Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Programmer Profile: Joanne Feinberg, Ashland Independent FIlm Festival

picMy name: Joanne Feinberg

My current festival: Ashland Independent Film Festival, Ashland, OR

My title: Director of Programming

Other fests I've worked for: My first programming related job was Assistant to the Programmer at the Bleecker Street Cinema, an "art house" theater in NYC, when I was a student at NYU in Cinema Studies and Film Prod. It was an amazing education in film history. I'm going to date myself here, but this was when you could still see "classic" and "foreign" films on the big screen any night of the week in NY. After that, I worked as a freelance film and video editor for many years, and served on several juries and selection committees in the Bay Area.

Movies that best represent my personal tastes: Check out the AIFF festival programs for the past 5 years for a good representation! My tastes are really diverse, and there are just so many films that I love, for different reasons. Just off the top of my head - some that took my breath away the first time I saw them: Badlands (Terrence Malick), The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein), His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks), Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard), Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee), Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden). The film I think I have seen the most times ever, because I have kids, is Iron Giant - it's wonderful and I’d see it again, anytime!

When I'm not watching movies I like to: I just ran my first marathon a few weeks ago. And I have 3 children. So running on the trails in Ashland, and running trying to keep up with my kids!

A movie I recently programmed that I consider to be a great personal discovery: Ashland does not put an emphasis on premieres. But we do love to program great films that have not been seen widely yet to help build an audience for the film, as that is a large part of what festivals are ultimately about. We love screening short films, and this is a genre where there is lots of opportunity to discover emerging filmmakers. And there is nothing more satisfying then hearing what a great experience they had with our festival, to develop on-going friendships with filmmakers, and then to screen their next short or feature length film.

When filmmakers ask me "What's different about your film festival?" I say: Ashland is not a film market type of festival. But we do, and I quote, "treat filmmakers like rock stars." It's a great festival to see some films you haven't had a chance to yet, visit with other filmmakers, go to our panels, special events, and parties, and to enjoy your own screenings. We have incredibly engaged and intelligent audiences who pack the theaters for every show, and will come up and talk to you (maybe even give you a hug!) on the street, in the coffee shops and restaurants. In the words of animator Bill Plympton, "Ashland is an amazing, freakin’ town! The audiences here are so excited about film. I go to lots of festivals, and this is very unique."

Our festival audience has come to expect: Excellent programming, interaction with filmmakers, and a great community event that takes over downtown Ashland for 5 days in April.

We program the following categories of films: We program all genres and all lengths. We also have a "Locals Only" program (S. Oregon productions), and a local Student Film competition "The Launch."

A recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I approve: Recently, I have seen a surge of filmmakers who are taking new and creative approaches to storytelling in both docs and narratives that is very exciting. Filmmakers are taking chances with the medium and the results are refreshing, especially when my days are filled with screening submissions. Definitely approve!

If I could impart one thing to filmmakers about submitting to my festival, it would be: We take our submission and screening process very seriously, and it is very respectful and thorough! All films are viewed by at least two experienced screeners, many films are seen by 4-6 people, and films programmed in the festival are often seen by as many as 7-8 programmers/screeners. Having to say "no" to so many quality films is really difficult for us. If your film is selected, we hope you will attend. If not, please consider us again.

The submissions period for our next festival is (please indicate start and end date): Submissions for our 9th Annual Festival, April 8-12, 2010 opened in August and will run through December 2009. Our late deadline is Dec. 4, 2009 and Withoutabox extended deadline is Dec. 11.

Filmmakers can contact me here: There is lots of information on our website at and you can sign up for our mailing list at

Last words: I love my work! And I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to see so many great films from so many talented filmmakers. To have Albert Maysles (AIFF Lifetime Achievement Award honoree) tell me "I have received many honors, and none of them have touched me as deeply and soulfully... I want to come back," well, it doesn’t really get much better than that!

Why didn't I get into Sundance? Revisited.

Park City postersThe Sundance Film Festival announces its slate today. I know a lot of filmmakers who submitted to the festival this year. For their sake and mine I don't really go into the nitty-gritty numbers of how few films – no matter how good – get into this most coveted of festivals. Now that most of them have heard a yes or now, however, it might actually help their spirits to know the truth. (Last year I wrote a kind of pep talk piece on this subject that you're welcome to read.)

Let's do some back-of-the-napkin calculations here. According to what a Sundance programmer told me last year when I was writing Film Festival Secrets (the book), about 8,000 titles were submitted to Sundance last year, and that number could have gone as high as nine or ten thousand this year. Let's use the conservative 9,000 for now. Checking out last year's program guide reveals that Sundance programs fewer than 200 films total, including shorts. So 200/9000 = .022. Fewer than two percent of the films submitted get into the Sundance Film Festival.

As John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival put it in a tweet earlier today: "3724 features submitted and we can only invite 113. So many tough choices. For me, a very good news-bad news day."

The numbers aren't really much better at any other large-to-medium festival, though – I estimate that acceptance rates hover between 3% and 8%. This isn't a criticism of these festivals, merely a statement of the way it is. There are more films being made and submitted than ever before, and the large, well-known festivals can't grow their programs fast enough to keep up. The selection process at a festival like Sundance isn't about finding great films – it's about figuring out which great films you want to show. As I told a client just the other day: "I think you made a film that's good enough for Sundance, but whether it's the kind of film that Sundance is in the mood for right now is the real question."

