On Thursday, November 14, the Rochester Documentary Group gathered at The Little Theatre to hear from veteran film festival programmers about what they look for when programming, and to hear their tips about submitting work.
Guest panelists included Christine Adamo of the Rochester International Film Festival, Michael Gamilla of ImageOut, Mike Champlin of the High Falls and Bentonville Film Festivals, and Linda Moroney, of the OneTake Film Festival and the Rochester Children’s Film Festival. Linda Moroney moderated the panel.
Mike Champlin spoke first about the Bentonville Film Festival, founded by Actor Geena Davis, in support of media that accurately reflects the gender balance and diversity of our country. Each individual who screens films for that festival receives two to three links and rates the films, selecting which s/he considers the best. The top selections go into a second round of judging.
In the High Falls Film Festival, Mike is responsible for the shorts program. He typically reviews up to 180 films of 30 minutes or less.
“I stop reviewing when I get fatigued, in order to give each film a fair assessment,” Mike pointed out.
“My best advice when submitting to film festivals is to get your work in early, before a theme is chosen,” he remarked.
Mike went on to explain that, each year, a trend often arises among films submitted, which helps set the theme. In 2016, for example, many of the films had an upbeat, inspirational trend. This year, that was not the case By getting your film in early, it is possible to help set the theme. Also, the closer you submit to promotional and program publishing deadlines, the less likely your film is to be chosen.
Michael Gamilla indicated that, for the ImageOut Film Festival, he does research and reaches out to filmmakers in a quest for the best LGBTQ films. While he does have a committee review the films from which he gets recommendations, he is the ultimate decision maker on the films that will be screened. This year, he used FilmFreeway to acquire submissions, and he opened submissions early.
He advised filmmakers to request a waiver of submission fees. Michael went on to explain,”We always have a submission fee because that weeds out submissions that aren’t relevant. But it never hurts to ask if the fee can be waived.”
He went on to note that there have not been a lot of Rochester-based LGBTQ films, but he would love to see more.
Christine G. Adamo is part of the team that produces the Rochester International Film Festival. Christine shared that this film festival was originally started by Kodak employees, and is produced and presented by the non-profit, Movies on a Shoestring. This film festival has the distinction of being the longest running, continually held, short film festival in the world.
Each day of the 4-day festival is programmed with 7 to 8 films of 30 minutes or less, that are selected by a committee. The festival typically receives around 180 submissions per year and all receive an initial screening. The top contenders go on to a second round, during which approximately 28 films are selected. Each year, about 12 films are from other countries. All who submit films are given critiques, whether or not their films are chosen.
Christine reminded attendees how important it is that the synopsis actually reflects the content of the film. She was very clear about what she seeks in a submission, “The three C’s: Continuity, Closure and Creativity.”
Linda Moroney programs the four-day One Take Film Festival, that grew out of the Little Theatre’s highly successful monthly documentary series that began in 2012. She and Bri Merkel handle all of the programming for this event that accepts documentaries exclusively. The One Take Film Festival has no submission fee, and the next festival will take place from April 19 – 22, 2018.
She also programs WXXI’s Rochester Teen Film Festival that includes all genres of films with a format of 10 minutes or less. Those programming the Teen Film Festival select 8 to 12 films to screen and each film is given an award. The Best of the Fest film receives the Philip Seymour Hoffman Award, sponsored by Mr. Hoffman’s family, which honors the life and legacy of the late Academy Award-winning actor and Fairport, N.Y. native.
Linda advised filmmakers not to submit unfinished works, because they are not true representations of the final quality of the film. Although some film festivals will allow the film to be re-submitted the following year if not selected on the first attempt, many will not.
The following points were mentioned during the discussion in which panelists answered questions:
- All participants agreed that they are seeking the best films they can find, and an important element of the choice is the authenticity of the film.
- No matter what type of film they are considering, they look for consistent quality across the film, good lighting and sound. For narratives, a consistency across characters with regard to acting is also important.
- All agreed that they would love to be able to include more local work, and they encouraged local producers and directors to submit their work.
- They agreed that niche films are often strong submissions, and that filmmakers simply need to find festivals into which their niche films fit, suggesting either FilmFreeway or Withoutabox as good resources for finding the right festivals.
- They also agreed that they enjoy receiving films that have a more light-hearted perspective, and that it is not necessary for a film to be uber-serious to be taken seriously.