This year, I had the honor of assisting in the programming of Rochester’s High Falls Film Festival that takes starts on Thursday, November 12 and closes with “The Best of the Fest” Audience Choice Documentary and Narrative screenings on Monday, November 16.
For anyone unfamiliar with the High Falls Film Festival, it showcases women filmmakers and the works they are involved in creating. That this event takes place in Rochester, the home of George Eastman and Susan B. Anthony is very important because filmmaking still remains a place where the playing field is anything but even. The infographic at right, through a study done by the New York Film Academy, shows that there are an average of five men working in filmmaking for every one woman. For female directors, that rate falls to 9% and for female cinematographers, it falls to 2%. This festival celebrates the women who leap those odds, and encourages them to find and use their voices.
As I discovered, it is no easy feat to program a film festival. There are many issues in the balance:
- Quality – A festival needs a high number of well-made films from which to choose (the festival was fortunate this year to receive a significant number of well-done submissions). Even then, although a film may be of the highest quality, it may still not be chosen, if the balance is off in the following areas.
- Balance across genres – Festival creators seek a balance between Documentaries and Narratives. This can be challenging to achieve in a women’s film festival, since a higher number of women make documentaries than narratives (according to the study, 34.5% of women make documentaries as opposed to 16.9% who make narratives. This discrepancy is due, in great part, due to the fact that documentaries generally cost less to make than narratives, and women have traditionally had a lack of access to similar levels of funding as men).
- Interest of topic – Is the topic one that would resonate with traditional festival attendees, and/or help to draw in new attendees?
- Balance across gravity of subject – Although it’s important to include serious films that deal with topics of gravity, they are not everyone’s “cup of tea,” so there needs to be a balance between serious and lighthearted films.
- Balance between domestic and foreign films; films with similar topics – Past results have indicated that subtitled films have a smaller draw, so choices have to be made between some exceptional films that have subtitles and/or similar topics.
- Marketing – Even marketing comes into the mix in choosing films. If a great film is chosen where its target is not your typical High Falls Film Festival attendee, consideration is given as to whether there is a partner organization that can help get the word out.
- Curated versus submitted works – In several cases, films were curated, or invited to be part of the festival, where they were making a significant splash on the festival circuit.
- Access to the filmmaker – Although this is probably the least critical element, having the filmmakers in attendance to answer questions after the screening and to participate in the coffee chats lends a certain caché to the festival.
I discovered the many considerations that go into programming a festival, as a result of my experience being part of the 12-person selection committee that worked together to choose this year’s High Falls Festival film choices. Of course there are far more considerations than those above. Many people collaborate to create a film festival, so my hat’s off to all who have laid the groundwork on this festival in prior years, as well as to this year’s Executive Director Nora Brown, Program Director Kathy Goll, to this year’s Board of Advisors, Ctaff, Committee Members and Volunteers. It’s going to be a great event!
I am proud to have been part of this important festival, and I encourage you to review the films and consider going to some of the offerings that include a variety of exceptional films, free coffee chats at the Strathallan with filmmakers (4 PM on Thursday, Friday, and at 10:30 on Saturday), an Opening Night Party on Thursday, October 12 at 8 PM in the Sibley building, several free filmmaker roundtable discussions and panels, a Highlights Party on Saturday, October 14 at 9 PM at the Strathallan Hotel, a free children’s program on Saturday, October 14 at the Little Theatre #5 (featuring works from the Rochester International Children’s Film Festival), and a Best of the Fest Documentary and Narrative Screening on Monday, October 16 at The Little Theatre.
There’s truly something for everyone at this film festival, so be sure to check out the schedule, where you can read descriptions of the films and the bios of the filmmakers, watch film trailers, and purchase tickets for the films (Most films are $10 or $8 for seniors and students, with some featured films being a bit higher) and other special events. You can also buy a film-only festival pass for $90 or an all-access pass for $125. Passes may be picked at High Falls Film Festival box office, located next to the Little Theatre 1 facing East Avenue, on Thu & Fri November 12-13, 2015 from 5-7pm.
Hope to see you there!
P.S. I have a selection of “fave films” in the festival, but I’d love to hear what yours are, after it’s over!
by Carol White Llewellyn