Over the past decade, advances in technology and crowd funding have led to a dramatic increase in the number of independent movies being made. And to showcase all this work, film festivals have multiplied across North America like wild dandelions.
Ideally when searching for the right platform to launch their films, filmmakers should be looking for credibility, opportunity, and community.
Filmmakers need to consider the personality of each festival and what kind of support each festival gives its films before, during and after the festival. Festivals connect filmmakers with their peers and create a context for industry professionals to champion films throughout the life of their release.
The film—the lyrical tale of a Liberian rubber plantation worker and his rocky emigration to become a New York City taxi driver—won the US Fiction Jury Award at the 2015 Festival and is currently nominated for the John Cassavetes Prize at the upcoming Spirit Awards.
Takeshi and Donari recently spoke to Roya Rastegar, LA Film Festival Director of Programming, about their experience at the 2015 LA Film Festival. The discussion is below.
Just a reminder: the late deadline for submissions to the 2016 LA Film Festival is January 15.
What was something about the LA Film Festival that surprised you?
Takeshi: I was impressed with how filmmaker-centric the festival was. Also, for filmmakers like us who are based in New York and other parts of the country, having exposure in LA is huge. So that was a great advantage.
Donari: LA Film Festival was one of the most intimate festivals we’ve been to. Since we are coming from New York, it was really important for us to connect with people in LA. A big goal of going to festivals is connecting with other filmmakers. Takeshi and I loved going to the rooftop filmmaker gathering every night. It was like a party centralized in a beautiful setting, with all these goodies and booze. The vibe really lent itself to making friends and connections.
Almost a third of the films that world premiered at the 2015 LA Film Festival were picked up for distribution. ARRAY acquired Out of My Hand. How did you connect with them?
Donari: Our distributor’s L.A. team saw the film at the LA Film Fest and contacted us directly. So now we’re in this incredible position and have theatrical distribution in L.A. and New York. It was a pretty game changing event.
Takeshi: I think winning the US Fiction Jury Award really confirmed ARRAY’s decision to acquire our movie. Then we were invited to the San Diego Asian Film Festival, where we also won an award [the George C. Lin Emerging Filmmaker Award –ed].
Donari: When we were initially raising money for the film, we were told this movie isn’t commercial, it has no audience, there’s no future for it, it has all Black actors, no one wants to see it. The recognition Out of My hand got at LA Film Festival–winning the US Jury Award and then being nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award–felt legitimizing, especially to audiences who wouldn’t be directly interested in this movie.
What piece of advice would you give to filmmakers now who are submitting to lots of different festivals and going through various acceptances and rejections?
Takeshi: For many filmmakers—us included—there’s an idea that there are the best festivals in the world, and then the second best. But those rankings aren’t necessarily correlated to the best particular festival for your movie. That’s something you learn after this whole experience.
Donari: It’s important to figure out not just what your expectations are, but what you want to accomplish with your film. There are bigger festivals where filmmakers can really get swallowed up and not get a lot of attention. You’re just one of hundred other independent films on the docket. There are a lot of good festivals out there, but Takeshi and I wanted to be in a festival that was excited about our film and that would really nurture us.
Takeshi: What really counts is what festival cares about your film and what they can do for the filmmaker.
Donari: Our goal was to be at festivals where the programmers cared and wanted to work with us directly. Where we had a team. Those are the festivals that have given us the best opportunities. That happened at LA Film Festival.
Matt Warren / Film Independent Digital Content Manager