Planning & Programming (Film Festival Report Part 2)
(from SHORTCOMINGS by Adrian Tomine)
As our guest speaker Abe Ferrer (Co-Director of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival) pointed out in his visit, film festivals choose from a huge pool of media for screening. Abe mentioned that for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival there were hundreds of entries and he personally watched at least a part of 300 or so. The general process is there is a “call for submissions” during which virtually anyone can submit a work for screening consideration provided they meet eligibility requirements and pay a submission fee. The eligibility for an Asian American Film Festival usually requires that the film either be produced by Asian Americans, feature Asian American, and/or deal with topics related to Asian Americans. (Note the definition of “Asian Americans” can be quite broad or restrictive depending upon the festival.) A given festival may require only one of these aspects or all three. Both The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival accept “films and videos that are made by or about Asian Americans and Asians of any nationality. All lengths and genres will be considered.” These are definitely quite broad eligibility requirements. Submission fees are usually graduated as well, there is an “early deadline” and a “late deadline” in terms of submission dates and submitters pay more if they submit after the “early deadline”. Note that the entry fees for Asian American film festivals are generally less than those of bigger, better known film festivals such as Sundance. The lower costs and wider eligibility requirements are necessary because of the nature of Asian American media: it is generally independently produced and often not feature length.
As Prof. Ma pointed out in his guidelines to our film festival, there are other criteria in play during the selection process than simply “Is [the work] well made?” There are issues of “breaking new ground” and whether or not a work speaks to the “Asian American experience”. Abe mentioned that a work can be somewhat un-polished or not super professional in technical terms, but will still get selected for their festival simply because it represents a new or seldom seen point of view. (RASPBERRY MAGIC and THE TAQWACORES immediately come to mind in the “new or seldom seen point of view” aspect.) Of course, a real film festival (unlike ours) has to sell enough tickets and secure enough sponsorship to at least break even assuming the festival organizers want to continue running it. This means picking some more mainstream polished works that will both please and attract a crowd. Festivals generally have a couple “big draw” films in big theaters and venues while the (theoretically) less popular shorts and experimental films get smaller venues. One good example of this is New York’s Asian American International Film Festival, which screened PEOPLE I’VE SLEPT WITH as the Closing Night Presentation. We also screened this film as our last program as the class felt it was a “crowd pleasing” movie and an “easy sell”.
(Quentin Lee taking questions)
As we found out first hand, there is one additional aspect during film festival programming that cannot be overlooked: scheduling. Not only in terms of securing venues and equipment to actual screen works, but the schedules of the filmmakers must be taken into consideration as well. The main draw of a film festival is that after a screening various members of the cast and crew are present for a question and answer panel. This usually includes the director, producer, and a lead actor or more of the cast. Obviously the film festival’s screening times must be such that cast and crew can attend. We selected our films and shorts based on not only class voting but whether or not the filmmakers could make a Q&A panel afterwards. (We even used Skype to talk to the producer and director of RASPBERRY MAGIC.)
Finally there is the serial vs. compressed format issue. A serial format is one where a work is screened on a certain day at a specific time for a given amount of weeks. (Last year’s festival for this class was used this format; works were shown every Thursday at 7PM for 4 weeks straight.) The compressed format is something akin to a convention, works are screened continuously throughout the day (space and time permitting) and each day has its own set of screening. The vast majority of film festivals are of the compressed format. Every festival mentioned so far in this post, including Sundance, uses the compressed format. One generally sees a serial format at places such as universities or independent theaters that will do a film series such as “noir night” every Thursday in November. One good example of this is the Silent Movie Theater, which (true to its name) screens a silent movie every Wednesday among other programs.