A THOUGHT ON INDEPENDENT FESTIVALS
New York, January 17, 2012
The Victoria, Texas Independent Film Festival
There are a number of different kinds of film festivals, but basically there are 2 major categories: the Hollywood multi-million dollar extravaganza or the smaller independents. Of course there is blend in-between. Victoria would be for the independents. It is the first time that I have heard of Victoria Texas. And this festival will be my first visit to Texas. I am looking forward to this trip.
For many of us independents there are only a couple of ways to get a movie out to the public. For the most part the best is the festivals. Festivals are where people meet and greed. Get to see each other in person. Make connections and hope for changes in the future. Real is better than the digital world. Keep the real alive
Playing the movies in a place with a decent sized screen, a good sound system, comfortable seats, is so much better than watching on a computer or TV screen. Of course the old theaters were dream palaces. And what is a better feeling than sitting in the dark, in the presence of a full theater, the air filled with the pre-show buzz of entertainment expectation.
One such change I would like to see is the bringing back the traveling independent movies. The way John Waters became a household name- travelling the midnight circuit. Similar to the old band circuits. Would be helpful to have the festivals and the venues all on the same page or website, or almost as organized as the minor league sports teams are. To have more active university film-clubs which show and bring in alternative filmmakers. Festivals are a place to try and make alternative culture more viable and interesting to the public.
I have judged a number of smaller film festivals- Woodstock, the Hamtons, Student Academy Awards, BACA- (Brooklyn Arts and Culture Association) BAM- ( Brooklyn Academy of Music French festival, New York Paris Police Film Festival.
By judging film festivals I have 2 educational pointers related to gentrification I would like to pass on. Gentrification has influenced all aspects of American culture including film festivals. The force of gentrification has 2 sides. The downside is the disappearance of the glorious independent commercial theaters. The chains and Hollywood have monopolized the theater venue world. Here is an unusual example. I am invited to tour Austria and Germany with WIldstyle and Tattoo Messe a convention center sized show. The owner of the show Jochen Auer lives in a small Austrian town called Bad Isch. During the off time I was going to play Captured the movie in his town cinema. But was restricted because Harry Potter was playing. The distribution company has the rights to all the screenings, even if no one comes. Because my friend knew the mayor we were able to do a special screening. So venue opportunities have shrunk.
The up side is that there are great movies coming out from all the corners of America. Before the winning student films were always handed in by an NYU or Cal- Arts student. These students had the big budgets, and the availability of equipment and supplies. But the accessibly priced commercially available digital equipment has helped equalize the playing field. One can go to these smaller independent festivals and see first rate material.
If a town supports a festival it is possible to make the festival a yearly people draw. For example Cannes, or Sundance, has helped put those places on the cultural map. Another example how a film festival helped stabilized the economy of a major city. 9:11 almost turned downtown NYC into a dust bowl. Downtown NYC was dying. Few spenders would come downtown. The Tribeca Film Festival. Robert De Niro a Hollywood legend and downtown business man, with the city developed Tribeca Film Festival which soon grew into an internationally competitive festival.
I also see the festivals as belonging to the American spirit of independence., A community supporting each other. A person building an idea from the ground up. An idea that can benefit communities well as profile individuals. A place that keeps the idea of choice alive. Not everything is about the most money, the most expensive production, the biggest bragging trophy. The festivals help keep authenticity alive. The chance for an opening for the little guy. A place to succeed in ones own genre. A fan base. It’s own special niche.
I will end this with what an independent festival means to me. The movie Captured was bounced by the entire major film festivals. Then miraculously, up pops the Rooftops Film Festival. A festival held on different NYC rooftops. The one where Captured was screened was Seward Park High School, which has a huge roof. We had 2000 people show up, including retired Mayor Koch, retired Park Commissioner Henry Stern. 3 different projections on one roof top—a clear sky- a beautiful summer night and magic happened. Can see eventual press on Captured website. There is a now French and German subtitles version. Ai Weiwei in China, (we meet documenting NYC’s downtown gentrification street wars), was going to get Captured translated into Mandarin- and then he got arrested and our connection became much more difficult.
I am originally from Western Canada. Parents grew up as pioneers. Father in the late 1940’s, with a herd of horses, an Indian traveling companion, made the journey from Saskatchewan to Alberta in a covered wagon. I believe in the idea of the independents.
And I think Anthony is one of those people who have the vision and the skills to pull this event off. I believe that Anthony can set the standard.