The good news is that there are now more small-to-medium sized festivals than ever before, and that the number of really great festival-worthy films hasn't kept up with that growth either. So while it may be a programmer's market at the top of the heap, there are plenty of festivals further down on the pyramid who are hungry for quality movies that haven't yet had their world or national premieres. Sure, it would be great to premiere at Sundance or AFI Fest or Berlin. The trick is to stay in the game long enough – and to keep making movies good enough – that you're in the right place when your right time comes along.

A year ago on Film Festival Secrets

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Programmer Profile: Claudette Godfrey, South By Southwest

Claudette GodfreyMy name: Claudette Godfrey

My current festival: South by Southwest (SXSW)

My title: Film Festival Coordinator / Shorts Co-Programmer.

Other fests I've worked for: CineVegas

Movies that best represent my personal tastes: In no particular order - Top Gun, E.T., and Tommy Boy. Those films defined my childhood and I seriously list those three when anyone asks. I remember more than a few times in film school where other students would say something like Citizen Kane or Modern Times and I would pipe up with one of those classics.

More professionally I list films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Dear Zachary: A letter to a son about his father, A Town Called Panic and Año Uña. Typing that I realize that none of them are entirely conventional, so maybe that's the way I'd define my personal taste.

When I'm not watching movies I like to: Talk about movies. Eat Mexican food. Swim. Take photos. Go to shows. Dance. Hang out at bars with friends. Edit my project. Hug. Watch HBO/Showtime. Sleep.

A movie I recently programmed that I consider to be a great personal discovery: TRIMPIN: the sound of invention was a World Premiere for SXSW and one of the very first films we accepted last year. A trusted documentary screener and friend got it in his first round of watching really early in our 2009 season. He came in glowing about it so I watched it immediately. Just a month earlier I saw Trimpin's work for the first time while on a trip to Seattle with my mom. His IF VI WAS IX: Roots and Branches sculpture is installed in the Experience Music Project and I remember hanging out watching it "perform" for quite some time. I was mesmerized. When I watched the film and connected the dots I was instantly hooked. Trimpin himself is such an phenomenal inventor and musician that he easily becomes an interesting and absorbing character. Peter Esmonde's handling was superb, allowing you a unique window to this melodious joyful world of Trimpin's. I loved it and lobbied for it. It was an easy yes because it is such a beautifully well crafted film about a true innovator. It struck notes with every arm of our festival and that's what SXSW is all about.

Later, I introduced the film's screenings at the festival and was blown away by the audience reaction. There was this connection with the music and with Trimpin (who came with Esmonde to the festival) that was awe-inspiring. That's really what festivals are all about, connecting a truly great film to an audience. Sharing the experience. I actually have a Trimpin poster on the wall next to my desk to remind me of that.

When filmmakers ask me "What's different about your film festival?" I say: We're unique because we're a part of this massive cross-platform multifaceted cultural event. We're Austin in March. It's the people, the city, the weather, the food, the venues, and the programming sensibility that make us really stand apart.

Our festival audience has come to expect: I think people come to SXSW for good films, good access, and a good time. We have been able to strike an amazing balance between those factors and Texas hospitality. The audience attends our screenings expecting to see variety, originality, innovation, and great storytelling. To discover new voices, and to see a little of that trademark weirdness. In short they come to SXSW for an experience. An awesome one.

We program the following categories of films: We program films from these categories both made in the United States and Internationally: Narrative Features, Documentary Features, Narrative Shorts, Documentary Shorts, Animated Shorts, Experimental Shorts, Music Videos, and Texas High School Shorts.

A recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I disapprove: Multiple replacement copies. Meaning, there are a lot of filmmakers who submit an unfinished rough cut in August and proceed to send me a new copy every month until our final deadline. If you submit early, submit a finished film. If you're still working on your film and there are 2 months left until our deadline do yourself a favor and hold off to submit the most complete and finished version you can. This is your film, and you shouldn't undercut it in an effort to save $20 on the submission fee. That said, if you have a new/better/different cut that changes the world you can send in a replacement, just don't make it a habit!

Oh, and if you're going to make a short film, make it short.

If I could impart one thing to filmmakers about submitting to my festival, it would be: Don't take it personally.

I think it's easy for filmmakers to become jaded when they don't get into the festivals they want to. It's easy to focus on the rejection letters and channel negative feelings into hating the establishment. Instead, do your research. Submit to festivals that have an audience for your film. Reexamine your edit. There are factors that you can control.

When a festival doesn't play your film it doesn't necessarily mean that your film is bad or that you're a bad filmmaker. Programming a film festival is like a giant puzzle and there's no way to fit in every good film. There are a lot of factors at work and we really accept a very small percentage of the films that submit. Hone your craft. Keep working.

The submissions period for our next festival is: Submissions are open now through December 3 for our late deadline and our last minute deadline is December 11.

Filmmakers can contact me here: claudette @ sxsw . com or film @ sxsw . com

Blog URL:

Twitter account: @claudasaur

Last words: We love you. No matter what you've made or how you've made it, we love you. We love that you're out there putting yourself on the line for what you're passionate about and believe in.