Putting together a film festival of any type takes time, commitment (or committed), a reliable team, a diverse lineup, luck plus so much more. We sat down with four of the most well established genre film festivals that have survived & thrived for over five years in the northeast part of North America. These four key participants bring different perspectives, experience, selective eye and personality to this discussion as we covered a wide variety of topics gaining insight into what makes this annual celebrations of film, fans and filmmakers a must to attend! So take a read, share each part of the mass panel interview, look for new parts in this interview series to come and most important come out and support them! The usual suspects included in the panel are:
Boston Underground Film Festival: 18 Years (BUFF) / http://bostonunderground.org – “Artistic Director” Kevin Monahan
Ithaca Fantastik: 5 Years (IF) / http://ithacafilmfestival.com – “CEO & Founder” Hugues Barbier
New York City Horror Film Festival: 14 Years (NYC) / http://nychorrorfest.com – “Festival Head of Staff” Sean Marks
Toronto After Dark Film Festival: 11 Years (TAD) / http://torontoafterdark.com – “Programming & Communications Manager” Christian Burgess
What is that extra programming each year that has really separated your film festival from others? Examples (Saturday morning cartoons, special musical performances, after parties, etc…)
BUFF: We always try to incorporate some sort of live element beyond the usual Q&A sessions. Film festivals are in a way, a bit more like live theater than cinema sometimes. So we’re always open for something different. Ross Sutherland’s STANDBY FOR TAPE BACKUP was one of the highlights of this year’s festival, mostly due to it being performed live.
IF: We are really proud to be able to present an original live music performance (cinema concert) for the last 4 years. Because of the format- it’s a one-time only chance to catch something mesmerizing, that goes back to the origin of cinema. A through back to the roots of our beloved art, but with a twist, as we try to fit modern music to old films. We are also trying to develop more ‘accessible’ films in the form of a new competition “Cinema Pur” in 2016- Screening movies with a new approach in visuals and/or narrative form. We hope that it will expand our audience as well as screening more formally challenging films, crossing the border of the genre.
NYC: If you come to our festival, you are getting an extremely varied, extremely wide selection of films. We bounce around from gore fests to doomsday nightmares to foreign mind fucks to sci-fi shockers and back again. It’s like going out to eat and finding out your menu includes pizza and tacos and ice cream and Korean BBQ and then also foie gras because why the fuck not? Also, did I mention the booze? We drink a ton. A concerning amount.
TAD: Over the years, we’ve experimented with Midnight screenings, to moving the entire festival to August instead of the traditional October dates. We’ve also tried screening documentaries to try something new. 2014’s WHY HORROR? wound up being a sold-out screening! We have our PUB AFTER DARK socials every night following our last screening. This allows our filmmakers and audience members to engage one another over drinks and food, until the wee hours of the night. That being said, the “Toronto After Dark Film Festival” has pretty much kept to the same formula every year, which seems to work for us.
Talk about traveling to other film festivals and the networking? How much does this impact and shape the film festival each year?
BUFF: When I said you need a deep love for film to run festivals, I feel like I should have said you need a deep love for film festivals. It was working on film fests as a volunteer that made me want to run one. Mitch Davis of the “Fantasia Festival” in Montreal was kind of a mentor to me starting out. Talking to other programmers is so valuable; they give you ideas and you get to share stories. Nicole and I love going to film festivals the same way other people love music festivals. “Fantasia” is my Coachella. “Cannes” was my Glastonbury this year.
IF: At IF we consider that knowing the market is key to bring an always fresh takes on what festival is or should be. Networking is a key part of our job, going back to the reputation of your festival in the industry.
NYC: I only recently started going out to other festivals myself and it’s been great. I’ve seen some familiar submissions come across our desk from filmmakers I’ve met at other festivals. I was up at “Blood In The Snow” in Toronto and I was really taken aback by both their ability to drink and their hospitality. That courtesy was an extension of the good time we showed some of those filmmakers when they were down here. And it’ll extend right back at this year’s NYCHFF when I see them again.
TAD: I’ve attended Montreal’s “Fantasia International Film Festival” a few times over the year to see films and meet other festival programmers and filmmakers. I absolutely love that festival! My colleagues also attend Fantasia, and have also been lucky enough to attend other festivals in the world including “Sitges”, “Cannes” and “Fantastic Fest”. Ultimately, this allows seeing more films and gauging audience reactions/reviews from films programmed.
Each film festival has a certain personality, a signature. What is the film festivals’s signature that distinguishes them?
BUFF: Here’s where I have to give a shout out to our designer Bryan McKay. Bryan has controlled the “look” of the festival since ’05. He’s done our posters, advertisements, our program guide, t-shirts, swag, etc. Having a consistently striking design year after year has really made us stand out.
IF: Since its inception IF is trying to blur the line of what a horror is or should be. The move to push another competition of Vanguard film (Cinema Pur) is another step toward this direction. We believe that the genre is giving filmmakers keys to express and show feelings really complicated to formalize on screen without being cheesy, giving them more emotional power. Even though we do not endorse the term ‘elevated genre’, because we consider the genre as a whole, we tend to believe that it is what we tend to show our audience for the last 5 years.
NYC: We are very rowdy and we apologize in advance for any offense we cause.
TAD: I like to think that the “Toronto After Dark Film Festival” is a fan-driven film festival. We proudly say that ourselves every year! The staff and volunteers are fans first, and the success we’ve experienced is the result of being grounded, independently run and excelling in what we do best, connecting with our audience through our shared love of films.
What is coming up for the next edition of the film festival and where can the fans find out more?
BUFF: Can’t talk too much about this as we’re in the seminal stages of BUFF 19, but we’re already hard at work and we promise we won’t disappoint. Check us out online at bostonunderground.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@BOSUnderground). Our Instagram can be a bit silly, but you should follow us there too!
IF: We’re working on our first press release to announce our angle and new series for this year. You can find us at www.ithacafilmfestival.com of Facebook/twitter/Instagram: “Ithaca Fantastik”
NYC: We’re still working out the particulars of our new venue and our guest(s) of honor. But our guest…hot damn! I’ve been pushing to get them for a while and I’m pretty sure this is the year so we are psyched! You can check us out at www.nychorrorfest.com. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook. If you can track me down on Facebook you’re more than welcome to add me as well – but if you’re expecting lots of posts about film, well….prepare yourself for baby pictures and disappointment.
TAD: The “Toronto After Dark Film Festival” is back October 13th through the 21st, 2016. It’ll mark our eleventh year! After a record milestone tenth birthday in 2015, we’re excited to raise the bar once again with another solid and exciting line-up for our fans. For more information, you can visit our website: www.torontoafterdark.com