered' submitted as visual art instead of film. And so the programs nearly wrote themselves.

Thus, on August 2 - 4, I held the first Seattle Erotic Film Festival at the Grand Illusion Cinema.

And did I mention that I made a film festival?