Blogs » The Hermetic Life Of The Film Festival Programmer -- Part 1

The Hermetic Life Of The Film Festival Programmer -- Part 1

  • Sundance.  TriBeCa.  Cannes.  Toronto.  How do the movies we know and love so much get into festivals like this?  Politics.  The studios make "indie" films, now really just a budget status than the spirit of what independent filmmaking used to be.  But what about all those other festivals that exist throughout the United States and throughout the world that get the "officially rejected" submissions of the big film festivals?  You know, those festivals that still try to retain the independent spirit and give true independents a fighting chance at getting exposure for their films?  Many of you have submitted films to festivals.  A few of you may have even gotten into festivals.  I'm here to tell you how the journey of films makes it into one of those smaller festivals you may have never heard of.  I am a film festival programmer.  One of the gatekeepers.  One of the most revered.  And one of the most despised.

    As you may know if you've read some of my blogs, I have worked for the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita, Kansas since it started in 2003.  Since that time, we have held a three or four day festival every year, depending on strange situations and circumstances.  In 2005, our founder and Executive Director, Tim Gruver, died right before the festival.  We cut it back to three days of well-received film experiences for our audiences.  In 2008, one of our festival family members passed away suddenly as well, Joel Fein.  He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound Design for "The Buddy Holly Story."  We are one of the only festivals to have casualties.  We boast and joke about it.  Sorta...

    In 2008, over four days, we catered to over 7,500 moviegoers, we screened 28 features,  64 shorts, advertised 88 sponsors including [link="”]Production[/link], [link=””]Stella Artois[/link], [link=””]The Kansas Film Commission[/link], [link=””]Variety[/link], [link=””]AT&T[/link], [link=””]Pepsi[/link], as well as Hyatt, Marriott, and Holiday Inn.  We also received a record number of films submitted for the 2008 Tallgrass Film Festival.

    But how do those movies that are submitted actually get screened in a festival?  Don’t you have to know somebody, screw somebody, sell your soul to somebody in order to get your film into a festival?  Well, not ours.  We put the N-D back into independent -- not catering to studios but to you, the filmmaker.  We choose the absolute best films, without regard to premiere status or other festivals played.  So how do we choose them?  Our Director of Programming, Eric Moore, sums it up pretty well:

    Well, in 2008 many of the 511 films that we received had their own “cheerleaders” in the process, but not all could be included…We are honored to have had so many share their labors of love with us; completing a film is amazing unto itself.

    So what is a film’s journey at Tallgrass?  Well… a film comes from the filmmaker to the Tallgrass offices and is first viewed by a group of “Prescreeners.”  These folks are people who represent a diverse cross-section of local individuals who appreciate the art of film.  Their reviews include ratings that determine whether a film moves on to the “Screeners.”  This eclectic committee is made up of a smaller number of individuals with different backgrounds, occupations and interests.  Many of them have been with the festival for a number of years and have honed their screening talents, with the ability to pick up even the subtlest of subtexts and satires.  In intensive screenings and meetings, the ratings from this group are totaled and tallied and it’s on to the Executive Committee, or the Programming Committee, to determine what films from this group are feasible, fitting, and available for the festival.  The goal is to create a program that is as diverse as the people who submitted them in the first place, the folks who screened them when they arrived, and the audience who ultimately will watch and adore them at the festival.  The result is the terrific program…which represents many voices and visions from around our community and around the world.

    So that’s it, you ask?

    Not in the least.

    Programming is always very subjective.  At the end, it’s always very sarcastic and we are a tight-knit group.  I’ll be blogging up to and through the [link=””]7th Annual Tallgrass Film Festival[/link] about what the programming experience is, what programmers look for, how to tailor your films and your marketing to film festival screeners and programmers.  Several friends of mine on the Programming Committee will also be helping me.

    If you have questions, I highly encourage you to send them!  We are here to help you ensure that your movies get in where so many others have gotten the “Official Rejection.”

    With that, hello to the festival circuit and hopefully we’ll see you in Wichita for the Tallgrass Film Festival this October!