Article by Dayna Gonzalez.
UPDATE: Shortly after writing this, I came across this article, “Film Festival Fraud”, purporting the festival to be a major scam operation. Not surprising, given the experience I and others had. Fair warning.
I’m not really sure where to start with this review. All I can think, is that the festival must have suffered from a severe lack of funding. It still doesn’t explain everything, but something went very wrong with the planning of this festival. Someone dropped the ball big time. If you want my true feelings, I would say that for a festival, the way it was run, was completely unacceptable.
I was very excited to support a local film festival in my neighborhood. Plus I had a few friends in the festival and I like to support local filmmakers. Because the majority of animation played today, I bought a day pass online. I figured I’d make a day of it. Passes were supposed to be available at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, but the security guard told me the festival wasn’t until the evening. I had plans to attend the 11am screening of animated films at the Holiday Inn, and so I walked over to the Bizarre Cafe, where a complimentary networking breakfast was supposed to be held. No organizers were in sight. No breakfast was in sight either. Eventually, more filmmakers began showing up, but still, no festival reps. So a bunch of us filmmakers all made friends and those bonds formed were the highlight of my day. Around 10:20, food started coming out but still no reps, and the Cafe was waiting on them to start. Management told us if we didn’t have a pass, we could not eat. But of course, we didn’t have passes because there was no one to hand them out. Finally, as I had the 11am screening to make, a 15 minute walk away, I ran to Starbucks, and grabbed a muffin and coffee to go. Having a networking breakfast so close to screenings was poorly timed, but I trudged on, hopeful that things would clear up as the day wore on.
11 am: Holiday Inn. No one has any passes. No programs. Oh, they’re at the Cafe. No, I just came from there, they’re not. Oh, an hour then. But go ahead to the screenings. Screening Room: It’s a conference room. With an easel with a screen on it. I’m starting to feel bad for the filmmakers who’ve traveled so far to see their films play. The funding for this festival must be so low this year, that this is the best they can do? Last year, it was at a high school auditorium and it went very well. I don’t know what happened this year.
There were some real gems in the morning screenings. My Happy End by Milen Vitanov featured an adorable dog, his tail, and their loving friendship. The dog was a flat piece of paper, literally, and it added a nice dimension to the animation. The Lonely Rabbit by Christina Felderhof exhibited wonderful textured backgrounds and characters. Skylight, by David Baas, was a lovely film about the dangers of global warming, specifically to penguins. The combination of the voiceover material to the animation of the penguins was pretty hilarious. The fest also featured some great live action films, most notably The Homecoming by Rachel Earnest and Carmen’s Place, by Anna Wilking. The cinematography of The Homecoming was really wonderful, and it was easy to identify with the actress, who was having a hard time readjusting to life back home after a life-changing passage of time in Cannes, France. Carmen’s Place was also rather touching. It is a short documentary about a local shelter, specifically for gay and transgender youth.
After the morning screenings, a group of us enjoyed lunch at Sunswick, a local Irish pub. We had a really great time, and everyone was very friendly. I had gone to the festival alone but it was nice to make friends so easily. We once again tried to get passes, but were told to come back in half an hour.
After a fun meal and drinks at the bar, we walked next door to the high school to catch the evening’s films. Still, no passes. No programs. The lack of organization’s become a running joke. Screening rooms aren’t ready and no one really knows anything. It’s frustrating. You can tell some of the filmmaker’s are pretty upset. Finally, the evening’s screenings start. Up until 7pm, the screenings are pretty fun. Nice selection of films. The room, not so much. It’s a classroom, with a very large TV cart in it. Hard chairs. Very uncomfortable. I won’t go through the last batch of films because I didn’t much care for them. I don’t know who they have picking the selection, but someone had to like them, right? They can’t just let anything in, right? Eek. By the time the last screening rolled around, I was the only one left in the viewing. I stayed for the much loved Brothers in Arms, by Elliot Cowan, then left, exhausted and disappointed from the day.
I understand there was probably a huge lack of funding and perhaps they did not have the help they desperately needed, but wow, this was tough. For a city full of theatres, it’s a shame the venues were so lackluster. The one gem appeared to be the amazing Tony Bennett Auditorium in the high school. I’m jealous of those who got to see films there. I wonder what it was like. I never did get a program nor my ticket. But I mostly feel bad for the filmmakers, who probably expected a bit more from the festival. I was told story after story, about the lack of organization, unanswered emails, and general chaos. Every time one of us tried to get some sense of what was going on, we were met with blank stares or I don’t knows. Or the dreaded “Come back in an hour”. DVDs weren’t tested and a bunch of films didn’t even play. I was told by a number of filmmakers that they actually had to pay for their screenings. Some had repeatedly tried to contact organizers with questions and requests, but to no avail. It was a real shame and very disappointing. I am hopeful it gets better, because I like to support film festivals and especially local ones. I really don’t know what to say. I was very disappointed. What kind of reputation does this festival want? They need to get their act together if they want to be taken more seriously. I did meet some really wonderful filmmakers and for that, it was worth the trip.