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Aug. 27, 2010
Film Festival Memories
by Ray Robison
About five more hours in my flight from the east coast to San Francisco, then on to another plane for the relatively short hop to Medford. It will be after midnight before I get to the Rogue Valley and I will need to be at work at 7am to begin another 40-hour week. Such is the life of a Southern Oregon filmmaker playing the film festival circuit. I'm returning from the Rhode Island International Film Festival where we screened “The Bag” on Saturday evening. “The Bag” is a short dramatic film shot in the Rogue Valley last fall with an all Southern Oregon crew and cast with the exception of Peggy Stewart and Richard Erdman, a couple veteran actors we flew in from LA.
“The Bag” premiered at the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival (aka LA Shorts Fest) a couple weeks ago and everything went well. I've been to LA Shorts Fest before with another film and knew what to expect from that festival. There are many advantages to premiering a film in Los Angeles and especially at the LA Shorts Fest but it certainly isn't the Hollywood star-studded red carpet paparazzi-laced premiere that so many people seem to visualize. On top of the list of reasons to be in the LA Shorts Fest is that the winners in six of 8 different categories get to advance to a "short list" that will make them eligible for Oscar consideration, so of course anyone with a short film would want to give that a shot. The unfortunate truth about Los Angeles film festivals is that there are lots of them and the LA community is not up to getting excited about and supporting every film festival in town. So at the LA Shorts Fest what you get is not hoards of independent film fans wanting to discover you, the next great filmmaker, but rather lots of LA independent filmmakers hoping to make a few more contacts to help them further their own careers. Admittedly, I myself have made some good contacts while attending LA film festivals. Robert Aldis is the head of LA Shorts Fest and he does a great job keeping things organized and sorting through thousands of entries to find some great short films which is why I suppose the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science has selected LA Shorts Fest as one of 65 Oscar qualifying festivals.
So back to the world premiere of “The Bag”, there were four other films in our Tuesday evening session at LA Shorts Fest and most of the other filmmakers were in attendance. I was pleased with the quality of all the other shorts, no surprise as they included films that had already won awards in some major festivals, but to be honest, I was even more pleased that I didn't feel as though our low budget Rogue Valley production didn't belong in the same session with these films; happily I must say I felt like we held our own here. Now my personal preference for an audience attending one of my screenings is to have lots of independent film fans. I'd rather the Q&A session following a screening include questions about the angle on certain shots in the film or why we used certain elements but with an audience of your filmmaking peers you invariably get "What was your budget?" and "What camera did you shoot with?" I prefer to talk about the artistry behind the film, not the technical specs. Fortunately for our screening, the writer Marlyn Mason lived and worked in Hollywood for many years and much of the audience was made up of people she had known from her years in LA so we had a very supportive crowd. This I guess brings me to another plus for screening in LA: you never know who might be in the audience. There just might be someone who could do a great deal to help promote your film or help you make that next one. Also on the plus side of the LA Shorts Fest is that they (the festival organizers) know who their audience is so they include special events directed at the independent filmmaker. This year almost every day of the festival included a "coffee chat" which was held at noon with a different host who was a part of the industry in LA. I was only able to attend one of these "chats". It had a couple representatives from Hyde Park Entertainment and it was wonderful to hear from them about what they look for and how they look for independent films to pick up for distribution or to back financially.
On the other side of the coin is the Rhode Island International Film Festival. Rhode Island is of course not known for its bustling independent film industry so the audience consists of more independent film fans. RIIFF is in its 14th year and is well supported by the community. They show films in some 6 different theatres around the region. Many filmmakers who have films at the festival do attend even though they have to pay their own way from France or the UK or Medford, Oregon or wherever, but the festival does a great job making RIIFF a festival filmmakers wish to attend. They do a tremendous job putting on parties (free food for filmmakers almost every night of the festival) and unlike the LA Shorts Fest, RIFF lets the filmmaker attend any and all of the other screenings at no charge. In our own case, “The Bag” screened later than scheduled due to a problem with one of the other theatres not being able to play a session of short films. Our session was over 3 hours long when these films were combined with another session. With about an hour left the lights came up and the festival organizers came out and offered the audience (over 100 people) a short break that included a complimentary glass of wine or beer. When the session was over everyone was invited upstairs for desserts and more complimentary beer and wine. From a fun and entertainment perspective, RIIFF really works to make the filmmakers feels as though they are being honored and respected. Gotta love that! To summarize, both LA Shorts Fest and Rhode Island are worth having your film in, but for different reasons. Both of these festivals appear on numerous top 10 film festival lists and I can see why. I should mention that the Rhode Island International Film Festival put on a lovely awards brunch on the last day of the festival and a wonderful French film called "This is My Life" won top honors, making it eligible for an Oscar nomination. “The Bag” won the Director's Choice Award. It goes next to a new New Hamphire film festival called the North Country Film Festival (September 30 - Oct. 4) and hopefully the Salem Film Festival which would be its Oregon premiere.
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