Over the past couple of years I have met A LOT of filmmakers, either through my participation as a filmmaker or my behind the scenes work in the film festival circuit, specifically in the New York area. I have come across a lot of films and networked with a variety of personalities, some whom I hope to work with in the future and others I hope to never see again. Then there are those that I’m not so sure about, those with potential but are so young and so fresh out of school that they haven’t truly struggled to gain a footing in their chosen field. Some of them still have the scent of naive hopefulness, fueled by nothing more than the fact that they haven’t tried yet. After all, once you try and fail, the naivety, along with the hope of success, begins to dissolve for most people.
One filmmaker of note I met early on while working with NewFilmmakers New York on the first round of NF Filmmaker Profiles in 2011. This particular filmmaker was only part way into his festival run of a short film he had produced while still in film school. This was a guy who had gotten entry into 90% of the festivals he submitted to and won awards at almost all of them. By the time his festival run for this first short film ended, he had collected 17 awards (that I am aware of, but probably more). It had gotten to the point where he stopped going to these festivals and would just wait for his plaques and trophies to come in the mail. This is something that I’m sure many of my peers would kill to have happen with one of their films. When I met him again at the Manhattan Film Festival, he seemed taken aback that he had very little of an audience. When awards time came around, he was distraught that MFF didn’t give him an award. Regardless, his short film was beyond successful. Like most filmmakers would do in this situation, he stepped it up a notch: He made his second film on far superior equipment, professional grade digital cinema gear rather than the HDSLR he had shot his student film on. He got himself a crew and more actors and made an intriguing and tastefully created short form narrative. I saw it recently and it’s a good film, regardless of running time but with no festival screenings as of yet. The reason: he informed me, that he only submitted to the major festivals was because, and i quote: “after the big success of (film title omitted) there was no point for me to send to smaller festivals…” As you can well imagine, I whole-heartily disagree. Because he has refused to submit the work to smaller festivals, it will likely never be seen and be considered a failure as a result.
Although I haven’t had a lot of success in the festival circuit as a filmmaker, I have worked with a lot of them on the film programming front and am friends with filmmakers who have had success in both the smaller and major festivals. Some of the most successful filmmakers I know continue to submit their work to the smaller festivals, admitting to me that they will never feel totally secure in this field. ”There are just too many talented people who could swoop in and take your place if you’re not always on your toes” says one filmmaker in an interview I conducted recently. Another says that he just wants people to watch his films, whether it’s at a big festival, small festival or a theatrical release. I don’t think it’s wise to disassociate one’s self from the small festivals and screening series’ that have a record of accepting your work. The idea here is to build relationships with these institutions, not alienate them. If they reject you work multiple times, that’s one thing, but to write off a festival that is clearly on the same page as you is spoiled bratty non-sense. I hope this individual grows up and changes his approach because he has made a good film and I want to see it out there.
Lastly, many big festivals attend some of the smaller festivals to find their content. All the filmmakers I’ve met that have screened in festivals like Sundance, Tribeca or Cannes, did not submit their work. Their work was discovered through other channels, either through a smaller film festival or a screening series. In once instance a programmer invited a friend to submit with a fee waiver – and of course this individual ended up getting a screening and a recognition at the awards. The festival shall remain nameless.
Eric M. Norcross